Month: October 2017

The Courage to Choose

This past week, I spent a good bit of time between the Washington, DC and New York City areas visiting families. In fact, I did the trip by car twice in less than a week. I know – not great planning on my part but when parents call….

Late Sunday night, I was about two hours outside NYC when my navigation told me to leave the highway. “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “This doesn’t seem to make sense but maybe there’s an accident or something up the road I don’t know about.”

So, dutifully following the directions, I pulled off the highway.

Four minutes, two toll gates and a few embarrassing moments later, my trusty navigation system had led me onto I95 north – the same road I had just been traveling. Not something you want to happen late on a Sunday night but not the end of the world.

Thirty minutes closer to NYC, my navigation decided it was time for me to get off the highway again. Driving along at highway speeds on my own, I decided not to look at my phone and just give it another chance.

Five minutes, two toll gates, and a few frustrated laughs at myself later….

A Lesson from Circles

Here’s the thing – I’ve driven the road between Baltimore and New York City probably 50 times over the past twenty years. I know quite while how to get from one metropolis to the other without outside help. So, how could I have made the same mistake twice?

I was listening to the wrong voice.

This happens a lot to us in our lives. Sometimes, the voices coming at you are negative and hurtful. Sometimes, the voice speaking to you comes across as helpful, patient, and interested in your well-being. However, whether or not you listen is up to you.

My navigation app has saved me a lot of time and has very, very rarely steered me wrong. However, in this case, I trusted an outside voice over my own knowledge and experience and paid the price.

After getting over the embarrassment, I started to think about all the other voices I let into my life. The people with whom I spend, the books I read, the podcasts to which I listen, the websites I visit, the music I play…. All these voices have an effect on me even if I don’t realize it.

The Courage to Choose

The great news? These are all my personal choices. I get to decide what I listen to, attend to, and focus on. I get to decide with whom I’ll spend time.

I recently read a book by Ray Dalio, a smart man who built a large company doing things differently than most in his profession. One of his central themes includes one of our values. His key to a successful life is a two-step process: you have to first know what the best decisions are and, two, have the courage to make them.

We have to have courage to do things that feel hard or different or weird. Rather than blindly following directions or going with the flow, we need to take some time to think and reflect before going forward. Otherwise, you might find yourself running in circles….

Have a great week!

The Sign Says It

One of my favorite interviewers asks all of his guests a question at the end of the interview. It’s a simple one that requires people to truly think. Here’s the question:

“If you could put anything on a highway billboard sign, what would it say?”

Because I travel to meet families interested in sending their children to Weequahic, I see a lot of signs. Most of them are the plain-old ‘stop’, ‘yield,’ and street names and numbers. However, every now and then, I see one that really stands out.

Recently, I’ve seen a few road signs that actually made me think. Not so much about ‘Stop’, or ‘Yield,’ ‘Exit,’ etc. Those come and go and I certainly pay attention but they don’t make me think.

However, three signs I’ve passed on the road lately have made me think a bit more and I wanted to pass them along.


The first of those was a sign I saw outside our hotel during a recent trip to Custer, South Dakota. (The Black Hills are ton of fun, FYI….)

Our little hotel was full of surprises: a huge wall of board games to enjoy, free panc

ake breakfasts with 15 different toppings, and a warm cookie ‘Happy Hour’ every day at 4pm, just to name a few. They did a lot of big and little things really well.

On the way out for another adventure in the area, we noticed their letter board sign for the first time. This is what it said:

Create the Life You Love

I had to talk to the owners. This place was just too much along the lines of what we try to do at Weequahic. Turns out, there were three owners and all had worked together for years at different hotels. They had learned the business inside and out and decided to head off on their own to create the experience they’d want as a guest.

The sign, they said, was simply what they were doing. And, it showed!


I drive through a number of towns that have churches with the billboard signs. Most of them are cute reminders of what they are about. Driving from camp to NYC a few weeks back, one of the churches had this out front:

We don’t need more to be thankful for. We need to be more thankful.

As a camp family, we have a lot. We have great people, fantastic campers, supportive and engaged families, a beautiful setting, and really good camp food. The opportunities we get on a daily basis would stagger the mind of anyone who didn’t ‘know’ camp.

And, the more thankful we are, the more we’ll enjoy it. And, we can be even more thankful. Which leads to more enjoyment. The wheel just keeps on going.


The first time I saw this sign, I was driving from LaGuardia Airport to Weequahic. Cruising up I-87 in the Harlem area, the Grattitude sign loomed. This was several years ago and just one summer after we had first introduced our GAC values. So, as you could imagine, I took note.

The second time I drove by, I was with a friend who could take a picture of the sign for me.

However, upon looking at the result later that night, I realized the sign was misspelled – there is an extra ‘t.’

Turns out, the artist responsible for the work added the extra ‘t’ to, in his own words, ‘turbo charge the grateful feelings.’ It could also be thought of combining both ‘gratitude’ and ‘attitude.’

