Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The month that set the direction for the rest of my life

I want to share a personal story of how I have gotten where I am today. I owe it all to the month of August, 1995. What happened then? I was at summer camp. I know that doesn’t sound all too exciting but let me elaborate.

In August of 1995 I went away to summer camp (I was 15 at the time) as I had done for many years but this year I would be gone for four weeks instead of my usual two. The reason was that when a person turns 15 you are now too old for the regular camp and are now entered into the LIT program. LIT stands for leader-in-training but could also be considered a counselor-in-training program. For this program you live in cabins in a completely separate part of camp. The first two weeks are spent on team and leadership development and the last two weeks you spend working with a cabin of campers.

Going into this four week stint, I knew I wouldn’t know most of my fellow LITs (some would be people I have known for years). Anyone that has gone to a sleep-away camp will understand when I say that it’s own completely different world. It’s like a much more innocent version of the Las Vegas “What happens here stays here” slogan. That being the case, you often don’t mix camp friends with non-camp friends. So I knew that the people that knew me at camp only “knew me at camp” and I saw this LIT program as a chance to try something really new. It was a chance to really try to become what I wanted to be.

At the time I was rather reserved, shy, afraid to try new things, etc. I decided to check those bags at the door of my parent’s car when they dropped me off. I got settled in my bunk and met my cabin-mates. Once fully settled in, I took a seat upon a picnic table kinds off to the side in a grove of sorts and proceeded to meditate and reflect. Now I know that sounds contradictory to my intentions of changing but read on. During that time I thought about where I had been, who I was, and where I wanted to be. I reflected about my strengths, weaknesses, and who I wanted to be. I thought about what I wanted other people to think of me, what kind of life I wanted to live, and what I need to do to make it happen. Once I found something I knew I needed to change, I purposely put myself into a situation that would take me out of my comfort zone so that I had opportunity to try something new. During my four weeks at camp I did this daily (usually early in the morning). It wasn’t long before I had a few people who joined me for my meditative sessions and I showed them what I did. They have since told me that it has made a difference in their lives.

The first two weeks were full of the type of activities that you might expect at a leadership camp. Things like having most of us blindfolded while a couple of people tried to guide us by verbal directions to complete a task. There were team building exercises, character building exercises, etc. Some LITs were kicked out of camp for having prohibited items in their possession (I’ll let you use your imagination), some had relationships with each other, others had difficulty adjusting, and others (like myself0 had very moving experiences. Through it all we all grew in ways that I think many of us didn’t appreciate until years later.

I think that the combination of my state of mind at this time along with the relationships I forged really changed me at my core. I can honestly say that my life is very different than it probably would have been without this experience. To this day, I still take time each and every day to reflect and conduct a sort of self-assessment. I try to be as honest with myself as much as possible (which is not that easy as we tend to paint rosier pictures of ourselves) so that the excercise can be effective. I have come to realize that this reflection, along with a willingness to be outside my comfort zone, are what allow me to learn and grow. Now this experience very well may be unique to me, but I am a firm believer in self-assessment, personal inventory, or whatever you want to call it, because knowing yourself well can allow you to achieve so much more.

I know the readership of this blog may be limited at this time, but I invite anyone who wishes to share their own story of a moment of change either through a comment on this post or emailing me and once I collect a few I will post them.


finance girl said...

Hi Jaerid, hey great blog!

Just hopping over here from Brazen Careerist to comment on your comment re: self esteem. My comment re: winning the respect of your competitors (Peers) and your management chain is distinctly separate from what you refer to as being "liked". In my experience they are totally separate.

I prefer being respected to being liked.

I agree with you some innovate folks may rub others the wrong way, but not because they are innovate, just because they may have inadequate emotional intelligence/social skills.

From personal experience, just sayin'.

Jaerid said...

finance girl -

Thanks for the comment!

I see your point, however I think that being liked and respected do not necessarily need to be mutually exclusive. I think it is possible to be both (though admittedly rare).

As far as innovators - it certainly is possible that many do lack sufficient EQ but some just may be passionate about what they are doing.

As with anything, I guess it varies situation to situation. Thank you again for the comment!

Andy S said...

Hey Jaerid. Got your myspace request a wk ago, decided to actually look at your page, and then I found the blog page. So, I started reading through your blog and was glad to get a snapshot of how you're doing. What's really funny is that yesterday, I felt compelled to start a blog of my own on my myspace page. I kinda feel like Doogie own little computer journal that the rest of the people can see if they want.
Anyway, it's interesting that we're about the same age, are from the same relative place, and are both taking stock of our lives and reflecting back to our teen yrs. I've decided that I need to improve myself, so I am up-and-moving to New Mexico in a month, which in my head I'm essentially equating to a far-away, long lasting summer camp...weird.

LizW said...

Hi Jaerid,

I also saw your blog from your comment on Brazen Careerist, and wanted to share a moment when I put my own life in perspective. When I was 19 I dropped out of college due to family events, and decided to work for a while before going back to school. I landed a job doing payroll in a technology startup. I was miserable. I had moved back in at home, hated my job, which proved to be very demanding, and didn't have a social life.

One day I decided to make a list of ten things that I wanted to do before I was thirty. It was a way for me to believe that things would change, and to try to understand what I valued, what MY goals were. Which at 19/20 is sometimes difficult.

I still have the list, and have actually achieved most of the things on it. I'll turn 30 in November. Learning languages, having the experience of living in another culture. I will count my master's thesis (if I manage to finish : ) as writing a book, which was on the list. There are some goals that I had at the time which have changed over the course of the past ten years, like religious identity. It is interesting to me is that I never considered putting anything like owning a home, marriage, having kids, earning x amount of money.

The list helped me feel more sure of my identity, and gave me an impetus to work toward goals that seemed far away. It also made me feel like I had some control over a life that seemed at the time to be in the hands of my boss and my family.

Jaerid said...

Andy -

I am happy to hear about your upcoming adventure to the SW. It sounds like a great means for self-discovery.

Glad to hear that you are blogging too. I think it is a great outlet for one's thoughts (even if no one is reading). I like the Doogie Howser comment - what was his friend's name? The one that was always coming through the window?

Jaerid said...


What a great story! I think making a list like that is a great idea. I also think you should be very happy that you have accomplished most of it.

As far as the house, marriage, kids thing - I think those are parts of life that will naturally occur (if you want them to) and I think your focus on other more experience type of goals is the right way to go. Experiences are what shape us and let us grow.

Thanks for the comment!