As a personal brander and psychologist, one of the things that has always fascinated me is how people discover their passions in life, and find a way to incorporate what they love into their personal brand.
This month’s guest blogger is Heather Waring, walking expert, coach and founder of Women Walking Women Talking. Here she shares her story of how she’s managed to live her passion and make that part of her personal brand.
Here’s Heather’s story…
In 1999, I took part in a sponsored walk along the Great Wall of China. I raised over £12,500 and fell in love with walking. I developed a training plan, and together with the friend I’d talked into accompanying me, we had the most amazing experience. It was heartening too to see that we had trained so well and had no blisters or joint problems.
I returned to the UK, wanting to continue with my walking but life got in the way. That is until 2005 when on holidays, I hurt my back turning over on a sun bed. It was so bad we had to quit the holiday and return home. I knew there was a reason that this had happened so I trusted and decided that it was divine intervention for all the years I had been saying that I really needed to take better care of my health through exercise. This, I figured, was the Universe’s way of pulling me up and warning that worse may come if I didn’t take action. I started to walk.
Every morning as soon as the alarm went off I would get my gear on and get out for a 30-40 minute walk and within 6 weeks I was seeing so many benefits including no more back pain. Others were noticing and asking if I had been to a spa or on holiday. I had more energy, was in a consistently good mood and had shifted a few pounds.
On one walk, I had a breakthrough regarding bringing walking into my work as a coach. And although the first iteration of this business didn’t work, it led to a walking group, other walking challenges like a 38 mile 2 day walk in aid of Breakthrough Breast Cancer; the Inca Trail in Peru and being featured walking with Clare Balding in the Lake District for her ‘Ramblings’ Programmme on Radio 4.
In 2008, with another walking friend, I started to walk the Camino de Santiago, not from the usual starting place of St Jean Pied de Port in the South of France, but from Le Puy en Velay in central France, roughly doubling the distance to around 1000 miles. I walked a section a year and finished in Spring 2017 finally reaching Santiago de Compostella.
From my very first section of the Camino, I knew I wanted to bring women out here to walk and with every step taken that vision became stronger. For me walking was my meditation, my ‘me’ time, my planning time. It was when I had my best creative ideas and through walking I explored…not only my locality but my city and it’s always been my favourite way to see a new place. It leads me to great places to eat and drink and allows me to take photos and to write for travel blogs.
Walking had become a huge part of my life.
In 2013/2014 I burnt out and was also diagnosed as having Adrenal Fatigue.
There are two pieces of action that are key in my recovery. One was getting out as much as possible into nature to walk. Even if it was only for 15 minutes and a walk round the block. The second was deciding to lay out my life on a table like a map in my quest to find out what had led to this and how I was going to fix it.
For years I hadn’t been happy but as life was good in so many ways, I felt that I had no right to complain. I now know so many other women who feel the same way. I hadn’t a clue what to do and I felt no-one could help me. I called these years my wilderness years. I was lost, seeking for the thing that would fulfil me and needing focus. I was so stressed and was living a life of giving to everyone else but myself.
When I started to look deeply into my life I started to see the patterns. My mind/body connection was virtually severed, something I was told by three different professionals within 10 days and which really pulled me up. I intellectualised everything, I didn’t feel. I wasn’t living in the moment, I was always looking at ‘what’s next’ for my family, friends and my business. I was quick to get frustrated and irritated, quick to tears and my faith in myself was low.
I did a 12 month programme with a mentor and during some one to one time with her, her words, ‘in all the time I have known you, you have always wanted to take women walking, so stop trying to do everything else and do it’, gave me the permission I needed.
As I continued with my recovery I started to put into place my plans and this time the angle was very different.
One part of my work is getting women to add activity, e.g a walk, to their day. Initially this might mean a walk round the block, getting off a tube train or bus stop early and walking further or using walking to get from A to B. But ideally I want to move those women into walking in nature, as that, I feel, is the magic ingredient. This can be a local park or open green space, by a river or canal and in the UK and Europe we have amazing scenery and such a variety of long distance paths, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty.
As well as the many physical and mental health benefits, walking in nature clears our head, expands our creativity and makes decision making easier. It’s a great vehicle to use to deliver my coaching.
The main thing that I do is to give the gift of space and time to women by taking them on
transformational walking experiences, often along the famous Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. By taking them away from everyone else’s needs they can focus on themselves. Without the distraction of beds to make, shopping and cooking to do they can put themselves first. The mindful walking we do; the small group that allows a feeling of belonging and deep discussion; the sampling of local and seasonal food and wine; the history and the scenery tends to aid re-discovery and re-connection and then onto re-igniting their spark.
One of my recent Camino Experience clients said – “The Camino allowed me to focus on myself, which is something that I am rarely able to do as a wife, mother and employee. As a wife and mother I am responsible for keeping my family afloat. As an employee I am responsible for keeping my team afloat. But no one is responsible for keeping ME afloat! I felt like I was drowning before this trip, and now- after 1 week of focusing on no one but me- I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and more present in my life. I am beyond thankful for this wonderful opportunity.”
On my own last section of the Camino I was very aware of the ancient woodlands that we are walking through. Filled with ancient oak trees I began to wonder what stories these trees could tell. I felt drawn to walk more ancient paths and to tap into the wisdom of these as well as into our own stories as women. As we have so many ancient paths in the UK, I am exploring some of these to add to what I already offer.
I get so much joy from walking, from introducing it to other women and seeing their joy at all they discover. I love being able to use it as the vehicle to deliver my experience, skills and knowledge through coaching and mentoring and my overarching aim is that the wonderful women who walk with me uncover their fur selves and love their true selves.
At one point many years ago I remember saying “If someone would pay me to walk then that’s what I would do”. Seems like that is exactly what has happened.
To learn more about Heather, her fantastic programmes and services, check out: