The Courage to Connect

Posted June 21st, 2019 by

It’s the final Friday Night before the kiddos arrive and I’m excited.

We’ve enjoyed a wonderful day of Orientation. The vibe among the staff is energetic and interested, engaged and excited. They’ve taken the stunning amount of ‘liquid sunshine’ we’ve received over the past four weeks in stride and sloshed their way to knowing Weequahic.

Like the staff, I can’t wait for the sun to shine when our campers arrive!

I spent some time with just the guys on camp this evening. Kate was with the ladies. It’s the only night orientation that we divide this way.

While the activities and conversation differed between the two groups, the message was the same: will you, the counselors, show the courage needed to connect? Will you connect with one another? And, will you show the courage to truly connect with the kids?

(Leaving the huddle, I know our young men are ready, willing and able!)

Our Need to Connect

When you strip everything away, it’s connection that we crave, isn’t it? I know that is what our new campers want to start right now. They just want to find a friend. And our returners come back for one reason: to rekindle the connections they love so much.

At camp, we remove all the barriers and do our best to connect. We drop our masks. We let our true and best selves shine through. We remember who we are and those around us join in on the party of that knowledge.

We talk about the summer burning brightly at Weequahic. The light of camp, though, does not come from the Friday night campfire by Sly Lake. It comes from the light of connection created between the 650 souls who run through our forests, sleep in our bunks, and play… together.

Soon…

We are excited to get the rest of our crew here. We’ve got two pieces of the puzzle so far – the place and the staff. We just need the kids.

But, before our campers arrive, I’ve just one question for them: Will you show the courage to connect?

See you seven sleeps.  Can’t wait for camp!

Butterflies

Posted June 14th, 2019 by

At some point over the next two weeks, many of our first time campers wake up around this time and think, “wait a second – I’m really going to camp!”

This thought is normally accompanied by two seemingly opposite feelings – pure excitement and a lots of butterflies in the stomach. Both are completely natural and normal. To be honest, I’d be surprised if our newest campers didn’t feel the butterflies!

Here’s a truth moment for you: when the calendar hits June 1, I wake up each morning feeling the same. In fact, the morning the kids are about to arrive, the butterflies in my stomach are big enough to get me airborne!

After co-leading camp for 18 years, I have come to realize those butterflies I feel is just my body saying ‘Ok, you are getting ready to do something pretty amazing and a little bit unknown. Let’s get ready.”

When the butterflies flutter for our campers, they aren’t thinking about buses, bunk maintenance, and 325 sets of parents. No, they are normally thinking about one of the following:

  1. “I don’t know anyone at camp. Will the kids be nice and want to be friends?“
  2. “What will my counselors be like?”
  3. “How will I know where to go?”
  4. “I’m going to miss my parents!”

Here is how I would answer those questions:

Yes, it’s a little daunting coming to a new place and not knowing anyone. WAY TO GO! That courage is the first step in expanding your world in all the right ways. Our campers and staff are super friendly and only want to make new friends. Most of our kids don’t know anyone when they first get to camp. It’ll take you about 15 seconds to make a new friend if you are open to it and about 30 seconds if you are not as open. Because…

Our staff members are amazing. The come to camp because they want to help our campers have an amazing experience and live whole our values of Gratitude, Attitude and Courage. You’ll hear a few interesting dialects as about 1/3rd of our staff come from places like England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand,  Mexico and Texas. Lots of different places!

As soon as you arrive, you are going to meet your bunk counselors, go through a quick checkin and get some lunch. Then, you are off to the bunk and then you start running around camp with your bunkmates and counselors. It’s a 2 minute walk from the flagpole (the center of camp) to the beach or a 1.5 minute walk to the driving range. That’s the whole camp – it’s super easy to get around.

Finally, let’s talk about missing home. You will miss home… and THAT’S OK! I’ve visited almost everyone of our new campers families in their homes and I totally understand missing them. (To be honest, I miss my kitchen and bed at home from time to time during the summer, too!)

The good news is you’ll be having so much fun that, given a bit of time, you’ll be so overcome with camp joy that it will drown out those missing home moments.

So, for our new campers, deep breath – those butterflies are just saying you are about to do something awesome. It’s going to be an amazing summer and we can’t wait to get you to camp! See you soon!

 

 

 

Smaller

Posted June 7th, 2019 by

There was a time not too long ago when people would look at what we can do with the phones in our pockets and not think: ‘wow… you’ve got superpowers.’ It’s so ubiquitous now that we hardly think about it.

