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!

A New Start

Posted January 6th, 2019 by

We are just about a week into the New Year – hope it’s been a happy beginning for you!

Looking back over the past week, have you started 2019 the way you intended? If not, don’t worry. I missed the first Campfire post of the year, my desk is a mess and the leaves still haven’t raked themselves…. We all have room for improvement!

New Beginnings

What are you going to do in the new year? We’ve not had a 2019 before – it’s a fresh palate, a new canvas, a calm lake.

What kind of ripples are you going to make? Are they going to spread out through your personal puddle, touching only the sand and leaves that surround it? Or, are you going to be a part of a big pond and have your ripples compliment those around you who are making waves of their own?

Are you going to compare yourself with others? Careful… comparison is the thief of joy. Rather, how often will you celebrate the victories, small and large, of those around you? Caring for others before yourself will make you more unique – and significant – than you realize.

Will the little person in your head that spouts terrible, draining, and impatient noise win out over the big person that actually drives your actions? Or, will that calming, patient, and uplifting voice from the big person triumph?

It’s a struggle we all face daily. Remember, the voice you feed with your attention the most will win out.

Act It Out

Finally, I’ll leave you with the thought which made the biggest impact on me this past year. It’s something I’ve always known but had forgotten:

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.

Want to get better at something? Start now. Want to be kinder to your siblings or parents or friends? Stop thinking about it and just do it. Want to live a more grateful 2019 than ’18? Want to get strongStart writing down your ‘thankfuls’ and sharing them with the people who matter.

You’ll find your mind follows your actions. And so will your mood.

So, as we move into this brand-spanking New Year –  shoulders back, chin up, and smile at everyone coming your way. You get to decide how you act and think in the world. Why let that kind of gift go to waste?

Have a wonderful end to 2018 and start to 2019. Let’s make it a great year… together!

Let’s Make Last Summer Jealous

Posted December 21st, 2018 by

It’s near the end of 2018 and I’m in a nostalgic mood.

We had A LOT of fun this past summer. Beautiful days bouncing, swimming, fishing, sailing, and skimming across Sly Lake. Championships contested and (some) won. Incredible creations and shows performed. Rainy day goofiness enjoyed and untold laughter shared. Friendships rekindled, newly made, and stamped for ‘forever.’ Heck, even the food was great!

In other words, 2018 was one of the best summers we’ve yet to enjoy. That said, I know we can make last summer jealous.

How? It’s simple: we do it together.

Here’s the Plan

First, camper back home needs to hug their parents and say ‘thank you’ for the gift of camp. It’s not a right, it’s not something that you are ‘owed.’ Instead, the gift of camp is something to celebrated. You get to go to camp! Show your gratitude by saying ‘thank you.’

Second, start to set your attitude to ‘let’s get it on!’ The key word in that phrase is the first one – let’s – since it implies lots of people in the party. We are not saying ‘I’m going to have a blast.’ Rather, it’s we us….

Third, we need to start practicing being courageous now. Remember, courage is like a muscle. If you train it, courage will grow and grow… without you getting sore one bit! Fail to use your courage and it will get smaller and weaker and more useless.

It’s a big deal to go to camp! Campers, you are away from home, living with a bunch of kids you may or may not know, exploring new activities, trying new food, and… gasp… having to make your bed. Every day!

However, with a grateful heart, increasing courage and an attitude set to ‘arms wide open’, you’ve got the makings of an incredible, jaw-dropping, unforgettable summer.

Summer 2019

New Basketball Courts? Check.

New Weelicious Cooking Studio? Check.

New Waterski boat? Check.

Updated Dining Hall? Check.

New Fashion Design Studio? Check.

Best staff in the business? Well… that’s subjective and lots of camps have great teams. However, are they the staff who best fit our vision of a great summer and can’t wait to create amazing for everyone? You bet!

