You Don’t Have to Fit In

Posted March 15th, 2019 by

Our team often turns to Dr. Brene Brown when thinking about camp. We’ve read all her books, thought about how her ideas can help shape our culture, and bounced ideas off of her work. One of the big points we keep coming back to is ‘fitting in’ vs. ‘belonging.’

From an Oprah.com article:

“(C)ontrary to what most of us think: Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them.

Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are….”

Belonging at Weequahic

The idea of belonging is one that drives us at Camp Weequahic. Our campers come from 13 different states and 14 different countries. Each one is different from the next – tall and short, young and old, English speaker and Texan speaker.

Some kids have a lot of camp in their family history while others are jumping in for the first time. Even the handful of twins we have are different people.

So, how do we ‘fit in’ when camp is so diverse? First, by accepting the fact that you already belong. Second, by living out the values of gratitude, attitude and courage. And, third, by having a blast alongside everyone else.

Out There

Yes, it’s easier to feel you belong at camp. We get to create a bubble that shields us from the comparison trap easily found out in the ‘real-world.’ Your clothes, social media presence, grades, background… none of that matters at camp.

What matters is you having a blast alongside everyone around you, treating others with kindness, and striving to grow.

Out there, it’s harder. We all fall into habits and routines that drive us, sometimes blindly, through each day. A snapchat post here, homework there, comparing test scores with that kid, sitting with the same people at lunch.

We want to band together, form a tribe that will keep us ‘safe.’ We just want to fit in. (I know – I do it all the time.) We don’t want to stand out. Wear the same clothes, show up at the same time, ignore the same people, be nice to the same people….

Here’s the thing, though – anyone who made an impact on the world around them didn’t fit in.

Standing Out

The little lady who saved so many in Sri Lanka? She knew she belonged and just did the work.

The man with the funny hair who played the violin (badly) and was dyslexic? He figured out so many big problems that he didn’t have time to worry about what others thought.

The leader who walks around in a robe all day who has written books, played with children, and climbed mountains.*

If you get to the base facts, it’s pretty simple. We’re all humans. We all live on earth. We all share the same air, are warmed by the same sun, and profit from the same blood in our veins.

You don’t have to fit in. You already belong. Have a great week!

*Can you guess who I was talking about? It’s Mother Teresa, Dr. Einstein, and the Dalai Lama

Welcome to the Party

Posted March 8th, 2019 by

I’m a big fan of learning throughout the year using podcasts. These bite-sized reminders, new info, and interesting stories always give me something to think about. (And, if you’d like to try a new one about the lessons of summer camp, check out the one we are doing: Campfire Conversation.)

Kate and I spent several hours listening to a recent talk between Tim Ferriss and his guest, Graham Duncan. There was a lot in the talk about finding the best people for your team – something we research a lot at Weequahic. Not so important for our campers.

However, there were three points I thought were perfect ‘campfire’ ideas to share.

Subject or Object

Don’t worry – this is not a grammar lesson. (Mrs. Leary, my 11th grade English teacher, still gives me the shivers….)

This idea is all about how you see yourself in relation to what’s going on around you. For instance, it could be pouring down rain. You’ve got two choices in this situation: it’s all about the rain (It’s raining and that stinks!) in which case the rain. In this case, it’s the subject.  Or, you can flip the script a bit and make the ‘rain’ become the object as in ‘Hm… I get to go splash in the puddles!’

The fancy way to say this is you are moving the ‘locus of control’ to yourself rather than putting it outside yourself onto something you can’t control. This has a lot to do with attitude and choosing how you react.

Bring It On

This is a great idea to use when you know you are about to go through something uncomfortable or, gulp… painful.

Let’s say it’s your turn to run the mile in PE class. You never liked running and your normal ‘self-talk’ is to say ‘I really don’t like to run.’ This time, try something different:

Rub your hands together, smile, and say ‘bring it on!’

This won’t make you a world-class middle distance runner. However, it WILL give you the best chance of doing your best.