Want to know batting average of your favorite Boston Red Sox player? It’s a few taps away. Want to call someone in Africa? Easy. Want food or diapers delivered? Done.

Not to be forgotten, we’ve got real time information coming out of the TV, the radio, the newspapers, and more. This information deluge allows us to the see the larger world out there in real time. This is a superpower.

But does it make us better?

Superpowers and Focus

There is a wonderful scene in the Man of Steel when young Clark Kent’s amazing powers start to show themselves.

He’s seated in his 5th grade classroom. All of the sudden, the clock’s second hand is booming in his ears. He can see through the teacher. The scrape of a pencil sounds like bombs going off.

After being bombarded by too much input, the young Superman runs out and locks himself in a hallway closet. He’s desperate to get away from all of the other kids and adults.

The teacher, not able to get him out, calls his mom to come help. While listening to all the other kids whisper and being mean, he also hears his mom ask, “Clark, what’s wrong? Let me help.”

“The world is too big, Mom,” Clark responds.

“Then make it smaller. Just focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island… [and] swim toward it.”

Make it Smaller

I love that idea.

As an adult, I have a hard time grasping all of the information coming my way and fighting the ‘rabbit holes’ strewn about my phone and laptop. I’ve worked intentionally to set up habits and systems to combat the pull of the information deluge.  And, it works… most of the time.

Our kids? Their brains and emotions and bodies are not ready for this onslaught. Yes, they’ve grown up with the tech. Yes, they can push the buttons faster than we adults can think.

But their brains and the deep drives that have been cultivated over thousands and thousands of years have not changed in the last generation. ‘Fight or flight’ is still a real thing.  And, social media exacerbates it to no end.

The answer, to me, is to make our world smaller. Rather than thinking about what someone is doing in Europe, spend some time thinking about the person next to you. Rather than reading the news about what happened 10,000 miles away from you, be truly present where your feet are.

I’m not suggesting to go Amish (though there is a lot to be said for that way of life.) What I’m suggesting is that we need to start focusing more on those around us rather than those who capture our attention online. We need to spend more time in our narrow circle rather than trying to take it all in from the whole world.

Smaller At Camp

That’s one of the beauties of camp, isn’t it? We get to focus on the here, the now, and the people around us. No distractions, no phones… just fun and friends and new experiences.

We aren’t thinking about what those other people said or think or believe. There is too much going on in the bunk, in the division, in the camp. When we fall asleep, we can hear our friends softly snoring, moving around in the bunk above or next to us. We know the counselor is there to help, no matter what.

There is safety in smaller. There is comfort, too. Camp is the respite for the busy, connected world. It’s the step backward required to leap forward.

That’s the paradox, isn’t it? In order to fulfill our potential in the larger world, we’ve got to begin with a small base in which we become our best selves. We must find a place, the place which allows us to flourish. And that, boys and girls, is camp.

We can’t wait to get smaller. See you soon.

Memorial Day

Posted May 24th, 2019 by

In running a few errands for the kitchen late this afternoon, I passed a lovely church and its cemetery.

Several men and women were bent over working with weed whackers, racks, and shovels removing up the winter debris. Others were cleaning gravestones and affixing small American flags. They do this in honor of those who have come before them and fallen in the line of service.

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

Remember those who came before us is something we ought to do more often.

Camp Memorial

Taking a walk around Weequahic this evening after dinner, the idea of Memorial Day struck me hard. I had just spoken with an alumnus of Weequahic whose son is coming to camp for the first time. The conversation led to speaking about the Lustig and Seffer families who got this whole party going.

Most of us never met Mr. Al Lustig. He was a teacher and coach at Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ. The story, as I understand it, was that Mr. Lustig was a bit of a ‘pied piper’, someone who instructed and taught in all the right ways.

In the early 1950’s, Mr. Lustig was encouraged to find a piece of property that would become a summer camp for kids. In 1952, Mr. Lustig closed on the 110 acres of farm land and opened the doors of Camp Weequahic in June, 1953.

From 1953 until 2008, the Mr. and Mrs. Lustig, along with and preceded by their children and grandchildren, built Weequahic into a thriving spot for children. The traditions of Tribals and Olympics, Moo Call and Canteen Raids, Campfire and Burning the W… all came from our founding family.

Mr. and Mrs. Lustig have passed as have Mr. and Mrs. Seffer. The work they and the rest of the founding family of Weequahic completed set us on the path to where we are now – a thriving place that cares for children by behaving gratefully, choosing your attitude, and building courage.