Campers from all over the US and fourteen countries outside the US who can’t wait to make new friends, build new experiences, and have the time of their lives this summer?

Oh yeah!

Laughing, playing, learning, talking, eating and more together, we have a great chance at making Summer 2018 jealous of Summer ’19. We’ve got all the ingredients necessary. Let’s get in there together and stir the pot.

I don’t know about you but I can’t wait until camp!

Community and Camp

Posted December 14th, 2018 by

I enjoyed a conversation with a friend recently who had never experienced summer camp. Neither he, his bride, nor his children had ever been a part of our kind of party and was honestly asking what all the fuss was about.

I fumbled around a bit about the joy our campers feel, the crazy evening activities, the benefits of being outside, the ‘no technology’, etc. Then I hit on the theme, the principle, the core of the matter:

Community

The inter-web is ripe with studies and articles on the effect of loneliness in America right now. It’s a sad thing. Even with the rise of technology and general connectivity, there has actually been a fall in true connection – face to face, shoulder to shoulder interaction. Though connection has surged, we’ve not seen the benefits to the community.

Our kids today have little conception of the world before the tech we all now enjoy. (And, let’s face it – we do enjoy it!) Like any generation, they have a hard time looking at the world as a place in which a LOT of things happened before them.

They’ve no appreciation that, not long ago, community was built around the dinner table. Fast food and takeout weren’t around three generations ago. Before that, community was centered around the hearth and homestead… for a couple thousand years. Prior to that happy development, community was focused around the campfire… for tens of thousands of years.

There is something in us humans that reaches out for those much older ‘campfire’ days, days of stories and connection and dependence on each other.

In our modern world, we live longer, eat better, know more than any previous generation. There are so many wonders of the modern world – from the making of a ‘simple’ pencil to a mission to Mars – that it’s hard to fathom.

And yet… a lot of us are lonely. We are at risk of living a life with little meaningful connection. Even with all our wonderful, incredible advances, we yearn for the presence of interested, engaged others.

Community at Camp

In my experience, there is little out there that offers such a connection than summer camp. To quote Kurt Vonnegut:

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

That’s exactly what the right camp does for each child (and staff member!)

Not every camp is the right one for each child. That’s up to the child and the parent to decide upon. However, when you find the right fit, there is no better way to forge the connection to a community than summer camp.

You live together. You play together. You laugh, cry, argue, run, eat, rough-house, giggle and guffaw together. Each person is heading in the same direction, for the similar enough reasons, as the rest of the crew. Together.

When the power goes out, you all party like it’s 1718. When the thespians put on an incredible play, you all celebrate with them. When there is a birthday, you all sing and cheer. When taps is played, you all say ‘Goodnight, Camp Weequahic.’ When… well, you get the idea.

That is community. That is summer camp. And, I don’t know about you, but I want more of it.

Thanks for being a part of our community. Talk with you soon.

Hopeless… But Completely Worth It

Posted December 7th, 2018 by

While traveling to see families this past weekend, I got to speak with one of our very fun staff members. He told me a story from Summer ’18 that made me laugh and think a bit.

The outline is this: one of his campers spent a few rest-hours trying to teach him how to throw a baseball. While certainly athletic enough, our staff member is not from the States and had no idea what he was trying to do.

After about 30 minutes of instruction and failure and many laughs, the camper looked to him and said “You are hopeless… but completely worth it.”

Our staff member took it with a smile and agreement. While we moved on to different discussion points, that story, and that ending phrase in particular, stuck with me.

Let’s break it down a bit:

You Are Hopeless

I’ve been told, by 9-year-olds mind you, that I’m hopeless in the gaga pit. They may be right. Over my ten summers at Weequahic, I’m 0 for 457 in terms of wins. That’s right – I’ve never won a game.

I promise – it’s not for a lack of trying. But, more importantly, being hopeless has never stopped me from having a blast.

