For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matt Geurtsen and I am the trips coordinator (among other things!) here at camp. However, I will only be holding that title for a little bit longer as I will be attending George Mason University in the Fall to fill my brain with economics and data analytics. It was a difficult decision for me to make as I have absolutely loved the last six years that I have spent at camp. As I reflect back on my time here, I wanted to share what I consider to be the six most important lessons that I have learned.
You will never find a better group of friends
Over the last few years I have been blessed with amazing coworkers. There is something about being in a camp setting that just makes people bond on a completely different level compared to other friendships. Maybe it has something to do with going through a crazy experience together or perhaps it’s that you are always with each other and as such are always there for each other. Regardless, camp has taught me how to truly value a friendship and the caliber of character I need from my friends. As I move on, my future friends will have a high bar set for them from all of my friends here at camp. Being able to hold your friendships to the standard of our values goes a long way. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Camp gives you a place where everyone wants to go far together.
Choose your attitude and your work ethic
At camp, we say this all the time. Most of the things that happen to us on a daily basis are out of our control. It’s a cold hard fact. However, we are always in control of our attitudes and our work ethic. No one gets to dictate how you will handle difficult news but you. No one gets to tell you how much effort you will put into your day to day life. Only you can decide that for yourself. Once we begin to actively choose a positive mental attitude in the face of adversity and then pair that with an unbeatable work ethic, we become better people.
EVERYONE has an invisible backpack
There is a term we use at camp a lot called the invisible backpack. It refers to the fact that most of us walk around in our day to day lives carrying this invisible baggage. Most of the time, we will never know what someone else is going through unless we take the time to help make their backpack a little lighter. This is the key difference between empathy and sympathy. We can all be sympathetic towards someone going through a rough time. However, true help and change can only occur by getting on their level and understanding what they are going through by using empathy. To put it this way, I could be sympathetic to someone climbing up a ladder by saying, “wow that looks hard. I’m sorry you have to go through that.” Or I could be empathetic and be with them at the ladder, possibly even climb the ladder with them if that is what it takes. Never assume you know what someone is going through unless you take the time to help them through it.
Never underestimate mirror neurons
For those reading this that do not know what mirror neurons are, here is a brief explanation. We have neurons in our brain that tend to mirror behaviors and actions that we see in others. Therefore, the more time we spend around other people, the more we tend to emulate their behaviors or their actions. Now, these mirror neurons are a double-edged sword. For example, we as counselors spend the entire summer working with kids. That means that if our mirror neurons are firing on all cylinders, we can expect to act more childlike by the end of the summer. For those of you who have gone through a summer as a counselor, you can probably attest to feeling just a little crazier than how you started the summer. However, knowing that we chemically respond like this a fantastic thing! It’s proof that surrounding ourselves with loving and caring people will positively impact us. Team these neurons with my first point (you’ll never find better people than at camp) and you’ve suddenly started on your journey to becoming a person of high character. Make sure that your friends are giving your mirror neurons the right signals and if they aren’t, then it’s on you to be the change you want to see.
You are you, that is truer than true.
Camp also helped teach me the true value of one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Seuss; “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive, that is you-er than you.” Oftentimes, societal norms dictate that we need to mask certain beliefs, feelings, wants or loves just because of an unspoken social contract. Camp takes that contract and flips it on its head. There is no better place to openly express feelings, or talk about that comic book you love, or be an absolute goofball in front of 400 people than camp. The best part about it? People respond positively because of the environment you are in. Every day that I woke up at camp, I felt like a super hero version of myself. I could act exactly how I wanted to act without fear of judgement. Because of that, my self-worth and confidence have sky rocketed. Be yourself, be true to yourself, and love yourself. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to be something you aren’t.
Feeling down? Help someone!
Perhaps the most important lesson that I have learned from camp is this; science has proven that the two best ways of feeling better about yourself are through selfless acts and learning something new. One of my mentors and friends, Gary Graham, taught me this and it blew my mind. It seems so counter-intuitive at face value. If I am feeling sad, why should I help someone? Shouldn’t I be concentrating on myself? Why should I try something new?! I’m sad! But the more you think about it (and do it!) the more you realize how true it is. We, as social creatures, rely on each other to survive, placing a deep-rooted need for connection in our core. Because of this, when we help others we naturally feel better about ourselves! So how does this translate outside of camp? If we wake up every day knowing that we can make ourselves feel better simply by being helpful, polite and genuine, the world starts to become a whole light brighter. Imagine a world where everyone consistently demonstrates altruism. Not because anyone is watching or because it is required of them. Instead they do it because they know that good deeds are not a zero sum game. That is a certainly a world I want to live in, and more importantly, a world I intend to help create because of camp.