In the first Upwords assembly of the year, English teacher Allison Birdsong shared her thoughts on our guiding principle, Promote Independence, with middle schoolers.
Over the summer, Allison went on a solo, personal journey along the popular Camino de Santiago trail through Spain. Twenty-six days and 559 miles later, she learned three valuable lessons about life and about herself.
Always Surround Yourself with Positive People
“Buen Camino.” This greeting, translated “Good journey,” demonstrates the encouraging spirit of community Allison experienced on the trip. While everyone walks the Camino for different reasons, some spiritual and some physical, all consider themselves “pilgrims” in pursuit of a personal goal or accomplishment. Along the way, Allison encouraged others and was supported by the camaraderie of other walkers.
“If I wanted company, everyone was open and willing to engage in conversation,” she shared.Allison also found the warmth of the Spaniards, who expressed genuine interest in her journey, truly remarkable.
Always Follow Your Initial (or Gut) Instinct
Eight days into her trip, Allison made the unfortunate discovery that her camera was missing. She planned for the photos to be her only souvenirs of this incredible experience, and they were gone. It was impossible to retrace her steps, and she reached the next pueblo, Santo Domingo, feeling defeated.
Knowing she needed to recover, Allison checked into a hotel. It was a luxury compared to the modest pilgrims’ hostels she used in past days. She slept in, ate a full breakfast and started her day’s trek more than two hours later than normal. At the next town, Allison stopped for coffee and conversation with other pilgrims when a couple approached her and asked, “Are you missing something?” They pulled out her camera and said, “We’ve been looking for you.”
“I burst into tears, the only time I cried on the journey,” Allison says. “If I had not listened to my instinct to slow down and take it easy that day, I would have never met this couple. I felt incredibly grateful.”
You’re Never Alone
With family and friends back home supporting her, Allison embarked on her journey fully prepared for the mental and physical challenge ahead. On the trail, she also met many people from all around the world, but in particular two new “friends for life.” Strangers from three different continents just 10 days earlier, they met each night to share a meal and conversation. They are now connected in the special way only possible when you share something unique and meaningful with others.
“They helped make the experience complete for me,” Allison says.
A lifelong athlete, Allison walked the Camino to challenge her limits and to return to the country where she studied abroad as a college student. When she reached her final destination, the coastal town of Finesterre, she felt a great sense pride in her accomplishment.
Allison ended her Upwords presentation with some encouragement to middle schoolers: “Your path or journey will look different than anyone else’s. Just remember you are never alone. I wish you Buen Camino.”