They were the heroes who got us going, who put in the work, and had the vision of what this place could become in time. I hope they are looking down and smiling now.

Happy Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day weekend, I’d first like to honor all of the men and women who have fallen in service of our country. Without you, we could not enjoy camp as we do in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Secondly, I’d like to thank the extended Lustig family for their vision of Weequahic. Without you all, we’d not have such a unique place to call our summer home.

Have a safe and wonderful weekend, y’all. Can’t wait for camp!

Choose To Be Brave

Posted May 10th, 2019 by

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” – Emma Donoghue, Room

Two summers ago, I witnessed a ‘standout’ act of bravery. One of our girls had a hard moment on the ‘pamper pole’, a forty-foot telephone pole that you are supposed to climb up, stand on top of, and jump off. (Yes, you are very well harnessed!)

She had made it to the top. However, rather than standing up, she literally curled herself around the platform, belly and face looking down at the ground 40’ below, and her legs and arms wrapped around the top of the pole. Tears intermittently rained down while her head shook from side to side. It was ‘full stop.’

After a bit of conversation, one of the instructors harnessed up and climbed up next to her. About two minutes later, she was standing wobbly on the top. A minute after that, there was a leap, a scream, lots laughter, cheers and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen slowly returning to earth.

“I was terrified!” she said when I asked her about the experience. “But Sarah got there and promised I’d be ok and that I needed to be brave and trust her that I could do it. Oh my gosh… I’m so happy I did it!”

Fear and Bravery

Here’s the thing about fear: it doesn’t go away. It’s our ability to take the fear we are feeling and move forward with our purpose that makes us brave. And that bravery, the actions we take when feeling fear, is what opens up our world.

Fear affects us all. Going into a situation where we do not know anyone else or don’t have an idea how it will turn out. Putting our knowledge ‘on the line’ by taking a test or playing a recital or joining in tournament. Spending the night out at a friend’s house… or going camp.

When we fear, we focus on ourselves. We get ‘insular.’ And the best way to keep the fear strong? Keep staring at ‘yourself’ – your problems, your fears, your self-perceived short comings.

Want to get through the fear? Try this:

Recognize your fear. Name it and make it the object. (You are the subject.) Rather than ‘I’m afraid’ say, ‘I’m feeling fear about getting out of my comfort zone.’

Once you’ve recognized your fear, say I’m not going to let fear stop me from xxx.” You don’t have to love what you’ve decided to do. But once you’ve decided to write that kind note, speak up about something that should be changed, or try waterskiing, don’t let the fear you are feeling stop you.

Then, get after it! Focus on the end result you want and remain open to other inputs coming in. In other words, rather than constantly focusing on the fear you are feeling, spend your energy and focus on what you want to occur and those around you.

A few things will happen with this approach:

  1. The fear won’t go away and it won’t feel as big any more.
  2. You’ll learn that you can do things that, at first, you don’t think possible.
  3. Those who celebrate your efforts are a lot more important than those who try to tear you down for trying.

As old Winston used to say, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Be brave. It’s a choice and an important one at that.

Your Private Garden

Posted April 26th, 2019 by

It’s spring time here at the ‘Winter’ office and everything is in bloom. The flowers are lovely, the trees full, the grass is greening up. It’s a beautiful time of year in Athens, GA.

Outside my office window, I have a little herb garden the boys and I planted years ago. It’s nothing special and certainly not as fun as Camp Mom Judy’s garden at Weequahic. At home, we’ve got a nice stand of rosemary, some thyme and a little oregano the boys brought home from their science class so many years ago.

We’ve used these herbs often in our cooking over the past few years. The best thing I can say about the garden: it produces.

In the middle of the garden, though, there is a bald spot. Ants built a hive there last summer and vacated it over the winter. A short garden hose laid unused long enough for a lot of the thyme to grow around it. A board rotted away and much of the rosemary’s roots showed through due to the soil loss.

So, while our little garden still produces some nice results, it’s operating well below its true capacity. Does that sound like you? I know it does me.

I spend a lot of time running around not questioning old habits. Eating certain foods, spending time online, connecting with people, taking in media… mostly out of habit. In this manner, my life grows a bit wild. Some ‘weeds’ pop up. Some aspects of my life thrive while other aspects suffer. The soil (or soul) is neglected.

As for our little garden, it was time to put in some effort. I hacked away the dead parts of the rosemary that was just taking up room. The garden hose had to be cut up and removed from the thyme. New soil was churned in along with some fertilizer. Finally, some rocks for support and a side beam were added.