Here’s the thing, you either bounce off of pain like it’s a wall or you get through to the other side. If you create a habit of ‘bring it on!’, you’ll start to get to the ‘other side’ of the discomfort.

Welcome to the Party

‘Welcome to the party. I’m your amiable host.” I love this idea because it makes me think about the first day of camp. We get stand up with all our campers and yell ‘welcome to the party!’

When taken in the right context, everything is our ‘party’ as our senses draw everything in towards us. So, with this in mind, welcome to the party joy and pain, contentment and fear, bravery and anxiety. I’m your friendly host, let’s rock it out.

Graham, in the podcast, talks about his young son leaving his parents’ bedroom late one night saying, “Welcome to the party, ‘scared of the dark!’” He got back in bed and went right off to sleep.

If it’s a party and everyone is invited, you get to be the type of host you want. Want to welcome experiences in a friendly way and shoo out anything that doesn’t fit? Or, do you want to sit back, let everything come at you and hang around, whether you want them to stay or not?

You get to choose. Welcome to the party!

Hat tip: Graham Duncan and Tim Ferriss

Road Signs

Posted March 1st, 2019 by

On a recent trip to West Virginia, Jack and I got to ‘enjoy’ the most winding, vertically challenging, foggy roads I’ve ever driven. To make matters more interesting, this was at night and at the end of an eight-hour journey.

For 90 minutes, we had switch backs and hairpins. Down the side of one mountain and up the side of the next. The experience moved from hair-raising to giggle-inducing and, finally, into quiet determination – for both of us.

You know what kept us safe on a night we could see only about 100 feet in front of us? Lots of road signs.

The Road Ahead

After settling into our hotel room and turning off the lights, I was still too jazzed to sleep. (Jackie-boy had no such problems.) As I lay there thinking about the crazy roads and the bright signs, it dawned on me: that road-trip was a lot like becoming an adult.

We knew our final destination. And, at the beginning, all was easy. The highways were clearly laid out, the sun shining, and several good options for breaks and rest. Kind of like growing up – work hard at school, play by the rules, play time with friends, etc.

All was fine and dandy with the regular bumps in the road until the darkness fell. There was some traffic, a poorly timed bathroom break, some bad radio. Just like growing up: some friend-drama, (a few) failed quizzes, some mistakes I needed to make.

But, for the most part, fine sailing. Then, just like the road at the end of our journey, there arrives moment after moment of confusion and darkness.

For me, this started during in the first few years of college and ended… well, I’m not sure that it has!

You head out on your own for the first time. You start to make choices for yourself and the path forward is not as clear. In fact, sometimes, the path ahead can barely be found, even with all the looking you can muster.

That’s when it is so important to have bright road signs to point the way.

Your Signs

We all have signs, many of which are created when you are growing in your family, in your school, and in your camp. I can’t speak about what you’ve learned at the first two (though I can wager a pretty good guess), I can remind you what you are learning at Weequahic.

  1. A grateful heart is a happy heart.
  2. You get to choose your attitude.
  3. Courage is a muscle – use it or lose it.
  4. Be kind – it’s a choice, not a feeling.

So how do these habits become road signs for those dark and foggy days of your future? I’m glad you asked.

When you are grateful for all that you have – air in lungs, a supportive family, a bunch of opportunity, and so much more – you approach challenges with a better frame of mind. You are more likely to pick an attitude that will help rather than hinder your progress.

With courage, you’ll approach the challenges ready to reach out for help and expand your self-set limits. And, the more kind you are to all those around you, the more likely you are to have help happily offered.

My Signs

You’ll have a lot more signs in front of your if you pay attention. People with whom you work and study, opportunities that are scary and important.

You won’t have a lot of clear vision past the next turn. I say this is a former college golf coach, fund-raiser, frozen yogurt pourer, youth team coach, student, farmhand, substitute teacher and camp director. The signs laid out by my parents, teachers and mentors gave me direction in those foggy moments when I could have steered wrong.

Camper, take some time now to reflect on the signs building in your life. The path ahead is winding and not always clear. But, taken with the right attitude, it’ll be (mostly) fun and they’ll be plenty of road signs along the way.

