I’m no economist, analyst or mathematician, but as Chief Empowerment Officer (and mom, TV producer, and camper before that) I’ve been working on a study that’s landed a very conclusive finding: You cannot buy or measure the power of playtime.
How do I know? I’ve seen it over and over and over again: once you surrender your ego, stop worrying about how silly you might look, focus on letting go and start having fun, some magical sh*t shifts. Like clockwork.
This week, I was invited to play with 50 college-bound wonders with two main things in common: (1) they’re determined to make a difference in this world; and (2) 1they grew up in Section 8, government-subsidized housing. At an annual summit in LA, I met these teenagers from all over the U.S. whose good grades might never have connected them to big opportunity were it not for a kick*ss foundation called ALL WAYS UP (started by one of our former Campers Jodi, and her husband…now led by her kids).
The ALL WAYS UP Foundation is not only helping these leaders pursue their dreams of higher education, but also giving them the social survival tools to fit into their college environment, one that, when they step into it in ~60 days, is likely to feel pretty foreign. The ALL WAYS UP summit brought these teens, most of whom were raised by single moms struggling to give their children a better life, to UCLA’s campus for a half week of workshops around thriving with life skills, so they can apply their in-school education and street smarts with an internal compass that will empower them to navigate their new world.
Let’s be clear: these students were not flying to Los Angeles to play. They were serious, ready to meet like-minded peers, also shell-shocked by the intersection of their good fortune and the fruits of their own labor. They had notebooks out, ready to take in the tips and tools on how to cope on their own.
I came with Lia (my delicious sidekick, adorned in her signature fairy wings), with a bag of tricks that, lucky for us, have grown to become tried-and-true. We knew our recipe for that boogie back to baseline would get these kids vulnerable…fast.
Okay, now rewind with me for a sec:
September 2014: A radiant 40-something woman walked into our camp in Malibu, ready for a really good time. Her name, she told me, was Jodi. I welcomed her with a smoky trail of dried sage, inviting her to leave behind whatever negative energetic crap she had in tow but didn’t want to drag home.
I was sure Jodi thought I was nuts (no sweat; I was used to this initial reaction; I knew it would melt), but I could already feel she was a camp girl, so I was excited to welcome her into our little slice of nirvana. Throughout the weekend I quietly watched Jodi make new friends and easily connect with others, especially during the competitive games and spirit-building activities. Jodi was all over all of it, taking charge and getting everyone psyched, making costumes and choreographing talent show moves for her bunk mates. If there was playtime involved, Jodi was in charge, making sure everyone was having a great time. Look: Campowerment is my party, but I’m always happy to lease out the hostess role to the fun-nest chick in the bunch, and by the looks of it, Jodi was that chick.
Fast-forward to present: A few camps and many more experiences, life chats and big laughs later, Jodi and I have a beautiful friendship. She has gifted Campowerment weekends to some incredibly deserving women, and I have brought the gift of playtime to her ALL WAYS UP Foundation’s annual summits. We trust each other in our respective realms, and she instructs me to empower her crew’s tightly-wound, almost grown-up, college-bound young leaders to chill out and loosen up in the same way my Crew empowered her to do at Campowerment.
Every year at the summit, we start in with our our games, and the students begin to allow the walls they all create around themselves in a constant (human) quest to look smart or cool or whatever-the-heck we want to be. Through committing to getting uncomfortable together, these leaders (and we all) let go and stop the self-judgment on the path to delve into the friendly competition at hand. The rest falls into place.
This year these kids sang their hearts out, and danced and laughed and bonded, even while competing against one another, which put them all on an even playing field. How quickly they forgot that they were there to learn, and yet how quickly they were letting themselves learn from the heart, without notebooks.
In little time after Lia and I passed the torch to the other facilitators, the students were even more ready, relaxed confident and connected…cracked wide open…ready to absorb the lessons coming at them, truly understanding they were not alone.
Because, as my life study proves, playtime does that to people, no matter how old they are (or aren’t) or feel (or don’t).
So why don’t we play more? Good question! I’ll tell you this: the acceptable answer is NOT, “we don’t have enough time.” It’s about time we make some! That’s your dare: make time to have fun, and see how many ways UP that playtime will create.