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No One Cares If You Succeed or Fail: Why I Walked 500 Miles... Barefoot

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There are some lessons you can learn from the comfort of your couch– maybe watching a great video on Youtube or chatting with friends.

But there are other lessons that come hard. Here is one of them. But first, some background.

My girlfriend and I just walked 800 kilometers (500 miles) along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a 1000-year-old pilgrimage route. We did it in Vibram Fivefinger shoes– basically barefoot– on gravel, dirt road, and pavement. 35 days is what it took to complete.

In case you’re wondering, walking 6-8 hours a day across gravel, pavement, and dirt roads for a month hurts– sometimes, it hurts a fucking lot.

Some people were on beaches for their vacations, but we started Day 1 with a 4,500 foot climb up the Pyrenees. Other days involved walking 20 miles in the cold, rain and mud. Yet others were on blistering plateaus with no shade for up to 6 hours at a time. A casual stroll, this was not.

Why would someone choose to do this? Maybe, like John F. Kennedy famously said, we want to do them “because they are hard.” Maybe we are trying to prove to ourselves that we can do it, or to have an amazing experience. We all have our reasons. Some are more insane than others.

There are also some paths that you can get off of. Others, you can’t. You’re midway through and you want to finish, at all cost. You’re hurt and cynical and part of you wants to quit, but the other part of you wants it more than ever.

Why are we doing these things, anyway? Is it for approval? Do you want to be famous? Do you think that if you just get a little bigger or do something cooler, everything will be great and everyone will love you? Then you’re going to get extremely disappointed by life.

No one actually cares whether you succeed or not.

Consider the simple finish line.

Chris and I were talking the other day about marathons. Finishing means excited fans throwing Gatorade on your head or whatever. They’re excited and they cheer you on and hand you protein bars. They give you a little medal. Maybe you stand on a pedestal or something. You feel briefly invincible.

Most finish lines are not like this at all. Not a single person is waiting there to cheer you to the end. No one will change their vision of who you are. No one will love you more– in fact, if they do, run away, because that’s probably not a great person.

Midway through our 800km trip, we had this realization. Doing hard things for the approval or love of others is stupid. No one can understand, much less relate, to these kinds of things.

Only those that do it have a way of understanding. We heard this from our fellow walkers who had done it before. You would get back, people would listen, but no one could truly get it. The more marginal the experience, the more normal this is.

To fight this, they say, you get together with those that have done the same. Only then can you relate. Other people just nod their heads and say “cool,” then move on to talking about the Royal Couple or something.

It’s like being in a time warp. You get back home and, for them, nothing happened.

At first, this is depressing. “I did this epic thing and no one really cares.” But it isn’t that they don’t care at all– it’s that there’s no way for them to understand the epicness of the experience. The experience is unique and spans a week, a month, a year, or whatever, and it can’t be distilled into one sentence. It’s like a joke. You had to be there.

You should be grateful for this.

We are in a mass media culture where everything is broadcast for everyone to see. Often, we actually advocate doing so– but there are other things we can’t relate to at all, that can never be presented in a mass media fashion.

This means there’s a chance the experience may be truly different.

But if no one can relate, what does that mean? Well, to others it means that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve done it at all. It also doesn’t matter to them if you succeed or not. They won’t think of you differently.

Basically, you should stop doing stuff to impress people.

There’s no point in doing anything except for the value of the experience itself.

I’ve seen the same with regards to accolades, such as the phrase New York Times bestseller being attached to your name. People nod, there’s sometimes a brief acknowledgement, and then nothing. It might advance your career or something, but not much else. It’s not like people will like you for it if you’re an asshole. On a personal level, it changes nothing.

Yet people continue to search for professional success, or epic experiences, in order to extinguish their crushing inferiority complexes. But this is stupid and it doesn’t work.

True respect doesn’t come from accolades, so don’t try to get it there. Try being awesome to each other instead. (I swear to God that should be a blog post. Maybe I’ll do it.)

