Over the last few days, I asked different campers a simple question, “Which summer at camp meant the most to you?”
I was intrigued by the variety of their answers, but I should not have been surprised. Looking back on my camp years, I had seminal experiences in my first year (when I learned I was more than the younger brother of a football star), my 5th year (when I was struggling a bit socially at school) and my 7th summer (when I accomplished a task so challenging that I would write about it in my Harvard Business School application 12 years later).
Growth at camp comes at different times for different campers. Every camper has his or her own challenges and opportunities. When we are successful in partnering with you parents, we are able to help with many of them.
Here are some of the answers.
- 8th Grade Girl: I benefited most from camp during my 3rd summer between my 5th and 6th grade at school. We had a “mean girl” at our school and I was among the people that she would make fun of. It did not take to long before my confidence plummeted. Even worse, I would occasionally join in with her when she chose a different target. When I came to camp that summer, I started to be mean to other girls. I guess I figured it was better to be the giver than receiver of meanness. That summer, a counselor helped me understand that there are options other than “victim” and “victimizer”. I learned that I had to power to choose to be kind. I have tried to be that person ever since.
- 9th Grade Boy: I was never a huge athlete and that made me reluctant to join the sports leagues at home – especially because the boys in them were already really good. At camp, I started to play pickleball as became pretty good. Each summer I would practice and get better. During my 5th summer – after 8th grade – my partner and I won the Pickleball tournament. After that, I saw myself differently. I might not be on a varsity sports team at school, but I can be an athlete.
- Boy Counselor: As a Senior Camper, I learned that I am a really effective leader. At school, everyone seemed to decide who the “leaders” were in elementary school. I was not part of that group and had just assumed that some people are “leaders” and some are not. I now know I can learn and apply leadership skills effectively. It is cool to be running a group at school with several of the elementary school “leaders” following my lead!
- 7th Grade Boy: I think the first year was critical for me. I thought that I needed to have a parent around to do anything. At camp, I saw that I could make friends, take risks and even make my bed on my own. I know that sounds silly, but I was really proud of myself. I guess I went to camp doubting that I would be OK without them watching everything I did. I really appreciate them having more confidence in me than I did myself.
- Girl Counselor: [Note: I think this one is my favorite.] My second year of camp was the big one for me. I had fun my first year at camp, but I was also homesick for the first 5-6 days. Perhaps more importantly, I did not like one of my cabin-mates. I only went to camp 2 weeks that first year, so my homesickness and the cabinmate loomed large in my mind. I was thinking “camp is OK for some kids, but probably not for me.” I wondered if I was just less resilient than the other kids (though I would not have used that word when I was 8). I was uncertain about returning and told my mom I wanted to stay home the next year. My mom was having none of that. She reminded me of the things I liked and sent me back for three weeks. I thought she was crazy and I was kind of mad at her, but I now know why she did it. When I went back, I only had a day or two of homesickness and we were able to request that I not be with the cabinmate I butted heads with. I loved that year and have come back for 10 more. I even became friends with the girl that had been my nemesis! Most importantly, I learned a powerful lesson: I cannot let one person define my life. I almost let that one girl take camp away from me. Now I won’t let a roommate, classmate and teammate be too much of an influence me.
In his book Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson describes a camper who was quite homesick, but she decided on her own that she did not want to be a person that was scared of unfamiliar experiences for the rest of her life, so she returned. She sensed that if she wanted to be a brave person, she would need to start doing brave things.
Most young people are not nearly this self-aware. The majority of children generally need a loving hand to encourage the brave decision. I needed that hand to attend camp the first time. The woman I describe in the fourth example needed that hand as well.
I was not thrilled when that hand showed up, but I am elated that it did. My parents believed in me more than I believed in myself. What an awesome gift.
PS The photo I include has nothing to do with my blog, but I thought these girls and Dodger were cute together.