What If You Couldn’t Fail?


What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?


My answer to that question was that I’d hike the El Camino – a 500-mile trail from St. Jean, France to Santiago, Spain that is covered with the footprints of thousands of pilgrims who share the search for the deepest parts of themselves.


Last year at 74, I actually did it (you can read a few snippets of it in previous posts). My walk started as a celebration of the strength and tenacity that taught me to overcome a period in my life- 29 years ago- when I was bankrupt and battling addiction. Looking at it now, the one thing I realize I could never have made it without, and which my journey became about, was support.


During the walk, I crossed paths with people from many walks of life, each relationship containing a deep mutual respect, an unspoken bond, and a lesson. Two of the most important practices in each relationship were trust and accountability. On the trail, you have to be accountable for yourself, for keeping yourself safe and for respecting the journey and the people in it. And you have to trust in your own and everyone else’s ability to do that. You’re vulnerable on the trail, in many ways. It can be very physically and emotionally demanding. The trust and accountability make it a safe place to experience all of that, and those two qualities pervade the entire community of people who walk. You can feel the sense of mutuality and reciprocity among all who are with you and who came before you on the trail, because you’ve all committed to, prepared for and share in this unique experience. It’s a connection that goes beyond words.


Most of all, there exists a shared understanding of the fact that, while every walker shares this journey, no one’s will look and feel the same as anyone else’s. This is the moment you realize the remarkable importance of unconditional support and empathy, and how the presence of those two qualities can change an entire life.


The trail becomes a temporary home for thousands of people from thousands of places and cultures and upbringings and life experiences. Yet when you really get down to it, at the core we’re all the same. We’re all people, experiencing people emotions and people problems, searching and experiencing and living; we all want happiness, love, and we all want to overcome the things we find most excruciating. And if we can all learn to reach out and take the hand of the person walking next to us, no matter who that person is or how they’ve come to be where they are, we might find that it gives us the strength to keep going, to find the very best within ourselves.


On August 28, I’m going back to hike another long leg of the El Camino, to revisit that important season of my life and to write a new chapter in it. I’ll share about it every other week, and once I’m there, I’ll share my experiences from the trail. Follow me for updates, and think about it- what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Do you believe it’s possible?