At Shinebright we love to share real stories of people who have conquered their fears and changed their lives to accomplish their goal of a more intentional and happy life. This is our first story of 2018, the story of Jen de la Riva and her journey on El Camino.
This blog is a on the long side but make sure you read it all, you will not regret it, and we can guarantee you will find inspiration in Jen’s story.
This is a story shared by our Coach Shannon (the first part of this story took place in 2012):
My friend Jen just recently returned from a 35-day pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, The Way of St. James. El Camino de Santiago is an epic journey of 500 miles that leads to Galica, Spain, where legend has it that the remains of Saint James are buried. Thousands of pilgrims walk or cycle the Camino every year for many different motivations, from purely athletic endeavors to the hope of spiritual awakenings.
Jen had been talking about doing this pilgrimage for over a year and I was inspired by her determination to make it a reality. Not many people in the middle of their lives, with a successful career, a home, and all of the other trappings of modern life ever embark on such an adventure. But, she doesn’t see it as being brave; she believes that if you really want something you’re passionate about, you make it happen.
Jen had previously found out about the Camino from a friend and was immediately intrigued, she had been aching for something like this: a spiritual and physical goal to wake her out of the numbness that had crept into her 9-5 routine. She began researching and a fire was lit inside of her, it was pure passion and a desire “to really feel alive.” Or, as Joseph Campbell once said “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” - Joseph Campbell
Jen had no real expectations for The Camino other than to be fully present and open to whatever it may have to offer. Well, the Camino certainly had a lot to offer, including her shoulders going numb from the pain of carrying her very heavy backpack, to the pain of almost losing a toenail and blisters that completely covered her feet, to a fall that could have ended everything.
“Everyday something really difficult & painful happened, but every single day something magical happened. It’s a metaphor for life. I would make it over this amazing mountain and be filled with a sense of accomplishment and then I would look and see that there was another mountain to get over. I realized that you can choose to focus on the bad stuff that happens and choose to ignore the miracles that are also happening, it’s your choice. It seems the happiest people know and accept this.” The more Jen was tested on El Camino the more she was given.
“Day 33 with 740 km on my soles and 2 days before arriving in Santiago I found myself in a super crummy mood, slugging through a difficult, muddy hike in the rain. About 2 hours into this hike, that I really wanted to end, I barely peek out of my poncho and making her way through the trees is a fellow pilgrim, Ana from Portugal. We were so surprised to run into each other, as we’ve passed no other pilgrim all morning. Ana shares with me that she also woke today in a really lousy mood and speculates that the reason we’re bummed is that our pilgrimage is ending in two days. Yup, she’s spot on! We continue walking in silence when Ana says to me, ‘Quit thinking so hard, just be present! El Camino will answer your call and your questions.’ Not sure how she knew I was thinking so hard, but she was right.”
“After travelling a few more kilometers with Ana we stop for rest at a German bar, and as we sit down at a table, I exclaim, ‘I know the answer. You know how we take off each day not knowing if and where we’ll find a meal and bed that evening? We just simply trust that El Camino will provide. This faith in El Camino is now a part of us and just as we have learned that El Camino is a metaphor for life, I now know more than ever that I have this faith in everyday life. My answer is that it is now time to leave this 32-year career and my present job without any knowledge of the next chapter. I have never been happier than I was on El Camino with nothing but the pack on my back. Never needed more, never wanted more. I want to continue to downsize and move towards a more simplified life.’”
Jen emailed her boss after she completed her pilgrimage and asked if he would meet her for coffee when she returned to the states. At that meeting, Jen resigned. The courageous decision to embark out of her comfort zone and into the unknown led her to the clarity of what she truly desired out of her life.
Jen has only three things on her to-do list:
1) Rent a motorhome and head north
2) Walk the Camino again
3) Go and stay at a monastery that she discovered while on the Camino and maybe earn her keep by scrubbing floors or cooking meals for the nuns.
The plan is to maintain the quiet and clarity she has found, to let the future unfold, and to have faith that she will be taken care of, just as she was on the Camino. And, like her pilgrimage theme song, “today is where her book begins, the rest is still unwritten…..”
Its been six years since she completed that first Camino and her book has continued to unfold. In her own words, Jen shares what has happened and where her life has taken her since.
Return with me to December 2012 when I left a 32-year career in organizational improvement in corporate America…
While I’ve usually always had some sort of challenge or goal in the works, I didn’t really have a structured plan when I left my job but I knew that my life would become less cerebral (no more academic degrees) and more physical because I was determined that I would not have my last days on earth wishing of things I would have done.
