How to Realize Your Dream When You’ve Gotten Off Track


“Come, even if you have broken your vow one thousand times, come, yet again, come, come.” ~Rumi

I read these words on a plaque in the middle of climbing a small mountain, in the middle of northern Spain, in the middle of a hot summer, at the end of my thirty-third year.

My eyes filled with tears and even as I brushed them away, adjusted my pack, and continued climbing up the mountain, the words echoed in my mind

I was walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage route that runs across the north of Spain. I’d started my walk three weeks ago in St Jean Pied de Port, a small French village in the Pyrenees.

That first day I climbed through the mountains and crossed into Spain, and from there I walked through all kinds of terrain: rolling hills, wide open spaces, tracks through forests, rocky paths winding through vineyards.

The total route would take me thirty-one days and my final destination was Santiago de Compostela, a city in the northwest corner of Spain, where legend has it that the remains of St James the Apostle were buried in a crypt beneath the cathedral.

People had been making this pilgrimage for centuries, and now I was one more of the hundreds of thousands—millions—to make the journey.

I’d chosen to walk this pilgrimage for so many reasons, reasons that I couldn’t even fully understand. On my first night in France, before even stepping foot on the Camino, a Frenchman asked me why I was walking. It was a question that would come up again and again, but that first night, after hearing his question, I froze.

How do I answer this at all, much less in French?

My first steps out of France were shaky: I was scared and clueless, having no idea what I was getting myself into. But quickly those steps grew confident. I faced challenges: steep hills, a spider bite on my leg, walking fifteen miles without coffee, losing my guidebook.

But I walked through those challenges, and in doing that, I found joy. I found friendship and connection and fun. But always, as I walked, my mind was searching for answers.

What was the purpose of this walk? What was I looking for? Where was I going with my life? What is my direction?

Big stuff.

My life before the Camino was, for all intents and purposes, fine. I’d had my share of struggles, particularly with love, but I was doing okay. I had a good job, a supportive family, close friends, a home I adored.

It all looked okay, the picture of my life, but it wasn’t enough. It never quite felt like enough.

Here was my pattern: I’d vow to change my life and go after my dreams. Vow to take a writing class or buy a camera lens. Vow to quit my job and travel or start my own business or write a book.

Vow and vow and then five years would go by and I’d take stock of where I was. I’d submitted a few essays but never wrote a book, I’d traveled a bit but I never quit my job.

I’d reach a little and then I’d pull back. Because I was scared, and because I might fail.

I broke my vow one thousand times.

How do I start again after breaking my vow? How do I find my direction?

My answer, it turns out, was simply this: take a step. I found direction by starting to move.

I still don’t fully know where I’m going, but, amid dozens of other lessons from my Camino, I learned two very important things.

The first is that it’s okay to break my vow, or to change my direction, because I can always come back. And the second is to make a decision and to start.

I was terrified as I took my first steps on the Camino, but once I was on the way I just kept going. One step at a time and before I knew it, I’d just walked across a country.

If I can do that, I can write a book. I can run a marathon, and I can travel the world. It’s scary and it takes works—oh boy, does it take work—but I can do it.

Here are four key things that helped me in climbing that first mountain and finding direction:

1. Start with a single step.

It seems obvious, and we hear it time and time again, but it is the most valuable piece of advice that I could give.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, starts without a first step. But I also learned this: if you fail, if you start and then stop, if you break your vow, it’s okay. Just come back. Start again. But always remember to start.

And your first step does not have to be big. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s a small step, because then the next step won’t be so daunting. If you start with small steps, it’s easier to keep going.

My first steps (before I even set foot on the Camino) were small: a short blog post that I didn’t share with anyone, joining the Y, and walking a few times around the track. These weren’t big steps, but they were something.

2. String those steps together.

After your first step, take another. And then another. Just keep moving.

Often when we start moving and stringing steps together, we gain momentum. The ball gets rolling and we get caught up in that motion, and then we’re in it. It feels easier to keep moving.

But what if something derails us and we hit a wall? What if we get stuck? What if we have trouble starting back up?

3. Enlist your cheerleaders.

It’s hard to do stuff on our own. It’s isolating, and it becomes easy to start thinking that we’re all alone in whatever we are doing or feeling. The truth is that we’re never alone, but in order to feel like we have a team and that people understand, we first need to find those people.

So find your cheerleaders. Identify the people in your life who you’d like on your team, and then tell them that they’re on your team.

Maybe it’s the friend who always wants to hear about your dreams and provides encouragement and support. Maybe it’s your parents, maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s a distant Facebook connection or a follower on Twitter.

Whoever these people may be—whether it’s one or one hundred and one—find them, and tell them about your goals and dreams. They will be there to build you up when you struggle, and they will help to keep you accountable in your goals.

4. Always remind yourself of your goals and dreams.

Sometimes when we get off track, we let it happen because we lose sight of our goals. They’re covered up by the more immediate stuff: what to cook for dinner, weekend plans, TV shows, social media. Without being reminded of our goals, it’s easy to keep pushing them off to another day.

I’m a visual person, so when I set goals for myself, I use charts, vision boards, even a list of key words or quotes on an index card, taped to my mirror. Having daily reminders of my goals makes it harder to fall into the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ trap.

So start with that single step. Make a vow and even if you break that vow, keep coming back. Come back one thousand times, but always come back.

Dreamer image via Shutterstock

About Nadine Karel

Nadine Karel blogs at singlestepcamino.wordpress.com, where she writes about her Camino, her travels, and her goals. At this very moment she is probably drinking coffee, dreaming about what comes next, and taking that first step.

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