Have a grateful week!

Necessary Boredom

Posted February 22nd, 2019 by

Here’s a fun conversation starter: In sixty seconds, tell me how many ways a cat and a refrigerator are alike. Go!

Both purr, produce heat, are cold towards humans, hold milk and cream, can have hair balls…. You get the idea.

Why do this? First of all, it’s funny. Secondly, it requires that you get rid of the conventions that you’ve built up over time in your head. Finally, if you do this as a team, it’ll really start to get the creative juices going.

Paper Clips

Did you know that 98% of five-year-old kids come up with 100 ways to use a paper clip over the course of one hour? Guess how many 35-year-olds could do the same. (The answer is 2%!)

Sir Ken Robinson, he of Ted Talk fame, tells of this study in an attempt to explain divergent thinking. This is not the same thing as creativity, or as Sir Ken says it, “the process of having original ideas that have value.” Rather, it’s an important aspect of creativity – being able to see the same thing… differently.

When I walk through the Boys’ bunks at night, there are a lot of examples of divergent thinking. Tennis courts laid out with duct tape on the bunk floor. Towels hung from the ceiling to change bunk beds into forts. Little pieces of tape everywhere (including the porch) marking the place from which someone had made a nerf hoop basket. And, don’t get me started about porch ball….

The girls are no different. I’ve seen BBG played hundreds of times and I still have little idea on how it’s played but they sure do. The few moments that I’m allowed to watch Panic, our girls’ favorite skit game, easily displays divergent thinking. (Plus, ladies… c’mon. I don’t sound THAT southern….) The costumes they create for Twinner Dinner with all 11 in a bunk together? Stunning!

Creativity at Camp

Creativity at camp comes from a number of sources. First, we remove a whole lot of external stimuli – no phones, precious few screens, and no homework. Secondly, we’ve got great support and encouragement from the counselors to stretch those creative muscles. Finally, we give the group a chance to be either bored.

Yes… I said it – I don’t mind a little boredom at camp.

It inspires creativity, especially in a community that really comes together. Without these moments of ‘umm… what are we going to do?’, we wouldn’t have Bench Ball, BBG, Night at the Races, Trash Bag Fashion, Queen’s Request or dozens of other fun ideas.

So, knowing all of the benefits of boredom and the power of divergent thinking, how can we get more creative back home? It’ll take three c’s: courage to actually put the phones down and turn off the tv, connection with each other and, finally, a bit of creative thinking.

Have a creative week!

Love Letter from Camp Weequahic

Posted February 14th, 2019 by

Dear Parents,

Hi. This is Camp Weequahic. (Yes, the actual place – not that crazy guy Cole who runs around all the time.) I know we don’t talk much this time of year. Hey – it’s really cold and I’m not one for talking much.

But, in mid-winter, I get a chance to think a bunch without all the commotion of the summer.  One thing I realized I need to express to you is this: thank you.

Thank you for sending your children to come play on my grounds, learn in my classrooms, & swim in my lake. I’ve been around for a long time and each summer feels like the first.

Starting in April, all these great young men and women pour over me for several weeks, giving my grass a cut, fixing up the little dings from Mother Nature’s winter, preparing great things for the coming party.

These staff members get so excited when talking and thinking and planning about the kids arriving. I do, too.

And then it happens: cars and buses arrive full of kids! Young and old, new and returning, happy and (a few) fearful. They arrive from all over the place – different backgrounds, different experiences, different states and countries…. It’s so much fun!

What amazes me is how the pageantry and party of the first day transitions into the ‘normal flow of awesomeness’ so quickly. My Dining Hall literally rocks with the singing and dancing. My fields are full. My arts facilities smell of paint and clay and wood dust. And it all just works and sings and shines, no matter the weather.

(Yes, my grass gets pummeled but I’m here to help grow great kids, not grow grass….)

I can’t tell you happy it makes this old camp to host so much love and joy and laughter and learning. It’s a gift to see these children grow into young adults. It’s even more fun to see so many return as staff members to help the next generation of campers grow into independent, courageous, competent, and confident people.