Sure, I could work at my quickness and flexibility and strategy to improve. But, let’s face it: this 45-year-old camp director is not going to put in that much effort. So, I’ll accept that title – hopeless – because I choose not to work at getting better.

There are lots of things in my life for which I would classified as ‘hopeless’ – brain surgery, ballet dancing, telling really good jokes, walking past Chef Daniel’s chocolate cookies without eating one, and so much more.

But….

I’m not trying to get better at any of those things. I’m lucky to know some great brain surgeons, I’ve met Baryshnikov (a lot of power packed into that small, creative frame), Kate is more than funny enough for the two of us, and the cookies are just too good!

Given enough time, effort and training, I would become something better than ‘hopeless’ in all of those categories. Well… maybe not walking past the cookies.

A wise man once told me the secret to the word ‘but.’ Whatever comes before it in a sentence is forgotten and replaced with whatever follows it. For example, ‘You are really a nice person but I’m choosing someone else.’ Or, ‘I like what you did there but it’s all wrong.’

You get the idea.

In fact, we’ve gone so far as to train our staff not to use the word ‘but’ in those situations. Instead, we use ‘and.’ By changing that one little word, it allows you to convey both a positive and a constructive criticism or piece of bad news without invalidating the positive.

But… (sorry, couldn’t resist) in this case, the word is a perfect choice. Because we are all…

Completely Worth It

This does not apply just to our erstwhile staff member who still can’t throw a baseball. It applies to all of us. We are ALL worth it. And, by ‘it’, I mean effort, attention, patience, kindness, caring, interest and love.

We talk to our staff members about the what, the how and the why of camp. The ‘what’ is pretty simple: we run a residential summer camp for boys and girls that is three or six weeks long. ‘How’ we do it? By creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude, and courage. The ‘why’ though… that’s the bedrock, the foundation.

For us, it’s because we are all worth it – the effort, attention, patience, kindness, caring, interest and love. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time camper, a fourth-generation alum, the staff member who washes toilets or the one holding the clipboard.

Sure, you may be hopeless at a lot of things. But, we are all completely worth ‘it.’ And realizing that, at this festive time of year, may be the best present of all.

Happy Holidays, y’all. Talk with you next week.

Some Final Thoughts on Gratitude

Posted November 29th, 2018 by

Three final thoughts on Gratitude this month….

First, seeing the world (and yourself) through the lens of gratitude is a choice. No one can force it on you, no one can take it away from you. In every situation, in every moment, you get to choose whether to react gratefully… or not.

Second, there are a lot of benefits of behaving gratefully. People who live out gratitude more fully:

  • report higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism, vitality, patience, connection with others, and lower levels of depression and stress. In short, gratitude helps your attitude.
  • show the capacity to be empathetic and take the perspective of others. And, they are thought to be more generous and helpful by their friends. Which means you’ll have more of them.
  • place less importance on ‘things’, share more often, and show lower levels of jealousy towards others. Certainly helps with the accumulation of and connection with friends, doesn’t it?

Third and finally, gratitude leads to joy. And not just for yourself. When you express your gratitude towards others, you are giving them a gift, one that is both easier to give and more powerful than you think.

Remember…

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

Y’all have a great-full week!

(Hat tip to Dr. Tim Elmore for ‘benefits of a grateful life’ list.)

Thanks a Thousand… and One

Posted November 16th, 2018 by

We enjoy a lot of treats directing Weequahic. I don’t just mean having the key to Canteen or a chef that makes just a few extra chocolate chip cookies. (And, yes, those are seriously tempting treats!)

It’s so much more than that. We get to travel to see our families throughout the year. We host really bowling parties with a bunch of our kiddos and parents. We get to meet and work with fantastic staff members, spend the offseason working with close friends…. There is so much for which to be grateful.

Sure, running camp has its moments when it’s not all chocolate chips cookies and slush puppies. But that’s with anything we do. We make mistakes from time to time and are grateful for the families who show patience as we learn from those mistakes.

