By Bryan Hickerson, Engineering Manager
When I first joined BetterUp, I made an intentional choice to focus less on my career progression and more on the experience of building a new product and company. Every day I was solving new problems, filling different roles, and working hard to help make BetterUp a success.
In August 2018, BetterUp had its first “BetterUp Adventure” travel to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago (“The Camino”). This is a program in which employees earn points by doing things such as performing culture interviews as a Balloon, reading books on the BetterUp book list, or leading discussion groups on our yearly company surveys. Those with enough points are able to embark on a trip of inner work led by one of the founders that are personally meaningful to them. Our CEO, Alexi Robicheaux, had a connection to the Camino as it was part of his journey in reflecting on his life and deciding to build BetterUp.
If you are not familiar with the Camino, it is a historical pilgrimage taken by Christians in Europe to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. There are many routes that you can take to this destination, but typically you are walking all day from city to city for a week or more. On this trip we walked for 11 days.
On my first pilgrimage, I had an epiphany about my career.
I was at a crossroads at this point in my life, I had just moved from living with a long-term partner to moving into an apartment in Seattle with an old friend from high school. Most of my possessions were in boxes as I packed for my trip to Spain. Professionally, after four years of working with BetterUp and helping build the foundation of our product and engineering team, I found myself wondering what was next.
There were 11 BetterUppers taking this 11-day journey. At first, we talked to pass the time, but eventually, we ran out of things to talk about and listened to audiobooks or podcasts. Eventually, this also stopped holding my attention and I began to walk in silence with my thoughts. That is when the true inner work began.
It was strange going from the intensity and variety of startup work to walking (and only walking) all day every day. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, and at times, downright challenging.
Once I learned to welcome the silence, I was able to move my focus to internal reflection. Then, I was able to connect with myself in a way I never had before. This connection to self I discovered unlocked the strength and clarity I needed to reach my next level.
I started thinking about what direction my career was taking. I finally had the space to consider my work outside of short-term goals and daily tasks. I realized I loved mentoring others and I felt a sense of accomplishment in helping shape the future of BetterUp.
By the end of the trip, I knew exactly where I wanted my career to go and what I wanted to do. I set up a meeting with my manager and told them I wanted to be an engineering leader. We talked about what I needed to work on to get to that role and within 4 months, I earned the title of Engineering Manager.
Epiphany not required
For the last four years, I’ve prioritized taking long walks to do inner work on a more regular basis. Sometimes I walk because I need to make a decision. Other times, I take advantage of BetterUp InnerWork days to reconnect with myself. However, even when I am not wrestling with major life events or transitions, I have still found the process of disconnecting and slowing down as critical tools for being my best self.
In 2022, I traveled back to Spain and walked a different route on the Camino de Santiago alongside my wife. I was able to experience the Camino through her eyes and remember the power of accomplishing something that you did not realize you were capable of. Time and again after a day of long walking, the prospect of traveling a similar distance the next day was daunting, but we just took it one step at a time and the next thing we knew was that we were close to our destination and determined to achieve our goal.
While I initially may have been chasing the powerful experience of my first pilgrimage in 2018, I still have found that my walks both long and short have provided me with the strength I needed at that moment. I realized that my first trip resulted in an epiphany because I hadn't been making space for inner work in my life. I was at a crossroads, yet I hadn't devoted time to processing my thoughts. Gaining the space and silence for 11 days of inner reflection was intense.
Since then, I've adopted a regular habit of walking for inner work and connecting to my inner self on a regular basis. Now, I know my true aspirations. Making decisions that ring true to me is easy because I put in the time.
Inner work is a lifelong journey
Currently, I don’t have another long walking journey planned. However, my second trip to the Camino de Santiago inspired me to train for a half marathon. On some days during the pilgrimage, I walked 21 kilometers or more. This made me realize I was ready to start running again. Similar to a pilgrimage, while I have an end goal of completing a half marathon in mind, the journey of getting there is really what matters.
The epiphany and takeaways I’ve gained from my walking for inner work through BetterUp have been monumental for me. From learning to push myself to allow periods of rest, I’ve found a way to reach new personal heights. It’s helped me grow in both my personal life and career. I can’t wait to see what takeaways are in store for me in the future.