Happy Camper in Life


Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable

This past weekend I left my eleven year old daughter off at sleep away camp.  She is quite independent and has spent lots of time away, so I knew that leaving her off would not be an issue.  I did want to leave her with some fatherly advice for her time at camp.  So before we got out of the car I told her a few things. 

First, use the opportunity to make some new friends.  While she was going to be there with two other good friends from school, I urged her to separate herself from her existing friends and make some new ones.

Second, challenge yourself to try some new activities, some new foods and to push  out of her comfort zone.  I explained that while school is for academic learning, camp is for life learning.  We all learn better from experiences and she was about to embark on a learning journey at camp.  The real learning occurs when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.  As I provided her with this advice it reminded me of a course I once taught in a leadership development program.  During the course, we were discussing adult learning theory and when the best learning occurs.  I introduced the concept of eustress.  We often associate stress with being a bad thing, but in the right quantity stress improves performance and increases learning.  It is distress that is the bad stress.  The chart below popped into my mind as I was coaching my daughter to stray from her comfort zone.

Bell Curve of Stress

Our best learnings occur when we push ourselves or we are pushed outside of our comfort zone.  I think my daughter understood the concept. We will see how many new things she tried when she returns from camp.

My third piece of advice was to be courageous.  Having courage is necessary to accomplish the first two pieces of advice.  Have the courage to sit with new kids at dinner, have the courage to tackle the zip line, and have the courage to say no thank you to an activity that will push you too far out of your comfort zone.  Sometimes saying no takes even more courage than saying yes to something new.

My final piece of advice was to have as much fun as possible.  Sleep away camp is an opportunity to create life long memories. Leaving her off on fathers day with my dad and wife at my side brought back memories of my time at sleep away camp and the various experiences that shaped who I am today.   While my camp was a bit more rustic, no air conditioning, no electricity in the cabins, no TV in the mess hall, etc.  The real point is that she was in for a treat and a learning adventure.  Having fun is what camp is all about.

So it is Monday morning less than twenty four hours after leaving my daughter off at camp and I am reflecting on my advice to my eleven year old.  As it turns out this advice really applies to everyone.  If you are embarking on a new adventure, starting a new job, taking a trip, attending a conference or engaging in any new activity the advice should apply.

  1. Make new friends.  Use your new experience as an opportunity to network and meet some new people.  They may not become friends, but acquaintances.

  2. Push outside your comfort zone.  Leverage that eustress to do something new and to become more comfortable, being uncomfortable.

  3. Be courageous. Be willing to try new things and be willing to say no when you know something is outside your limitations.

  4. Have Fun. As the saying goes, life is a journey. It is up to you whether or not to make it a fun one.

   Be a happy camper in life.