Yes, indeed, we are even thankful for the mistakes.  We could not get better without them. (And neither can you!)

Are you starting to catch the ‘grateful’ theme yet? Good… because I’m laying it on pretty thick.

A Thousand Thanks

Imagine my delight when one of our camp dads, AJ Jacobs, asked if I would read and comment on an early edition of his new book, Thanks a Thousand, A Gratitude Journey.

I’ve been a fan of the Jacobs family (especially their son, Lucas) for several years.  Ever since reading his Year of Living Biblically, I’ve been a fan of AJ’s writing, too. With his deep dives into things and a humor that is right up my alley, I find myself learning, laughing and thinking all at the same time.

Thanks a Thousand is all about AJ’s attempt to thank everyone involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. And, no, he doesn’t stop with the local barista. When AJ jumps in, he goes deep. For example, he thanked the lady who kept the coffee bean warehouse bug-free.

Along the journey, AJ did a great deal of research on gratitude and shares a number of ideas on how we can develop the attitude of gratitude more fully in our lives. With his permission, I’m sharing seven of his ‘greatest hits.’ And, yes, I’ll do my best to connect them to camp, too!

Focus on What Goes Right

There are so many things that go right in a day that it’s hard to count. We just rarely try! For example, the line moved quickly at the store. All of your homework was turned in on time and done well. A pretty awesome dinner arrived at your door.

As I say at campfire often, when you start being grateful that which you have in your life, well… things get better quickly!

The Art of Savoring

How many of our campers want camp to be over quickly? (The answer is ‘none.’) How many are surprised it’s over so quickly? (The answer is ‘everyone!’) When you intentionally try to stretch out a moment, a taste, a connection, you are savoring things.

It doesn’t take an incredible meal, three weeks at Camp Weequahic, or anything else ‘special.’ You can savor anything you put your mind to draw out. And that act of savoring is closely linked with gratitude.

Practice Six Degrees of Thankfulness

When learning about his coffee, AJ realized it takes thousands of people to make it all come together.

It’s no different for camp: 220 staff members, 700 campers over the summer, 530 sets of parents, the bus company, the food suppliers, the farmers who produce the food, our undaunted US Postal Service workers, the team behind CampMinder….

The thing is, at camp (or at school) you are part of something bigger than just yourself. And that, my camp friend, is important to realize and acknowledge.

Using Gratitude to Fall Asleep

I love this one. We’ve been trying it at home since I heard it last week and I’m thrilled to say it works!

The idea is this: say something for which you are grateful that starts with the letter ‘A’, move to ‘B’, then ‘C’, and on and on until you fall asleep. What a great thing to try at camp next summer!

Thou Shalt Not Have (Delusional) Nostalgia

You often hear people talk about the good ol’ days when things seem like they were better. (AJ’s mantra when he falls into this trap are three words: surgery without anesthesia.)

More often than you would think, our second summer campers say ‘this is summer is different than last summer.’ Yes, it is! Every summer at camp is different because the people – staff, campers, parents – are all a year older and have changed, even just a little bit.

The important point to remember is this: glorifying the past is a thief of joy. Instead, be grateful and excited about this opportunity that you have right now.

Fake It Until You Make It

There are going to be days when you just aren’t ‘feeling it’, when gratitude is hard to conceive of, much less express. One of the leaders of Save the Children, Jerry Sternin, reminds us that it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting.

So, if you want to be more grateful and accrue all the good things which those habit produce, start acting the part, even if you aren’t feeling it!

Go Analogue

Parents often ask if our staff can accept tips (thank you, but no) or gifts. I always respond, “they’d love to get a ‘thank you’ note.” We overestimate the awkwardness and underestimate the effect.

Two other quick ideas along these lines: First, ‘I’m grateful’ is more effective than ‘thank you.’ Second, those who write ‘thank you’ notes for a job interview get more call-backs.