Look, we don’t need any more drones. There is no need for yet another person with a useless degree or another miserable doctor or lawyer who’s in it for the money or the prestige. We don’t need any more people hedging their bets or being safe.

We don’t need followers. We need leaders who will bring us where we need to go. In other words…

Change the world or go the fuck home.

I was hanging out with a couple from France yesterday who just moved to Montreal. They were seriously bewildered at how easy it is to change careers in Canada/America. In France, you don’t have that. when you choose what you’re going to study, that’s what you do for the rest of your life.

Imagine an 18 year old deciding for you, at your age, what you’re going to do. It’s insane. I’m about to turn 32, so let me tell you, I’d like to change my mind from time to time. But these French people can’t do that– their education defines their career path.

Some things cannot be reversed. If you’re lost in the woods, as I was one day last month (long story), there really is no choice. The only way out is to go through, and that’s a very bad thing. No exit strategy, no way to quit. You have to continue forward until you’re done. This is very depressing.

All of us are on quests in one form or another. Some can be quit, while others cannot.

If you’re on the path to something you’re pretty sure you don’t want to be doing, may I suggest you fucking stop immediately? Because you are wasting your life.

You will die, no one will care, or even know, about all the suffering you went through. The money you’ve accumulated will go to ungrateful descendants who never suffered and it’ll all have been for nothing.

So you have two options. Double down or get the fuck out.

How to take control of your life again

Welcome to the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure section of the post!

Option 1. Due to my infinite wisdom, you have now gratefully decided you need to get the hell out of your current situation. You’ve decided it’s pointless and that you’re going to die anyway, so you might as well make a difference in this world or at least be happy on your current path.

Congratulations. It’s time to double down.

A personal anecdote here might help. I recently realized (more like “accepted”) that it is possible that I have “a voice.” People have been telling me this for a long time, but I never really took it seriously before. Now I accept it, and I’m happy about it. Naturally, it also means I have to work way the hell harder than I did before since I’ve decided it’s something I actually want to do. I’ve decided to double down. How?

Well, in order to practice painting, many artists copy Old Masters drawings to help them understand what these great painters did. (It’s actually quite common practice.) So, my first act of insanity is inspired by Hunter S. Thompson. As he once did once a long time ago, I will open up Moby Dick for the first time, go to the first page, and procede to copy the entire book word for word.

This, of course, is totally ridiculous, perhaps pointless or insane. I agree. But like a month of walking 800km, there is no way to understand the experience but to walk it. And I am willing to waste a month doing this, if that’s what it takes. Even if it’s pointless.

You will need a personal act of insanity. If you’re going to continue and become the best in the world, you must have one. You must prove yourself to the mountain with a sacrifice. And this is the time.

Choose now. Make the sacrifice. See what happens.

Option 2. Congratulations on quitting the useless shit in your life. As Seth Godin once said in The Dip, if you’re not going to be the best in the world, get the hell out. Glad we agree. It’s time to admit you are wrong and quit.

Most of the problem with cutting your ties lies in loss aversion, and nothing more. We have so much trouble because we think that if we break up our long-term relationship, or quit our shit job, we’ll never find anyone again. This is totally nuts, but we believe it anyway.

We’re afraid of never getting anywhere again.

We think we’re lucky, not smart.

We have a feeling that this is as good as it gets.

WRONG.

You know, one day I’m going to tell the story about this trek and I’m going to say it’s for fucking pussies. I’m going to say it’s the easiest thing in the world. I will be that strong, and I know this.

I think that’s the difference. That’s something you need to believe in order to quit and still have your self-esteem with you. You need to realize that it’s a quest, and that quitting the things that don’t matter will give you vision and a better sense of context.

But for now, it was hard. Really hard. There’s absolutely no way for me to explain that to people– and I’m fine with that.

The same should be true with you. Do epic shit. Quit the mundane. Do it for yourself, and let people be confused. Who cares.

Prove yourself to the world, and eventually, the rest will fall into place.

* Filed by Julien at 8:02 am under direction, projects, taking action, travel


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

Check out more of my blog, my free book or add me on twitter. Also, we're hiring. Check that out.