Parents, I’m old enough to realize that this would not happen without your trust and your desire to give your child the gift of summer camp. Without you, I’d probably be a condo complex or sub-division or field for cows to enjoy. Being a place where kids come to learn and grow is so much better.

Your kids are a gift to me. And the community they get to create at summer camp is a worthy launching pad for their limitless futures. I can’t wait to see what they have in store me this coming summer.

So, since it’s Valentines Day, I wanted to express all this to you.

Love,

Camp Weequahic

Now. Here. This.

Posted February 8th, 2019 by

As you can imagine, there are a lot announcements during a day Camp Weequahic. Not all start the same, though.

In the dining hall or around the flagpole, you’ll hear ‘THREE, TWO, ONE, SHHHhhhh….’ to get everyone’s attention. For the activity day announcements, you’ll hear music from the speakers and the melodious voices of our office team. Moo Call is announced with, well… mooing. (Seriously!)

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, not too long ago ‘Now hear this’ was used to get everyone’s attention. You’d hear it barked through megaphones and read it in newsprint. It was everywhere, normal.

Father Greg Boyle, founder of the largest gang rehabilitation program in the world, wrote a book that captured me for a week. In it, he uses this ‘Now hear this’ phrase in a different way.

Now

We often get caught up revisiting and reliving the past or imagining the future. Some of this is certainly useful.

Reviewing our past mistakes to learn the lessons therein is useful. Remembering times when we did something really well leads to confidence. So does imagining ourselves doing something perfectly in the future.

But when we get caught in those spots, we fail to live our lives now. And, when we fail to be totally immersed in the ‘right now’ we miss opportunities, delights and simple joys.

Here

Be where your feet are. I’ve noticed this saying a lot lately. Rather than focusing on somewhere else, be fully immersed in where you are.

Walking around camp the first few days of the session, you’ll find a few campers thinking about home. It’s completely natural and missing home is a real thing. Rather than being ‘where their feet are’, these campers have one foot at camp and another back home.

Like Mr. Myagi said, you can’t walk down the middle of the road. You’ve got to choose one side or the other. At Camp Weequahic, we do everything we can to help our campers revel in being ‘here.’

This

What you are doing right now is important. Doesn’t matter if you are making your bed, laughing with your friends, or learning a new skill.

We spend a lot of time in our own heads. Even when someone is in front of us, we are often making lists of things to do, thinking about what’s for dinner, or looking around. Often, we are thinking about our response to what they are saying rather than truly listening.

Whatever is in front of you deserves your attention. (Except for your phone. Put that down. J) Focus completely on what is in front of you.

The more we practice the Now. Here. This. Idea, the more joy you’ll get and give to the world around you. Yes, there is a need to review the past and dream of the future. Careful, though, that you don’t sacrifice the present.

 “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa

 

PS – Amit Ray said, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” I enjoyed a great campfire conversation with Bob Ditter about just this topic. I hope you’ll take a few moments to listen.

I Want You to Fail

Posted February 1st, 2019 by

Yes, you read that right. I want you to fail. And not just once but again and again and again. I want you to screw up, mess up, flub the line, tangle the string, drop the pass.

Why? Because, if you take it correctly, it’s the only way you’ll learn.

Learning from Mistakes

When you’ve made the mistake, take a moment and think. Review what happened. Where was your attention? What did you not understand? Is there someone who can help think through it, diagnose the problem?

I know you are probably upset but remember – the space between what happens and how you react is yours to use as you want.

Once you’ve thought about the recent past, take some time to think about the near future: what will you do differently next time? In fact, once you have the knowledge you need, I want you to go so far as seeing yourself doing that ‘thing’ perfectly.

(Make sure to include the joy you’ll feel in accomplishing it!)

Then, get after it. Again.  Remember…

Competence Is Earned

When I was in elementary school, my friends and I watched a baby bird coming out of its shell. Seeing it start to struggle at pecking through its shell, I reached out to help.  Before I could get to the shell, the scoutmaster stopped me and said, “No, that bird has to get out itself. Otherwise, he won’t grow.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not but it made sense. It still does today, four decades later.

