by Margaret Stockard
When I was growing up, I wanted to be three things: a professional tennis player, a musician in a band, and a writer. Now, as an adult, I would still love to be those three things, however, the first one is long past due as I’m pretty much in retirement age for a pro tennis player. But what about the other two? Why is it that I’ve pushed those things aside as so unreachable that they aren’t even worth exploring anymore?
I used to spend hour upon hour playing the guitar and writing songs. Although I am not blessed with a well-toned voice, I would sing to myself nonetheless for the sake of crafting a song. Learning chords and practicing strumming patterns took up many afternoons. I also wrote. I wrote poems, stories…I even played out some of the stories from my imagination and would spend countless afternoons pretending to be at least five different people.
My tennis coach in high school told me at the end of my senior year that if I kept at it over the summer, I could likely get a scholarship or attempt to walk on at a university. I didn’t think I was good enough, however, and had already struggled with debilitating mental weakness during matches due only to psyching myself out and not due to a lack of skill. So I quit and never really picked up a racquet again except to teach at summer camp. Those who can’t play teach, right? But I could play. I had a natural ability to play the sport but my brain was so powerful in telling me that I wasn’t any good and so it has kept me away from the game for over 10 years.
What would my child-self think about those decisions? I would say she would be pretty darn unhappy with the adult me.
A beauty of childhood is that kids play because they want to play. They don’t weigh foundational pros and cons about what type of play is going to achieve the most lucrative results. Children are led by curiosity and excitement. If you love looking for butterflies, you do that. If you love digging for worms, you do it. If you love baseball or map collecting or drawing, you do it, without any onerous self-analysis.
So many people today want to go out there and find their passion. Their purpose. Euphoria knocking at the door. And at times, they get very overwhelmed with trying to do just that. If there isn’t literal writing on the wall, how do you stumble upon what you are meant to do or who you are meant to be?
But that’s where things get fun. Life is all about the unknown. It’s about stretching yourself out of that cozy zone of comfort and trying new things. Chances are you already know some things you love to do and are just afraid to pursue them, like I was. It wasn’t until recently that I started writing again. That I rediscovered how much I missed it and how important it is to my life. I’ve also started playing the guitar again.
It also might be that there are things you are going to love but don’t even know you love yet because you have never taken a chance to try a new, crazy, somewhat scary experience.
And if you are utterly afraid of failure then chances are, it’s going to be a much longer and harder road for you. Positive experiences are easy to handle. It’s the negative ones that grow us, test us, and show us what we are willing to handle. What we are willing to fight for. I believe that happiness requires struggle. At times, even failure. And more failure. If you keep falling off the horse, you continue to get back on and on and on. Or, you find another horse. But standing there staring at the horse will not get you where you want to go. And struggle does not, I repeat, does not make you a failure. It makes you a fighter.
I also believe that happiness is a byproduct of action and character. It’s a result as opposed to something you initially pursue. It finds you.
This is where summer camp comes roaring into the scene. Whether you dream of pursuing a job with and around young people or not, working at a summer camp can bring with it multifarious experiences and tools to build your skillset and your character. Many times we talk about all of the great skills campers learn at camp but counselors learn them as well. Leadership is not necessarily a skill taught in school. It comes from the trenches. The experiences. The struggles of how you interact with and manage situations.
Camp is a place where people from all over the world come together to play, learn, grow, interact, and teach. I have seen numerous counselors come to camp with a career goal in mind and have it completely change by the end of their summer. Although this isn’t always the case and isn’t necessary, it’s interesting to see. I have met counselors who didn’t even think they liked children all that much but loved the activity they were hired to teach yet by the end of a season, they were determined to go into teaching. I have seen counselors come and hone their skills in land sports, water sports, arts, music…etc. But more than that, they learn how to manage groups of people. How to work under people who manage them. How to create achievable goals, structure plans, allow safe spaces; and hone patience, flexibility, boldness…etc. The list goes on. They learn how to have constructive discussions and listen to feedback and even learn how to take productive criticism, live and in person.
You will quickly learn what brings you to the breaking point. And you will surprise yourself at what you are able to handle. These are things you will take with you on your journey into the unknown. They are tools of the life trade. They will give you a sense of purpose that you have not experienced before.
Playing outside. Singing at a campfire. Making friendship bracelets. Going down a zipline at midnight (under supervision of course)…..these are more than trivial activities. No one gives you an in-depth self analysis if you want to sit and color or run around on nature trails or play with clay on a wheel. Not only are you allowing children to be free in their play as you teach them great skills, but you are allowing yourself that much-needed space to enjoy your surroundings. To give yourself a bit of a reset.
Yes, camp is a busy and stressful place at times, but all the more reason for it to teach you valuable lessons that test you over and over and over again so that by the end of the summer, you come out knowing way more about yourself than you did when you entered.
And I think your child-self just might be thrilled with the outcome. Your adult-self too.