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28 Responses to “No One Cares If You Succeed or Fail: Why I Walked 500 Miles... Barefoot”

  1. jessi Says:

    this website really helped

  2. ronald l.shaffer sr. Says:

    You are spot on!
    I’m 66 good shape,retired army(06/30/88.went to Kansas city art institute(BFA)Graduate School of Figurative Art(1992-94)(MFA)
    New York City
    Divorced 1st wife andd separated 19 years second wife and have lived in NYC 19 years…illegally …warehouses,storage units …you get the idea…now I am in Wylie ,Texas(son lives here)but I hate it …an ” artless”community!
    Now I live/ sleep in my car and I cook to make ends meet and sometimes feel like “packing it in”…I keep striving…I don’t care a “hoot) about money….I belong to 24 hour fitness …so I take my showers and lift weights …have to stay in shape ….
    I don’t like or care for people..don’t understand love or even know if I have ever loved or for that matter been loved….thank goodness for my military training!
    But I am an optimist and keep doin.g ny art work whether anybody likes it or not.
    Anyway wrote to much….
    Good post!

    Ron

    • Eric Says:

      Weird, just decided to walk back to Atlanta from Wylie.. from Abilene TX.. to be near my kids. Underemployed, in a crappy sitch. I live in Wylie. Ron, like to meet you.

  3. Henway Says:

    I’m really confused…

    In the end, you say prove yourself to the world…

    but just before that, you said noone will care..

    So which is it?

  4. Reece Says:

    You’re the first voice I’ve found on the subject of personal growth that has spoken to me and I didn’t want to bitch slap it.

    This has come at a time where i have really needed it. I have come to a point where I’m walking along the path I’ve set out for myself, but fuck me if I keep sitting on the side of the road to rest way too often.

    Time to buck up and kick some ass.

    Just my way of saying thanks for taking the time.

  5. Lee LaTour Says:

    Hi Julien,

    I just returned from the Camino. Trekked on to Cape Finisterre [an additional 60 miles]. I get it.

    Buen Camino,
    -lee

  6. Kahls Says:

    I like you.

  7. Whoop Says:

    I think the author is halfway getting it. However, the journey is within. You don’t have to do “crazy stuff”, you can expand your mind anywhere. Also, it’s good to go through this life with some empathy and compassion.

    • silv Says:

      I concur and through his writings he will continue learning and understanding. So Julien keep writing. Many of your points are valid and thought provoking. I certainly get my “aha!!” moments from them.

      I do however want to query the purpose of using the word “fucking” as often as you do. I find it distracting as I read the written word and it diminishes the good messages in your article.

  8. ViperMav Says:

    Kick ass post. I’m still not sure why the hell you walked 500 miles, though. I mean, hey, why not 1000? :)

  9. bob Says:

    Although you do raise a few good points, a large percentage of what you say is firstly irrelevant to your camino experience, and secondly pretentious bullshit.

  10. me Says:

    but… i can’t spend my whole life quitting everything just because it’s not epic.

  11. Dennis Says:

    Fuck me! These articles help me doing my thing

  12. Jacob Says:

    THis helped me some how i dont know how but it was fucking useful

  13. brian Says:

    Liked it. I’m going.

  14. JoeSee Says:

    I think I hear you.

    As a Masochist, if the pain no longer feels good, stop doing THAT.

    For me it’s my Masochistic desire for “shin splints”. Though the pain can bring on concern, I like the pain of my long walked out shin splints. However, while rowing a boat and pains sets in I am not a happy Masochist. That pain I do not appreciate. So I stopped rowing that boat.

    I think as you speak of “sacrifice” that sacrifice should feel good. If the pain is worth the gain.

    I was involved in an abusive relationship. It had not been my first abusive relationship. But I kept going back to relive that pain. BUT, and here’s that indescribable “why?” you speak of. I said to my Sadist lover “I’m not leaving until I’ve figured out why I’m staying” I have since left, he has since suffered for my sticking around, his choice. I know I will never enter another abusive relationship, because I walked the 800 miles through that pain. Alas, it’s all so simple, and yes it’s so “pussy” I wish I’d taken the walk long ago.

