Category: Life Lessons

Enough

A group of dads and 8th grade boys and I were talking a bit last week. We were focusing on how to protect against the challenges that culture throws at us… and the challenges we throw at ourselves. 

One young guy asked a question about the seven ‘deadly’ sins. It was a phrase I’d not heard in a while so we looked them up: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

These were first discussed in the 6th century. The idea was to name the ‘foundational’ challenges (or sins) that lead us humans to other challenges. If we knew what the bad things were, the thought went, we could defend against them.

All are pretty self-explanatory. Thinking of yourself too much (pride), being jealous of others (envy), getting really, really angry (wrath), having that 4th… or 7th cookie (gluttony),etc. But, being the overbearing camp director that I am, we started going through each one. 

About three quarters of the way through, another young man looked up and said, “It seems like most of these could be categorized as ‘wanting.’ I want too much food, too much entertainment, too much money.”

It was a great insight by an 8th grade guy. But what came next was even better. 

The Antidote

One of the other dads in the group looked around, smiled and asked, ‘If most of these problems start with wanting too much, what’s the antidote? How do you stop it from getting going?”’ 

Without batting an eye, the young man responded, “Probably being grateful for what you have.” 

Bingo.

This principle applies as much to an 8th grader as it does to a business tycoon as it does to a writer. In fact, I recently heard a story that brought this idea home. 

Kurt Vonegurt wrote about an experience he and fellow writer Joseph Heller had together. While at some big party in a fancy house, Vonegurt looked at Heller and said, “Joe, how does it feel knowing that our host made more money yesterday than your book, Catch 22, made in its history?” 

To quote the rest: 

And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”

And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”

And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Enough

That’s a hard thing to do in this day and age. It’s soooo easy to find examples of what you don’t have – more things, more recognition, more free time. Culture is set up around us to egg that ‘wanting’ onward. 

And, frankly, some of that wanting is a good thing. You want to better yourself and the circumstances of those around you. You want justice for those not receiving it. You want and work towards understanding. 

For many of us, there comes a moment when you simply forget to be grateful for that and those which are in your life because you are so focused on wanting ‘more’… whatever that ‘more’ is. That marks the point of diminishing returns, the downward slide. 

At some point, there has to be enough. Because striving towards things that don’t fill you up in a way that makes you and your loved ones better will start to do damage to you and your loved ones eventually. Mr. Heller knew this. The young man around the table knows it as well.

What is Enough?

Now, ‘enough’ will seem to be different for you at different times. What is enough in middle school is different than in college or when you are a parent. The funny thing is that it is really not that different at all. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, President John Adams said it best:

The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know…Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.

Works for me and probably will for you, too. Have a great weekend. 

(Full disclosure: I was battling ‘pride’ myself around that table. The young man who had the insight and answer above is a Weequahic guy through and through.)

Camp Weequahic Pennsylvania Sleep Away Camp

Mac’s Lessons

It’s been a few weeks since we lost our dog Mac. The outpouring of support has been heartwarming and greatly appreciated. As I said in my earlier post, he was a damn good dog that we are going to miss greatly. And, he left us with a number of important lessons that I wanted to share.

Flawed Can Be Perfect

When Kate asked me 11 years ago if we should go ‘look at a puppy’, my response was no ever goes and just looks at a puppy. “No, this one has already been promised to a breeder out in California,” she responded. So, I relented. We loaded the young Kelly boys into the mini-van and off we went.

Of course, once we got to the breeder, Sumo (as Mac was originally known due to his ample puppy-girth) was now available. He’d been found to have a ‘defective’ internal part. It was not something you (or Mac) would ever notice. It wouldn’t affect his life in anyway. But the breeder in California didn’t want him because he was ‘flawed.’

Well, he certainly turned out perfect for us.   

Be Excited to See… Everyone

Arriving home from trips visiting prospective families, I knew I would get a nice ‘welcome back’ from Kate and the boys. But Mac’s tail-wagging and smiling and barking routine was fantastic.

He didn’t save that just for me. He was excited to greet everyone: our UPS driver when she arrived at the front porch, Assistant Director Sue upon her daily stop by our home office, Kate’s parents when they dropped something off or came for dinner, and the families around the neighborhood.

Everyone got a wag and a sniff from Mac. Sometimes they even got a tooth-baring smile. It didn’t matter if he knew you for years or it was a first time. While some would say that was just Mac wanting some attention, I’d ask this question: ‘But did his greeting make you feel good?’

Of course. It’s always nice when someone is excited to see you.

