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Tracy Pawelski: Finding steps to tell her own story

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Tracy Pawelski outside Midtown Cinema for her book-signing launch in June.
Tracy Pawelski outside Midtown Cinema for her book-signing launch in June. - (Photo / )

You learn a lot about yourself after walking hundreds of miles in a month's time. For one Harrisburg woman, it was a journey that ended with her very own book launch.

Tracy Pawelski just finished her first book, "One Woman's Camino," and she recently shared some of her experiences in writing the book and how a 500-mile journey in Spain was more than just putting one foot in front of the other. 

CPBJ: What inspired you most to write a book?

Pawelski: This is a story about the reward of disruption. It also is a story about a once-in-a-lifetime walk on El Camino de Santiago - the Way of St. James - a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella, where believers say the remains of St. James are buried. It took my 21-year-old daughter, Juliet, and I 35 days to walk 500 miles from the French Pyrenees to the northwestern corner of Spain.

When Juliet and I started walking in June 2015, I decided to publish a daily blog to stay connected to my family and friends. The blog took off and was shared with people regionally and then internationally. It became clear that people were inspired by our journey and, in many ways, were walking the Camino with us.

I wrote this book to talk about the life lessons that are teased out on a long-distance walk like El Camino, lessons that can become buried in a world full of distractions. While the story is only my story, I hope "One Woman's Camino" is especially encouraging to women who are looking for the confidence to take their next step.

CPBJ: Walking 500 miles is physically demanding, but I'm assuming the emotional demands are just as challenging. How did you endure on both ends?

Pawelski: At the beginning, when we were walking across the Pyrenees and through Spain’s Basque country, the path was more physically challenging. The terrain is steeper and your body hasn't been conditioned by weeks of walking. The high, arid plains of Spain are flat and monotonous and demand emotional endurance. Each leg tests your stamina at the same time that it offers the gift of time to think. When you overcome any challenging situation, the reward is the confidence to know you can tackle anything.

Tracy Pawelski on her walk.
Tracy Pawelski on her walk. - ()

CPBJ: Traveling to Spain might not be in the cards for some. How can we translate your experience into our everyday professional decisions?

Pawelski: Every once in a while, you need to reinvent yourself. Every once in a while you need to decide that the safe place is not the best place. Let's be clear. Reinvention does not require that you leave your job or travel to Spain, but it does require you to take a risk on yourself and disrupt the status quo.

On Camino, we followed a collection of yellow arrows to find our way and had to trust that they would appear when we needed them. Just like in professional decision-making, you have to trust yourself and look for signs to guide you. You ask for help and give if freely to others who may need it.

You face your fears and march right past them. In the end you will be rewarded with joyful work, enduring relationships and no regrets. Just like a trek of 500 miles, you will look back and marvel at the distance you have traveled and the legacy you have left behind.

CPBJ: You are very active outdoors. What is your secret?

Pawelski: I'm not an athlete by any stretch but I love a good adventure, preferably one with exceptional scenery. For me, the best adventures are out in nature where you can find inspiration in the beauty all around you.

After walking across Spain, I've continued to trek in out-of-the-way places like Nepal's Annapurna Circuit and Scotland's West Highlight Way. At a recent speaking engagement, a young woman asked why I didn't take these trips by train or car. I told her that walking for long stretches gives you an opportunity to slow down and immerse yourself in a place.

'What happens when it rains?' she asked. You get wet.

At a glance

Tracy Pawelski is the former public face and voice for several of the region’s public and private sector institutions. Today, she is the senior communications counsel for PPO&S, a regional PR firm based in Harrisburg. Throughout her career, she has balanced working in national politics and for corporate giants with her family and interests. Tracy writes from her home in Dillsburg, where she enjoys hiking the Appalachian Trail in the summer and ski instructing in the winter. An adventurer at heart and published travel writer, she regularly asked herself, "If not now, then when?"

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Cathy Hirko

Cathy Hirko

Cathy Hirko is managing editor, news, for the Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at chirko@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @CathyHirko.

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