I was eight years old the first summer I went to overnight camp. The oldest of three girls, I had already created this story about myself: I was a decent tennis player, an honor roll student, a Girl Scout and a bossy pants big sister. This was not only how the people around me thought of me; it was how I saw myself.
Placed in a cabin with nine strangers and all my belongings smushed Into a cubby hole with my nametag hanging by a thread, I spent weeks cavorting and connecting with and sleeping beside a bunch of other nerdy second graders. But it was the opportunity to see my story from another vantage point — outside my fishbowl, away from those who already “knew” what to expect of me, with distance from my regular view of myself, that helped me appreciate the gifts of the sleep away camp experience. After that first summer, I was hooked.
Fourteen million lucky people get to go away to camp each summer to explore life, each other and the great outdoors, exactly as it used to be. Before we stopped talking to each other and got all choked up by the web and social media.
Summer camps have been around close to a century. Interestingly, the kids who attend are not placed under the watchful eye of responsible adults. It’s teenaged counselors who take charge each summer, and the lessons I learned from some of the barely older than me counselors have shaped my world as I now know it.
The concept of camp is epic, which is probably why “camp people” breed s’more camp people, and the traditions root themselves deeply in those who pass through the gates of whatever camp they claim as theirs.
For years I dreamed of finding a way to return to the place that taught me so much about myself. In 2005, I co authored a book for and about women, and realized then I had already started reawakening the kid who still lived within me. And that the traditions I loved could still be excavated, if I connected with the mindset that allowed me to birth them in the first place, way back when.
Those feelings, which led to my founding Campowerment, alongside the three generations of my camp-appreciating family, were a hybrid of everything I just explained: new, old and (so very) epic.
I created exactly what I longed for, infused with the hindsight that it’s not the camp — it’s the joy, the camaraderie, the distance from the bubble of routine and societal/self expectation, and the emotional playground — that inspired all those new beginnings for me (and millions of others) so many years ago.
So, this month, instead of living vicariously through the kids who head off to summer camp, I ask you to think like a kid again.
Your summer HW is to answer me this:
- If you were a kid packing to head to camp, with a clean slate – a fresh summer start – how would you want to be known among your fellow campers?
I’m talking: “she’s the [insert adj. here] camper in bunk 10!” Pick some good descriptors for yourself, like “daring” or “fun” or “free” or “curious” or “athletic,” “confident,” “really bright,” etc
- Again, if you WERE to be a kid at summer camp, choosing who you wanted to BE next school year, what would you decide to NO LONGER do when you return home?
- What do you wish you could write home to your friends about? (What stories would you wish to be so juicy that your pre-summer self would be impressively shocked by them?)
Go for it: new, old, epic. All of it.
Have the best summer ever. Next month, I’ll challenge you to keep it growing…