Okay, I know that is a lot longer than my usual Friday Night campfire post. I hope you’ll agree, though, that there are too many good ideas to keep it to one page! I challenge you to take one or two ideas and put them into practice.

A Final ‘Thank You’

Finally, I’ve got to add my own ‘thanks’ to the thousand passed along for a cup of coffee. AJ, I’m grateful to have been a (very small) part of this journey and pledge to continue the gratitude drumbeat at Weequahic.

Have a great week everyone!

Cole

PS – If you’d like to learn more from AJ’s adventures in gratitude, there are a two options other than purchasing the book. You can listen to AJ on the Tim Ferriss podcast or watch his TED Talk on gratitude. Enjoy!

Simple Habit, Abundant Life

Posted November 9th, 2018 by

I’m so thankful that I get time to read in the ‘off-season.’ I get to enjoy fiction, non-fiction, biographies, and a bit of ‘historical fiction.’ Some books I start and put down after thirty pages. Other books make me want to stay up all night.

I didn’t always like to read ‘real’ books. Comic books were more my style growing up. In fact, I’m always happy to talk old school Marvel and DC stories with the campers.

Reading more substantial books came in high school and then flourished in college. I found books that told great stories in ways that I understood – Lonesome Dove, Shogun, Undaunted Courage, and others – and wanted to read more.

Great-Full Messages

I just finished reading a sweet, short book called The Noticer by Andy Andrews. It’s a nice reminder of being thoughtful in your choices. It also provides ideas to broaden your perspective on things.

The story begins with the narrator, a young man in his early 20’s, discussing how bad things had gotten for him. A somewhat mythical man calling himself Jones shows up to ask questions and lend some wisdom. Among the many lessons Jones lays out is that what you focus on increases.

‘When you focus on things you need, you’ll find those needs increasing.

If you concentrate your thoughts on what you don’t have, you will soon be concentrating on other things that you had forgotten you don’t have – and feel worse!

If you set your mind on loss, you are more likely to lose….

But a grateful perspective brings happiness and abundance into a person’s life.’

(emphasis added)

The day after I dog-eared that section, I stumbled on an article about gratitude I had squirreled away in my desk. Listed in the article were all the benefits found in practicing gratitude along with a few exercises to increase the habit.

Finally, this morning, I received this in my email inbox:

“Want the simplest way to build a habit of gratitude and color the rest of your day? It’s an easy three-step process:

  1. Put a writing pad or journal and pen or pencil next to you bed before you fall asleep.
  2. Go to sleep.
  3. Wake up and write three things* for which you are grateful before you get out of bed.

*Don’t go easy on yourself and write the same things over and over. Think! Look around! I bet you’ve so many things to be grateful for you’ll never finish writing them down.”

Time to Practice

Ok, universe, I get it! I’ll pass these ideas along about gratitude to the kids at Weequahic.

If things had gotten more obvious, I’d expect a brick coming through the front window wrapped with a ‘be grateful!’ message.

Here’s the fun thing about that simple, one to three-minute morning habit: you awaken to all that is fantastic in your life. And, done over enough mornings, you begin to spend time searching out that which you’ll write down the next morning.

More and more, you’ll be practicing the habit of living gratefully. Do that and not only will you be a happier person, you’ll have a lot more people wanting to be around you.

So, why not give it a shot? I’ll be doing this practice from now until the end of the month. I’ll report back to let you know what I experience. If you’ll join me, I’d be happy for the company and would love to learn what you thought about it all.

Have a grateful week!

Flowers and Friendship

Posted November 2nd, 2018 by

Hello all! It’s a chilly afternoon in Georgia and an evenly cooler up at our beloved Sly Lake. While I do enjoy the changing leaves, I must admit that I miss the flowers of summer. (Almost as much as I miss you kiddos!)