It didn’t take long – just one hour of work and a trip to the local hardware store. But, we’ll have better herbs for a longer period of time. Even better, I was able to clear enough room to add a few new basil plants.

When we let our lives spin thoughtless on, as I let our little garden grow, we get whatever life throws at us. There will be some good things, there will be some bad, and a lot of stuff will just get sucked up without you recognizing it because, well, that’s how you’ve always done it. Things are just… fine.

But, you don’t want ‘fine.’ You want great! You want AWESOME. And that result, young camper, requires some effort on your part. You’ve got to take some time to prune the garden of your life, invest in new soil, cut some of the dead things away and plant new ideas.

Only then will your garden truly grow.

Have a great week!

Change the World

Posted April 19th, 2019 by

I get to fly around the country often during the ‘off-season.’ (It’s a funny juxtaposition to my life at camp when I never leave!) When I fly, I always ask for a window seat so I can look at the landscape as we pass high above. One thing that always hits me: the Earth is huge!

When you travel and see things like New York’s Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Grand Canyon, you realize that we people are pretty small. When see a relatively small slice of land from 30,000 feet up, you feel even smaller.

With that in mind, it’s hard to grasp the idea of changing the world. It’s not even comical. If taken as a challenge, this idea is downright impossible.

And yet….

Ripples on Sly Lake

Human culture is too big to change by yourself. Have there been a few people to have done it? Yes. But the massive changes that came from Buddha, Abraham, and Jesus took centuries.

There have been others more recently like Marie Curie, Einstein, Mother Theresa, and Bill Gates who have done so more quickly. (And, yes, there have been some bad guys who have done the same but I’m not going to speak of them.) Their genius combined with the modern technological age allowed their ripples to effect us all.

But making a big change on your ‘world’ doesn’t have to include the whole world. We spend our time running around in our little worlds. Yes, these are connected to others but our homes, our schools, our camps… these are the little worlds in which we truly live out our days.

Do you think have you the ability to change those worlds? Of course you do. And, whether you realize it or not, you influence those ‘worlds’ every single day.

When we sit at the campfire and watch the swallows dip down and fish rise up, we see their ripples expanding ever outward. You create the same ripples with every kind word, every smile, and every helping hand. You also create ripples for the opposite actions and from inaction.

What kind of ripples are you going leave behind today? What effect are you going to have on the world around you? You get to choose. And that choice matters.

Have a wonderful weekend. See you soon!

Gratitude In Action

Posted April 5th, 2019 by

Around the campfire during the summers, I get to speak with our campers and staff about big ideas. The idea is to enliven their imagination and get them thinking about foundational values. Stories are shared as are quotes from thoughtful people.

Preparing to speak about gratitude for the first time around the campfire, I came across JFK’s quote:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

Ten years later, JFK’s quote came up again. In a wonderful conversation with two of my favorite people, Co-Director Kate and Asst. Director Dana, we kept circling back to acting out our grateful feelings and intent. I’ve always thought of it as an ‘attitude of gratitude’ but that’s only a small part of the equation, isn’t it?

Action is more important than words or feelings. Yes, I want to have a more grateful outlook on life but my actions will show me and everyone else what I truly believe. Jerry Sternin said something about this:

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

THREE HAPPIES AND AN APPRECIATE

One gratitude ‘hack’ that we’ve enjoyed for two decades is the sharing of 3 Happies and an Appreciate.

The idea is simple and powerful. Throughout the day, collect the three things you were most happy about, i.e., ‘my child got the therapy he needed’ or ‘it rained on my flower garden today.’ Right before you go to bed, share those three happies with your child and your spouse.

Kate and I started doing this while courting and have practiced it every night for 18 years. When the boys showed up, we extended the habit to them as well. When your voice-changing, smelly, phone-addicted fourteen year old comes back down the stairs saying ‘you didn’t get my happies!’, you know it’s working.

The ‘appreciate’ was a new addition 10 years ago and it’s made a big difference in our lives. At the end of saying your happies, you look at the other person and tell them one thing you appreciated about them that day. Simple, yes, but hearing that you are appreciated is a powerful and wonderful thing.

THANK YOU

I’m grateful you’ve read through all this and hope it will be useful to you. I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you sharing some with me. And, if you’d like to listen to how we think about gratitude, take a listen to Kate and Dana’s recent podcast: Grateful Kids, Happy Adults.

Have a great weekend!

What Game Are You Playing?