Like that baby bird, you have to struggle in order to know how to overcome. When you realize that challenges are there to instruct you, inform you, and engage you, you’ll start to develop grit, stick-to-it-ivness and confidence.

It is not easy and it is really important.

Want the good news? The people at Camp Weequahic can teach you how to make this learning fun.

Learning from Mistakes at Camp Weequahic

First off, your parents aren’t at camp. That automatically takes some pressure off of you. You can fail all you want! (And, those parents who are there act like they aren’t!)

Camper, speaking as a parent and for our parents: we don’t mean to apply ‘pressure.’ We don’t want you to be perfect. We want you to be a good human who can handle the challenges and joys of life as you grow old. And, we want you to call us often when we get old!

Instead of your parents, you are surrounded by all these great mentors and teachers, people who are only a few years older but have the experience to teach. They also have fresh memories of their own mistakes and are excited to support you in the learning process.

Secondly, you realize at Weequahic that some of ‘struggle’ is internal – building the courage to make a new friend, try a new activity, be vulnerable. And, some of it is external for all to see – muffing a line on stage, dropping the baton in the relay race.

The good news is you are surrounded by a TON of friends who are going through it, too. All they want to do with you (rather than at you) is laugh and have a blast. Again, this takes the pressure down a notch.

Finally, we try a lot of different things and do our best to make sure they are fun attempts. (And, of course, we keep things as safe as possible!)

Healthy Habits

In the end, you learn to frame the mistakes as ‘learning opportunities’ rather than failures or losses. And, when you pile up enough learning, you’ll start winning. Not just at the game or with that tricky part of wood shop work, but in building a life of meaning.

And that, campers, is something we should all get after.

So, go out and fail today. Just don’t fail to learn from it. We’ll be watching and supporting you the whole way!

Have a great week,

Cole

PS – If you’d like to listen to a Campfire Conversation Podcast on this subject, you’ll find a short conversation between me and some good friends on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

The Space Between

Posted January 25th, 2019 by

It’s late in the afternoon and we are tired and full and hot. It’s been a fun day – climbing, waterskiing, soccer. In Grill Masters, we made these crazy kebabs with chicken, onions and pineapple.

Lunch was actually really good – wing day! – and the dancing was hilarious.

But, we were up late last night goofing off, telling stories, laughing, and pretending to be asleep, whispering to each other until who knows when. That last round of gaga was great… and tiring.

Time for ‘shower hour’ and everyone is back in the bunk. I catch a look from someone I’ve not seen since lunch. And then another. What a second – was that a dirty look? Did they really just sneer at me?

What the heck? Hm… we didn’t talk at lunch. They were sitting on the other end of the table and wouldn’t pass the ketchup.

What the heck is this all about? Snotty kids…. I can’t believe they’d look at me that way. I going to….

Stimulus and Response

As I hope you can tell, the above is a fictional account of what could very easily go on in a bunk at camp. Not often, mind you, but it does happen. And… I wanted to get your attention. This is a classic camp example of stimulus and response.

Here are the basics: a change in the environment is the stimulus; the reaction of the organism to that change is the response.

In other words, someone tells a joke you think funny, you respond by laughing. You hear a loud crash in the middle of the night, you respond by waking up and looking around. Someone gives you a look you consider mean, you start to react.

It’s pretty solid science, this stimulus and response reaction. But here’s the caveat – you can determine how you respond.

One of my favorite thinkers of the 20th century is Viktor Frankel. An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, he was a survivor of the Holocaust camps. One of his thoughts that has always stuck with me is this:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

You Choose

At Camp Weequahic, our campers get to choose their activities. Whether they want to focus on swimming, creating, competing, or adventuring, we’ve got it covered. Everything from robotics and cooking to sports leagues and waterskiing. Your summer, Your choice; it’s a tagline for a reason.

But that’s not all our campers (and staff) get to choose. Their most important choice, made daily and often without much thought, is their reaction.

