Many people usher in the New Year with New Year’s resolutions – attempts to make personal changes in order to better themselves. For many people, this may include going to the gym more or eating healthier. For others, however, New Year’s resolutions are less about tangible alterations to a routine, and instead are a way to alter one’s approach to the upcoming year and try to be a better, happier person. As I was thinking of all the ways that I could do this, and all of the traits that I would like to improve upon in the New Year – I want to be more empathetic & understanding, more compassionate & inclusive, and better situated to face life’s challenges – I came to a sudden realization. Each of these traits that I am striving to build upon are traits that are emphasized and developed at summer camp. I realized I don’t need a “new me” – if I want to be my best self, I simply need to be the version of myself that I am at camp.
One of the most important lessons you learn at camp is the value of seeing another’s perspective. During bunk disputes, counselors will try to make sure both campers have an opportunity to discuss why they are upset, and an emphasis is placed on each camper understanding where the other is coming from, rather than proving one’s “rightness.” Similarly, campers and counselors come from all over the country and all over the world, and camp exposes you to different people with different perspectives that you would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise. At camp, you learn to be empathetic, you learn to listen to understand, rather than to rebut, and you ultimately learn about the value of being considerate of others’ views. Being a more empathetic and understanding person is at the top of many people’s resolutions for the New Year, and reflecting on camp experiences is a great way to position yourself to successfully grow in this area in 2017.
Camp is also a place that values kindness, compassion, and inclusion – all of which are traits that are vital to anyone hoping to truly be their “best self.” In the words of Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Whether this means inviting someone new to sit at your lunch table, or reaching out to an old friend who may be feeling lonely, an unprompted act of compassion and kindness can have a tremendous impact, and will not only make the day of the recipient of this action, but will make you feel better as well. And of course, the blueprint for kindness and inclusion is learned by many at sleepaway camp, where directors and staff place a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that each camper has a memorable summer and forges many new friendships. At the camp I work at, we have an “open chair” policy – wherever a group of people has gathered, whether to play cards or to have a simple conversation, we always leave an open chair. This way anyone who may want to join immediately has a place to sit, and those who are shyer, and who otherwise may be dissuaded by the idea of asking for a space or dragging a chair to the table, are put in a position where these obstacles to inclusion no longer exist. By emphasizing this kindness and inclusion in the New Year, you may very well find that you are becoming exactly the type of person you want to be.
One final skill that people learn at camp that can help us all going forward is the ability to confidently step outside one’s comfort zone in order to grow. At camp, we often find ourselves in new and challenging situations. For some, this might include being away from home for the first time, trying a new activity, or making new friends. For others, it will be their first experience in a foreign country, or their first experience overseeing staff. In any case, at camp there will inevitably be times where you are challenged beyond your comfort level. You may be unsure of how to respond, and you might yearn for the security of life at home – however, in camp’s supportive environment you learn how to face these challenges head-on time and time again. Outside of the confines of camp, there will ultimately be situations when we simply don’t feel ready for life’s challenges. Whether one is transitioning to a new school, playing varsity sports for the first time, going away to college, or confronting challenges of the workplace – we are all tasked at one point or another to step outside the realm of what we know we can do. However, if you are able to incorporate the lessons you learn at camp and embrace the challenges life throws your way, you will be better situated to seize opportunities and to grow as an individual.
The New Year is a wonderful time for reflection and personal growth. My own reflection helped me realize that I am my best self for the two months each year that I am lucky enough to be at camp. By making a conscious effort to incorporate camp’s lessons and values into everyday life, I hope to be my best self – my camp self – throughout 2017.
Maine Camp Experience wishes everyone a Happy New Year!
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge™, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.