As it stood there for several years, the sign was a fantastic reminder of timeless idea: adopt the attitude of gratitude and you’ll have a happier life. I miss the reminder.

What’s Your Sign?

How about you? What would your sign say?

But don’t stop just at figuring out would it would say. Rather, go further and think whether you live it or not. Because, really, your own actions are the sign you choose to show the world on a daily basis.

So, what’s your sign? Have a great week!

– Cole

The Comparison Trap

I’ve been reading a lot about anxiety in our nation’s youth. Getting to work with kids all summer, I’m blessed to see it on the other side; if our campers arrive anxious, they leave relaxed, engaged and connected.

But, as a camp director and parent to middle school boys, I’m concerned about the rise of anxiety amongst our kids.  And, it’s certainly on camp directors’ minds. Just in the past week, the subject has been raised to me three different times by different colleagues.

Because I don’t know what I really think until I write it down, here are my thoughts on what it’s all about and few ideas on how we can move forward.

The Comparison Trap

As never before in history, humans are literally bombarded with information. We have access to more information about more events around the world in every sphere of activity – governments, markets, sports, arts, and more.

This gives us unheard of amounts of knowledge. And, it gives us the ability to compare ourselves to everyone else, all the time.

Where did this person go to college? What is this person wearing? What did my friend do yesterday that is so cool? Why didn’t I make the same grade What team did she make? What a cool car/job/house/vacation….

We’ve always compared ourselves to others. It’s a human trait. However, up until a few years ago, the comparison has been to the guy or girl sitting next to you. Now, all of the sudden, we can compare ourselves to EVERYONE.

One of my oft-quoted writers is Mark Twain. He had a lot of wisdom amongst his witticisms and one, in particular, seems apt now: “Comparison is death of joy.”

Personally, I have a hard time with this myself and that’s after 43 years of life experience. I’m barely prepared to handle the information and opportunities coming at me. If that’s the case, what do you think this does to our middle and high schoolers?

The effect on them has been devastating. To me, the constant flow of information leads to constant comparisons. And that, to echo Mr. Twain’s words, steals a young person’s joy.

Possible Anxiety Antidotes

As one my teachers recently said, comparison won’t get you where you want to be. Here’s the quote from Bernadette Jiwa:

“It’s doubtful that comparing yourself or your work to someone else’s will get you to where you want to go…. (Y)ou can’t own your unique identity if you’re spending the majority of your time looking over your shoulder.”

As with a lot of Bernadette tells me, I agree. And that, to me, is the beauty of camp. Here are a few lessons from camp that I think may help our anxious young people. (They might be helpful for us… more experienced people!)


I recently listened to a podcast about getting out of your own way. The teacher, Gary John Bishop, was comparing the host’s view on life with his young daughter’s:

“At four years old, she has freedom to be. There are no constraints. She doesn’t have to be this way or that way, that way or this way. She’s way more present to the miracle of life than you are because, she is connected to what’s happening right now.”

That is the joy of camp. We totally unplug, stop the comparisons, and stay in the present. Campers are thinking about engaging right now with what they are doing and with whom they are doing it. Those moments are filled with joy, challenge, laughter, and friendships. These full moments of presence happen every day, no mindfulness or meditation needed.


Kids need to learn that they can do things on their own. This means not only making their bed, cooking a meal, changing a flat tire or unclogging a toilet. (Yes, our campers learn all of these things.)

Competence also means working through uncertainty with friends, learning how to ask questions, standing up for what you believe and learning how to learn when you are wrong.

These situations and learning build competence. And, when you have learned how to learn, this transfers to other situations.


Our kids need to connect to something larger than themselves. We humans are connective creatures – we thrive on working groups and have since the dawn of our time on earth. These connections need to be authentic, lasting, and honest.

Our current culture gets children (and adults) to start navel-gazing a lot. This comes from the comparison trap: look at that one, compare yourself, and nit-pick everything that doesn’t measure up.

Instead, our campers need to connect to something they love, which loves them, and creates a launching pad for further adventures. That’s what our counselors, division heads, and program heads do on a daily basis.

Last Thoughts

Here’s the thing: I’m just a camp director. All I know comes from working with kids and staff, reading a lot, and the experience we’ve had over 16 summers in camping.

Having said that, I do know the experience our campers have enjoyed has been incredibly positive on the whole.

Upon reflecting ‘why’, I believe it’s for these three outcomes found at Weequahic : presence, competence, and connection. (And, yes, I think talking about gratitude a lot helps, too!)

While maybe easier at camp, these outcomes are something our kids can pursue at home. Being completely present, building competencies, and forging connections certainly help to mitigate the feelings of anxiety. They all fill the space of comparison and fill our children with a deeper understanding of their own gifts. In our experience, they leave our campers with that joyful glow that leads to great memories, friendships, and outcomes.

Let’s all shoot to those goals.

Thanks for joining me around the campfire. Have a great week.