Did you know, however, that there are a few plants that bloom in the winter? It’s true.  My favorite is the aptly named Snowdrop. It’s a pretty little flower that blooms from Maine to Florida in the winters.

Why am I thinking about flowers at this time of year? A couple of reasons. First, flowers bring a bit of color to the normally cooler, darker days of Autumn. Second, they remind me that the light and warmth of Spring is not too far off. And, third, they bring some fresh air to the surroundings.

You know what else will bring these great benefits? Your friends.

Friendship and Flowers

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. – M. Proust

When you think back on your summer days at Weequahic, I’m certain you think of your friends first. Yes, the rock wall is great, the lake amazing, and Canteen a complete treat. But none of that really matters without your buddies.

As a father of three campers, I can honestly tell you our boys’ closest friendships in the world are those they’ve built at camp. And, as a camp director who witnesses tears from just about everyone the last night camp… well, I’m certain my boys have plenty of company in that regard.

The question is then, how do you express your gratitude? I’m not suggesting you call up you camp friend and say, ‘Hey, I was just calling to say that I’m really grateful for our friendship.’

Well, ok… sure, you can do just that. However, I don’t know a lot of 10 to 44 year old boys who feel comfortable expressing themselves or receiving that message well.

Actually, I think Maya Angelou said it best when she counseled us to give cheerfully and receive gratefully. When you call on the phone, send a text, or – gasp! – write a letter, give yourself cheerfully to your buddy. When you receive a note from them, treat it with gratitude.

It’s a little thing. But, as we talked about a few weeks back, little things add up very quickly, especially in a friendship.

A Grate-Full Month

It’s the Thanksgiving month in the States and, yes, my thoughts will certainly lean that way all month in these Campfire talks. I’m grateful to have a way to express my thoughts to you and hope they are useful.

Yes, I’m giving cheerfully. I really enjoy thinking about camp, our campers, and the humans they are becoming. It’s a great part of each week for me.

For the week ahead, think of the friends, family members, and mentors in your life who help you bloom. Receive their gifts gratefully

Meaning at the Margins

Posted October 21st, 2018 by

A camp director in China asked me how our program, our daily schedule, creates meaning for our kids. (These are fun conversations while hiking the Great Wall….)

I thought a moment and answered, “It doesn’t. Meaning is built at the margins.”

It’s true.

Meaning at Camp

Anyone who tells you how they teach tennis or waterskiing or ceramics builds character or meaning is wrong. Sure, our campers improve skills that way. And realizing they’ve developed or deepened a skill will increase that kid’s confidence.

This is a wonderful, important outcome. But character? The instillation of meaning?

Nope.

Parents, think about how you developed character in your life. You did not sit in a class called ‘character development.’ (Or, if you did, you probably didn’t listen much.) You did not have a paid professional bearing down on you.

Rather, you had parents, teachers, volunteers, rabbis, priests, books, friends, mentors, poems, etc.

You took in information over your lifetime. At certain moments, some one or some thing prompted you to think: This is important. This is wrong and I have to do something about it. I need to remember this.

Building Meaning

Character is built this way. Drip by drip. Mentor by mentor. Examined experience by examined experience. It takes time… and effort. Meaning comes only to those open to changing their way of thinking and behaving.

This is why camp is so important for our kids.

Our campers are growing and questioning and searching for a way to become. They are washed in playful connection with other kids, surrounded by mentors interested in serving, and reminded of meaning… at the margins of their day.

Once a week at campfire. Each night before they go to bed and have some quiet time for reflection. At the flagpole celebrating, with the whole community, that day’s small victories over self-involvement.

Our kids are open to these moments of meaning because the whole experience has built trust.

Campers see with their eyes the actions of the staff and older campers. They hear with their ears words and cheers. They overcome hesitation and playfully participate.

And, when they are ready, they awaken to the meaning infused in the moment. Whether it comes in the form of a question, a smile, a memory, or a story, the meaning is there… but always at the margins.

Have a great week!