A few months ago, my friend Tammi (yes, I have one!) invited me to come lead a workshop at “Campowerment,” a wildly fun, transformational weekend sleepaway camp for women that Tammi didn’t just dream up, she actually walked away from her 34-year, Emmy-award winning producer gig to make happen.
Of course I said, “no.” Okay, fine, quite possibly, I squeaked, “maybe,” which if you know me (or any another human) means, uh, “no.” Even worse, it’s the very same “maybe” that my dad used to say (and I claimed to hate) when I was growing up.
For the record, my dad’s “maybe” was meaner-ish than mine (that’s how it works). His most memorable “maybe” came on our way home to Long Island from our Vermont ski rental. I’d beg to stop at McDonald’s for a Filet-O-Fish (in kosher terms, that’s a Big Mac) and my dad didn’t just say “maybe” to my many pleas, he’d go as far as to say, “if there is one on the road.” It wasn’t ‘til we got home that I realized he meant if there was actually one on the highway itself, not off an exit.
This should explain a lot.
Back to camp. I’ve been coached enough by now to know that many (if not all) of my immediate “no” responses are more than likely: one part stingy, one part fear and the last part, more fear. So, these days, when asked to do things that instantaneously turn my stomach, I reluctantly, eventually, just agree to them; or worse, I’ll tell on myself to my life coach (and baby sister) Lauren Zander. Much to my wimpy chicken’s chagrin, I’ve learned that the more bold actions I take to make myself uncomfortable, the more magic I bring into my life. Not kidding. I co-created a 13-episode, animated TV show on HULU, starring Eva Longoria, just to prove that. So by now, let’s just say, I know my “no” is much more of an “uh-oh.”
Now, the real joke here is that I’ve always HATED camp. Not just ‘cause I’m a Long Island JAP that thinks flip-flops in the shower is reason enough not to go somewhere, but generally, I don’t like people all that much. In fact, I’d have always considered myself shy, unique and sensitive. I mean, after all my parents named me “Marnie.” I felt it my calling to be different. So, the mere fact that I was now going back to sleepaway camp, tickled the sh-t out of my sister, who was one of THOSE camp lovers.
You know the type.
They are camp-obsessed, the whole lot of them, going back to the same camp together year after year, until they are counselors, even Division Heads. That kind. Not anything like my kind. I switched camps every year, totally convinced that no camp was ever the right fit for me. My parents weren’t at all bothered that I never went back anywhere twice as long as I split for 8 weeks every summer.
So, yes, my kid sister rightfully snickered as she essentially ordered me out of my box and back to camp at age 49. Lauren called it karma that I was heading back to the place I hated most as a kid. She told me to face my demons and deal with the reasons I despised the place that clearly 9 million American kids would call nirvana, if they knew what that meant. I laughed as she spelled out what it might look like, cause, well, I’m a masochist, clearly.
My first grownup camp experience went down in the Poconos Mother’s Day weekend. I arrived on Thursday a little earlier than the campers and, as far as my head was concerned, I only had to survive until Sunday at 11:30 (Mother’s Day). I brought my teeth grinding bite plate, flip-flops and bug spray. I led one large workshop and facilitated one smaller group circle. And, wouldn’t you know it, I had a blast. Not even in the enjoy-a-good-suffer sense, but a genuine, moving, inspired, profound time.
My fellow campers (yes, I typed that) came to play. Bravely came to find or re-find themselves. They let me in, let me coach them, and even invited me to beat them up to help them change their lives.
But the biggest ah-ha (the arch nemesis of oh no) came when I went back the second time, just one month later.
YES, for the first time ever, I went back to the same camp. And, though all but a few of the campers were new to Campowerment, many of the Experts and amazing Campower Rangers (volunteers) came back too. This time, when I pulled up and got out of my car (fine, reluctantly) I did a beeline for the friends I had made the month before and hugged them hard, genuinely giddy for the chance to play with them again.
And then it hit me. The reason sleepaway camp (and hell, even college, now that I think about it) sucked so badly for me, was because of ME.
I blamed all those camps for my horrific summers so I wouldn’t have to see how much MORE invested I was in proving that I didn’t belong, that I was different and shy with no friends. Who can make friends when you go to a different camp every year? No wonder I never felt comfortable or at home. I used my shyness to not have to fully be me and checked out before I even gave myself a chance to check in. I wasn’t interested in finding love, friends and forever. I was out to prove my age-old favorite (and safe) crap theories of how alone, misunderstood and different I was.
Oh my god. I’M what sucked about camp. So, why did I have to wait ‘til 49 to change my story?
Seems it takes something to realize your “no” is simply a chicken’s cluck, roll up your sleeves and head into exactly where your head tells you not to go, only to happily find out you’ve been 40 years wrong (except for the flip-flop part)!
P.S.- If you want to change the story of your life, take the Design Your Life Weekend. It’s where Lauren’s whole method of coaching is laid out in one weekend – very efficient!