In spring of 2016 I was in the midst of an outdoor education season at YMCA Camp Seymour. I was back in job searching mode, looking at options for the coming fall season. I spent free times browsing job listings on backdoorjobs.com, outdoored.com, and more. A few things piqued my interest, but the leading candidate at the time was from a referral. My friend had told me about this place in Massachusetts called the Berkshire Outdoor Center. Supposedly they had a lot going on with some unique programming. I looked into it and her recommendation coupled with the fact that they had a program that included spending 6-months in New Zealand (bucket list location for me) motivated me to apply. A bit later I got an interview. A bit later I got the job. A bit later I got on a plane and started a chapter of life that would grow to be a huge part of my story.
That fall I started work at the Berkshire Outdoor Center in Becket, Massachusetts, as a Program Instructor. I remember arriving on site at Camp Becket (one of two facilities the outdoor center operated out of) for the first time. I looked around and thought, I wonder what this place will mean to me when I finish here? I had just concluded two years at YMCA Camp Seymour in Gig Harbor, Washington, and I couldn’t help but think about the affection, admiration, and fondness I felt for that place and its people. If I felt about this new place the same way I did about Seymour when I left, it was going to be something special. I’m happy to say, two years and a bit later, that is unquestionably the case. I’d like to share the lessons that rose to the surface upon reflection. I hope they inspire you to go to a foreign place, do something new, and keep your heart open.
1.) The Power of a Growth Environment – Staff members at BOC are given loads of autonomy and are trusted to use it responsibly and effectively. It’s a pretty cool thing to be given freedom in the work place. How many days a week are you given a small group of people, goals for what they want to get out of their time with you, tools to empower you, then told to go make it happen? At BOC it happens every day! It’s a big responsibility, but it’s incredibly exciting as well. On top of being put in challenging situations daily, the concept of growth is encouraged and supported at an organizational level. Supervisors give you one-on-one support, the need for sustainability in your career is acknowledged and addressed, opportunities to take on more responsibility are provided. Of course there is an onus on you to take advantage of the situation, to engage with the possibilities. But when a growth environment is created, a setting is conditioned to produce fruit, that’s a powerful thing. In the fall of 2016 I had a few conversations with my brother Jeremy and read a book he recommended, John Maxwell’s 15 Laws of Invaluable Growth (read it, SO GOOD). The combination helped me realize the need for growth and that growth is not the means to an end but is in fact THE end itself. Growth is a constant in our lives. I’ve learned it is always worth our time. When you take your passion and skill into an environment that promotes and supports its progression, all the ingredients are there for you to reach your potential. Simon Holley states in his book Sustainable Power that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He’s right. I experienced the power of being in a growth culture in Mass and I can say with certainty that it truly is a powerful thing.
2.) The Camp Effect – Time spent at camp is different for participants and staff alike. As a staff member I worked, played, and lived with the same group of people. The seasons I spent with fellow staff were made up of such concentrated times together that the few short months we spent with each other produced friendships far more meaningful and lasting than you’d expect. In the span of a few months at camp you’ll spend as much time with someone as you would in a year of normal life. This truth revealed itself many times over when it came to the end of a season (Ex. – the ten weeks of summer camp) and I would say goodbye to folks who weren’t returning for the next. I’d give ’em a hug and exchange some last words, sad they were leaving our community at their contracts end. It never ceased to amaze me how hard it was to say goodbye to people I had met just a couple months before. Can you make a lifelong friend in that short of a time? For me, my experience undoubtedly says yes. But think about it: could you meet a stranger today and be best friends with them by mid-March? It’s pretty crazy. Camp is a special place for many reasons, but the relationships it produces is a big one. When you live at a camp you and your fellows get to determine the culture and atmosphere at a level not possible in many other scenarios. Add doing meaningful work and walking through the ups and downs of everyday life to the equation and before you know it, you’ve fallen in love with the place. I’ve left the camp setting and I’ll go for a week or two without seeing a friend. Inconceivable! Honestly, it’s been hard to adjust, but it helps remind me how remarkable the effect being at camp has on life and relationship. You should try it sometime.
There’s more comin’ next week