    Choose your pain wisely!

    Whether that’s 8 years in med school or living in the back of a bus. Enjoy that “sacrificial” happy.

    Now you speak of “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”
    However, you’re analogy is much more self-compassionate, as it should be.
    So let’s rephrase that
    “If you hate the heat, go cool off”
    I think that’s as simple as taking care of yourself.
    And that is how we get around to “No one gives a shit if you fail or win”
    That’s a personal thing and if you get REALLY personal about taking care of yourself.
    (To which no one really gives a crap about, even if they are preaching to you)
    Then and I’m pretty damn sure ONLY THEN will you be AMAZING.

    I think of artists who lived like hermits, not because they were social recluses, but because they were focused. If we stop meddling in what everyone else thinks is BEST for US.
    I’m pretty sure we can focus on the ONE thing that can change SOMETHING
    But all within the doing of not giving a shit if you’re changing anything.

    That’s where your “let go” – “don’t need that “applause” button anymore steps in.
    If there is one thing I wish everyone on the planet could feel, it’s themselves.
    Their, truly, authentic, “don’t have nothing to prove” selves.

    When Mia gave birth to Buddha, he walked immediately and locus flowers blossomed in his footsteps. Is it a choice to believe? Or is it in the belief we find the choice?

    Ah, the mystery comes to those who walk 800 miles without their own shoes.
    Do I take delight in your pain, your plight? Yes, but I’ll hold that privately because to disturb the humility in its lesson could create an earthquake of grand proportions

    Here is a hint if anyone needs one.
    You know when you’re on your path when you no longer ask anyone for advice.

  15. Djs Says:

    Walking in FiveFinger shoes is so much like walking barefoot. Reminds me of that time I did walk barefoot everywhere I went.

  16. Alif Dharamsi Says:

    Can I have this article sent to my email address? I love it.

  17. shutthefuckupbitch Says:

    Shit. All my life I have tried to be good. Good at being nice, pleasant, controlling of my anger, controlling of what I say to not scare people. But I see that the more I try to be a good person, there are people out there that want to crush it because they dont know how to pull triggers. Well. It is time. It is time they feel the stregth of my wrath. The wrath that God has placed in this city. Im sorry, but the Angel has left the premises, Lucifer has been teaching me to just tell people to shut the fuck up and give me their cash. I dont give a fuck. Its the first amendment bitch, sue me.

  18. Jack Says:

    You are full of shit. Fuck off

  19. Theurbanguru Says:

    I recall a bumper sticker with some sage advice to all us human animals… “only YOU can stop narcissism”

    More sage advice…

    * Don: Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.

    * Stephanie: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves, and everybody else can see it right away.”

  20. John Says:

    Why are you using the qwop meme pic in your article?

  21. dionne rossiter Says:

    i love all of the above articels

  22. Barbara Says:

    THANKS:)

  23. Barbara Says:

    SOME HARSH WORDS, BUT THE REALITY OF IT ALL, IS WELL PUT TOGETHER. SOMETIMES HARD THINGS SEEM LESS BENEFICIAL, BUT THESE ARE THESE THINGS THAT GIVE YOU THAT EXTRA PUSH TO PROCEED FORWARD. I LOVE THE ARTICLE.

  24. Christine Regan Lake Says:

    Hi Julien,

    I enjoyed every sentence of this post UNTIL you described the trail being ‘for p*ssies’ …. As someone who describes himself as ‘having a voice’… maybe you might want to use that voice in a way that doesn’t spread vile and disgusting messages about women being ‘less than’… you are responsible for every single word that comes out of your mouth…

    Using the phrase ‘p*ssy’ to describe someone as being ‘weak’ is ignorant.

    I hope you reconsider your choice of words in your upcoming articles.

    Sincerely,

    Christine Regan Lake

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