Also, recalling when I left my first corporate job in 2006 and considered joining the Peace Corp at 47
and my Dad said, “well you better hurry you’ve only got about 10 more years in you to do that!” Keeping his words in mind, I figured if I wanted more physical challenges in my life, I’d better get in shape, so I ran my first ever 10K at 53. And, over the following 4 years I completed 3 more 500-mile pilgrimages across France, Spain, and Portugal, biked 250 miles through northern California, another 250 miles through northern Thailand, another 1,000 miles across Iowa, and finally having never been behind the wheel of an RV took off on a 2,500-mile road trip with my pup: https://wordpress.com/view/travelswithangus.wordpress.com
On a very personal note, during my sabbatical I was able to spend the last months of my Grandmother and Fathers’ lives with them. So, while I wouldn’t trade these years for anything and am beyond grateful that I could take this time off to pursue my passions and spend time with loved ones, I also had the time & space to realize that I wasn’t ready to be “retired” yet, and I still had so much to give back to society.
Thinking back through all the soul-searching I did during my “eat-pray-love” sabbatical I recalled that what I loved most about the positions I held in Corporate America were: mentoring/coaching, human resources, and data management.
So, taking the first aspect of that thought process (coaching) I decided to volunteer in the literacy program at the local library, as this would give me an opportunity to dabble in coaching and I would earn a certificate in Literacy Tutoring.
Next, I zeroed in on the aspect of running organizations that I loved most: Human Resources, I studied for and earned my certificate in HR. I also narrowed the circle that I was willing to commute to just 20-miles. So, with a Human Resources certification in my pocket and a laser-focused target on the type of work I had in my sights, I was offered the position of Human Resources Consultant at Anthem, Inc. This new role had a good balance of the human touch and data management elements that I love and was coming with the shortest commute of my entire career.
In 2012 I thought I was following a 3-decade dream: leave corporate America in search of my life’s passions, but… spoiler alert: 5-years later I landed back where I began.
One way to look at my story is that it took me 5-years, 2,000 boot miles, 1,500 bike miles, 2,500 RV miles, and 6-months at an ashram to return back to where I started: Corporate America, sort of. But, this time it’s on my terms and I am no longer climbing a vertical ladder, working around the clock with a team of employees reporting to me, and driving an insane distance across town.
I feel immensely fortunate (thanks to my 401K that I started at 21) that I was able to take the time off to explore, and eat, and pray, and love. I now have a daily yoga practice that has enhanced my life, I have plans to purchase an RV for future road trips, and without a doubt I will one day soon be back hiking the mountains of España on yet another Camino.
Shannon's thoughts on Jen's Journey:
Although, seemingly Jen landed back where she started, there are lessons for us all in her journey.
I was most moved by the fact that Jen paid attention to the yearnings of her heart back in 2012, and that she had the courage to give it all up, follow her heart, and trust that the path would lead her back to herself and the answers she was seeking. Many of us feel restless, frustrated, and unfulfilled, but few actually take the time to listen to what those feelings are trying to tell us about our lives.
Jen also took the time after leaving her job to continue to ask the hard questions, to dive deep and explore who she was, what she most loved and where she saw herself adding value to the world. It can be incredibly valuable to create time & space to do self-exploration, to fully understand why you are feeling certain ways, and most importantly to gain clarity on who you are and the great potential you have within.
In the end, Jen returned to Corporate America, but she did so with a new level of self-awareness about herself, her strengths, and what was most energizing & fulfilling to her. She returned with great intention about what mattered most to her, and how she could structure her life and her work in a way that allowed her to show up at her best and feed her soul. In this next phase of her life, Jen has made the decision to be the driver of her life, steering it in the direction she choses, allowing the path to continue to unfold, but most of all, committed to enjoying the journey along the way.
For those of you who can relate to feelings of restlessness or unhappiness in your life, rest assured, you don’t have to walk El Camino or bike across the country to gain the answers you’re seeking (although that does sound like a lot of fun). At Shinebright, we work with our clients to dig deep and do the self-exploration work to help you discover who you are and your greatest strengths. When you know your strengths you can begin to gain clarity about what you need from your work & life to feel happy and fulfilled, and how you can be more intentional to create the life you’ve been dreaming of living.
To hear more about Jen and her pilgrimage along El Camino, check out her blog: http://drenchyourselfinwordsunspoken.wordpress.com. I especially love her last posting (http://drenchyourselfinwordsunspoken.wordpress.com/2012/08/) which recounts Jen finding her “answer” in a cool, short video, so inspiring!!