It’s our goal that campers (and staff) learn to use the space between stimulus and response to become more mindful and intentional of their reaction. It’s an important habit to develop and camp is full of opportunities to practice in a safe, thoughtful environment.

The more we can help our campers (and, yes, our staff) practice using the space between what happens and how they react, the more freedom and growth they’ll enjoy in their lives.

It’s important to remember that the collection of these responses over time determines a person’s attitude. And, that attitude will determine a vast part of their future life.

Here’s to the space between….

Bright Lights Don’t Need Spotlights

Posted January 17th, 2019 by

Last summer around the campfire, I spent some time talking about mirrors and binoculars.

The idea is simple: we have a choice. We get to either stare at the world through a mirror, reflecting only ourselves and the people that are ‘with us.’ Or, we can pick up the binoculars and look outward, explore, and welcome others in.

(And, yes, I challenged everyone to do more of the latter.)

Bright Lights

I happened on a quote recently that reminded me of this lesson: bright lights don’t need spotlights.

In other words, if you are asking for all the attention (the spotlight), stop! You don’t need it – you are already bright enough.

Instead, you should be shining your light in order to illuminate the world for others. Sharing your light doesn’t diminish it. It does the opposite – you actually help your light (and the world) get brighter.

One of the best examples of this is our wishboat evening each summer. When one camper lights their candle and sets it off on Sly Lake, you notice but you can’t see anything else around its glow. Once we have 600 of them in the lake, you see a lot.

You may think it easy to spot the ‘bright lights’ around you. Odds are, they’ll be really funny, really smart, really creative, or really athletic. Not all of them want the spotlight. The ones that do, though, are takers – they aren’t giving in the relationship so much as they are taking from those around them.

Share Your Light

Here’s the thing – we all have a lot of ‘brightness’ in ourselves. Doesn’t matter if you are someone who loves to read quietly or someone who loves to be loud and interact with everyone. We all have gifts to share, light to lend. It doesn’t have to be much; it just has to be genuine.

So, if you are demanding the spotlight, you might want to change your approach. You are already shining brightly – you don’t need the extra light! Instead, make your light brighter by sharing your light with others.

On the flipside, if you are walking around hiding your light, you are taking something important away from those around you – your true self and gifts. We all have light within us – and we need you to share it!

Have a bright week ahead, everyone!

 

Camp in Winter

Posted January 11th, 2019 by

I’m happy we run camp in the summer. As I sit at our kitchen table having just walked camp, the temperature gauge is resting at 9 degrees. Dry snow everywhere, ice on the lake, and a cold wind blowing.

Brr!

That said, camp continues to live on. We’ll spend a chunk of tomorrow with 200 of our Weequahic crew in NYC. In two weeks, the party will be in the DC area with close to 60 friends, new and old. Then we head to Florida for the southern side of things. It’s going to be a great, camp-filled next few weeks.

Keep the Fire Going

While we gather around the campfire each Friday night during the summers, I hope a little bit of that flame still burns on in the hearts and minds of our campers (and staff) as they move through the year. There, we talk showing gratitude, choosing your attitude, and developing courage.

We laugh. We think. And, most importantly, we sit TOGETHER, side by side. Campers young and old, staff new and long-time are truly with one another while we ponder and celebrate in a special spot.

I wish we had more of these moments during the year. But, the memories of Friday nights at camp can keep us warm during the winter months.

Sure, a few lessons may have been helpful – the lessons of a pencil, binoculars vs. mirrors, a life of thank you notes, filling up your bucket in order to fill up others….

The greatest lesson, however, comes in just simply being together. No technology to distract. No neon lights flashing or cars buzzing along. Instead, it’s the occasional song of a bird, the lapping of the lake, the crackle of the fire that fills us.

So, as the days grow shorter and the air gets colder, take a few moments to remember our time at the lake. Then, spend a few more on the laughter and time spent together with friends from near and far.

Do this often enough and not only will you fill yourself up with warmth and light, you’ll start shining for others, too. Have a great week!