Posted March 29th, 2019 by

Games have taken over the world, haven’t they? I remember playing checkers with Granddaddy as a boy. My brother and I made up games in the woods or on the beach. Dad would throw footballs for hours with us. We played Ms. PacMan and Mike Tyson’s Punchout on the Atari for as long as our parents could stand the music.

(I believe the record was about 34 minutes….)

Now, all of pop-culture seems to be screaming about Fortnite, the Final Four and Game of Thrones. Games certainly take up a lot of our attention. In fact, I’ve found myself looking at the scores in the WGC Dell Match Play championship writing this!

Those games, the physical ones we can all participate in, are not what I’m talking about with the title to this piece. Instead, I want to focus our attention on the social, mental and emotional games we are playing.

Your Billboard

Tim Ferriss, the writer and podcaster, asks almost all of his guests this question: if you were given a billboard and could write something up there for everyone to see, what message would you offer? Graham Duncan, a recent guest, brought up a quote from Kwame Anthony Appiah:

In life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game you’re playing.

In the podcast, Graham talks about the games of ‘making money’ and ‘building power.’ Those games aren’t in your wheelhouse right now, camper.

That’s not to say that you aren’t playing any games, though.

What’s Your Game?

Is your game ‘I want to look good to the teachers and just get by’ or ‘I want to learn as much as I can regardless of what it looks like?’ Perhaps you are older and playing ‘whatever I can do to get into college x.’ Or maybe you are playing the ‘I’m scared and I don’t want anyone else to know’ game.

We all play games, kiddos. Your parents (and your camp director) do, too.

Some games are easy to play without even knowing it. Trying to keep up with those around you that you deem to be doing better in whatever we than you. Going along with the herd. Those are easy to do… and not always worthwhile.

The game I would have you play? Here are two ideas:

  • How can I make a positive difference in someone else’s life today?
  • What I can do to become a better ‘me’ today?

I was going to write down a few more. The more I think about the important games we can play, though, the more I believe these are the two most valuable. If you ‘win’ at each of those games each day, the world around you gets better. And that ripple effect will surely be a powerful thing.

Campers, it’s the quality of the relationships in our lives that matter most. That idea has been proven by both life and science.

Therefore, if you want to lead a life of meaning, fill it full of games that draw you nearer to those you love and the person you want to become. We all play. Choose your game wisely.

Have a great week!

Look Up

Posted March 22nd, 2019 by

Go to any spot where a lot of people are moving around you’ll see something that used to happen only rarely: people walking with their heads bowed down. College student walking through campus, professionals crossing streets. There even men and women riding bikes and driving cars… all with their heads bowed down.

In the past, this scene was only available at monasteries, abbeys, and convents. The monks and nuns, heads bowed, were walking and worshipping, their aim focused on their God.

I fear we are walking and aiming, too. but on things a bit less important.

Choose Your Aim

Everyone aims. Whether you’ve got a bow and arrow in your hands, a needle to thread, or a potential friend in your sights, you are aiming. Your focus is on the end goal and giving that goal your attention is a huge part of what you ultimately complete.

Campers, what we aim at is important because ‘it’, the goal we want, shapes us. That which we reach for, that to which we give our attention changes us. In fact, this process of aiming even modifies the important stories we tell ourselves.

If our aim is noble, progressing towards that aim point is what brings positive emotion.  If we have no purposeful aim, no focus on some one thing other than to be entertained, then we are just blundering about. Where is the joy in that?

How do we aim? With the eyes in our head and the ‘eye’ in heart. What we seek out with our eyes will affect what we feel in our hearts and vice versa. Take a moment and think, really think, about what you are looking for, head bowed over your phone?

Look Up

One of the joys of being at Camp Weequahic is the surrounding. I’ve heard many a camper, staff member and parent comment on the beauty of the place (and how good the air smells!)

I agree, the place is beautiful. We have towering pines, lots of squirrels, birds, fish and chipmunks. The sky at night is filled with stars we rarely see and we are surrounded by stars who shine even brighter – the people of Weequahic.

With our eyes up and away from our phones, we see everyone around us. We start to live in the moment, fully open to the present which, at camp, certainly feels like a present!

This only happens when we look up and around us. With our aim pointed towards those around us, we are on a path that leads to true connection.

The path on our phone? It may help with connection. But does it really? It may give us access to enormous amounts of information. But is it information we truly need? It certainly gives us a lot to look at. But should that be our aim?

Campers, look up and around you. And help me do the same.

Have a great week!