Discipline = Freedom

When I grew up in Georgia, dogs were allowed to roam the neighborhood. (Fine… insert the crotchety-old-man music here.) My first dog would go off for gallivants without a care. She’d always return, sometimes days later and normally with a new friend in tow.

Today, dogs are much more contained. They are always on leash when out and, if in a yard, sit behind a metal or electric fence of some sort. I can’t help but feel sad for these pack animals who were built to roam. But most don’t have the discipline for such freedom.

At camp, Mac had the run of the place, no leash and no fence required. Why? Because he had demonstrated a lot of discipline during his time with us. He didn’t eat off the table. He didn’t run after cars. If we asked him to sit or stay or get down, he would.

Let’s be clear: this discipline did not come naturally or easily. Kate and I (but mostly Kate) spent a great deal of time training, walking, correcting and caring for Mac.

Over time, he learned that because of the discipline he showed in many little things, he would gain freedom to move about camp as he wished. And, his continued discipline demonstrated around the kids and staff of Weequahic kept that freedom open.

This is the same with us. If we are disciplined with our eating or exercise or money or impulses, we’ll have more freedom to enjoy things both now and in the future. But that discipline, while vitally important, doesn’t come easy. It takes a lot of training… and a bit of love.

Lessons from a Dog’s Life

Mac certainly taught us more than just the lessons above. Some lessons he tried to teach never quite took. For instance, we like the video drone more than he did. And, we’d rather not try to get a fish off a hook with our mouths. Both seemed to work well for Mac, though.

The biggest lesson is one of companionship. To Mac, we were part of his pack, his tribe. He didn’t talk, he didn’t put a hand over the shoulder or give advice. His simple presence was enough. And maybe that’s enough for all of us.

Have a great week, everyone!

Fear and Its Antidote

Yes, Halloween is upon us and we are all in the mood for ‘fright.’ (That goes double for us in the Kelly household as our middle son, Jack, just got his drivers license today!) But ‘scary’ kids and the challenge of seeing a child drive away did not get me thinking about today’s subject: fear.

I blame a quote I recently re-encountered.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer…. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

from Dune by Frank Hebert

I used to think of needing to build up armor around myself to protect against fear. If I could simply protect myself or my loved ones from the need to fear, I’d have ‘won.’ But that’s not how fear works.

The Fear Reaction

Let’s take, for example, a camper who gets onto the bus to camp for the first time.

The act itself is simple, isn’t it? Walk up a few steps, down a little pathway, and plop down into the comfy seat set aside just for you. If you want to add a bit of complexity, you figure out what to do with your bus bag and, hopefully, smile and introduce yourself to the other new camper sitting next to you.

But, for many of our first-time campers, those simple action-steps are accompanied with a lot of internal perceptions, questions and reactions: will the kids be nice? What are my parents thinking? Wait a second, I’m going where? What if….

Those internal perceptions accompanying a seemingly set of actions can trigger the fear response, an emotional overload which leads to withdrawal for some and tears for others.

In this situation, ‘armour’ is not what a camper needs. Instead, they need the internal strength to let the fear response wash over them and leave. Want know what helps develop this internal awareness, this internal strength?

Stories and Effort

We all are immersed in stories from our earliest days. Great stories show people who overcome challenges, who live lives of purpose and meaning, and demonstrate the power of community. As we age, we switch from the make-believe to the stories of great humans from history like Dr. King, Mother Theresa, Mrs. Parks, and Churchill.

By learning from others, even from the likes of Harry Potter or Hermione Granger, we begin to develop the story we tell ourselves. If we are fortunate, we begin to internalize these stories in a way that adds to our internal strength. We see ourselves reaching out to those in need, rising to the occasion, overcoming challenge.

When you combine these stories with purposeful effort, you supercharge the feelings of confidence and competence. You give yourself the best chance to learn from mistakes and move forward. And, you attract others to your side to lend a hand.

Summer Camp Solution

That’s the beauty of camp. It combines a lot of great stories, a ton of support from engaged staff and lots of opportunities to practice. When done well, these aspects come together to create a virtuous cycle of increasing internal strength and connection and community.

Does fear go away? Nope. There will always be situations when it washes in. But, with stories and effort and community, fear is more likely to wash in and out, leaving nothing but your true, valiant self behind.

So, for our first-time campers above: recognize the anxiety about getting into a new situation and let it blow away. You are more excited about going to camp than anything else. Stick your hand out, smile and put in the effort. You are going to do great! We’ll be there by you as along as you need.

Happy Halloween!