It is impossible to grow inside of your comfort zone. As parents and adults, and it easy for us to tell this to our children when encouraging them to try something new, but do we take it to heart ourselves?
On the first day of camp, nearly all of our campers are nervous, some much more than others. Even before camp, we talk to parents who say, “my child refuses to go” and “I don’t know how we’re going to get him out of the car.” And that has happened, coaxing kids out of the car. While most families feel that they are alone in these anxieties, they are not! It is natural to feel nervous about something you have never done before, especially if you struggle with anxiety or have had negative experiences in the past. If you asked parents to go to camp hours away from home, for 12 days, with other adults they didn’t know, they would be nervous too!
But there are so many opportunities to grow when you step out of your comfort zone. It is hard to see this when you have immediately crossed the “zone” boundary and all you want to do is step back in, but after some time and processing (which we try to do with each of our campers), you can really begin to see how far you’ve come.
This year was my first summer at SOAR. As a notorious worrier even in adulthood, I could sympathize with all of the campers who were feeling nervous on day one. If I were in that situation 10 years ago, I would have been the exact same way. I have spent most of my young life doing things I know I am good at, trying very few new things, and enjoying the comforts of “my zone”. As you can imagine, this gets boring and unfulfilling, so with the start of the new year (2015), I decided I was going to try some new things. One of those things was a 8 week pottery class. Aside from play dough, I have never crafted anything functional with my hands. I was nervous the first night, but I just kept telling myself “how hard can it be?” Well, it was hard! I didn’t want to go back. My immediate thoughts were, “I’m not good at this”, “My teacher must think I’m stupid”, and “I should just give up now instead of trying and failing later.”
Have you heard these thoughts before from your child?
As you probably guessed and since I am writing this blog post, I stuck with it. As the weeks went by, I actually got the hang of it! Now, I’m kind of “good”, for a beginner, and I love it! I started applying my teacher’s feedback instead of just letting it make me upset. He praised the things I did well and offered constructive feedback to help me improve. I noticed my confidence building week by week, and about half way through, I thought, “This is how our campers feel.” They come to SOAR feeling pretty uncomfortable and nervous about what they next 12-26 days will hold, but as they try new activities they’ve never done before and start to realize that they can succeed, they’re confidence skyrockets and their behavior improves. It is now so clear to me why.
It is an amazing feeling to step out of your comfort zone and experience success! These experiences make it so much easier to try other new things and take what you’ve learned and apply it to other areas, which is what we hope for each of our campers! If your child is feeling nervous about the possibility of overnight camp, let them know that these feelings are okay! We all feel nervous about things that are unfamiliar to us, even Mom and Dad, but in order to truly grow, we must step out!
In late April, the SOAR Team at the Balsam Base in North Carolina had our annual Base Maintenance Day. Our Executive Director, as well as other leaders of the SOAR program, work from this location, and participate fully in maintaining and keeping our site beautiful. The natural resources are there: mature trees, mountainside declines and inclines, waterfalls, rock formations, creeks, indigenous plants galore, including of course the wildflowers. Our structures, planned settings such as fire pits with benches, dining shelter, high and low rope courses, outposts for our campers’ time here, and paths, all enhance our SOAR setting in western NC. Our shared caring for our special property is an underlying piece and base of our philosophy here at SOAR: operating as a team, cooperating in respectful ways, focusing on strengths, building confidence and self-esteem, perseverance, and meeting challenges. The team camaraderie is strong with encouraging remarks and affirmations as the work progresses, and, at the end of the day, everyone leaves feeling proud of themselves and our work at SOAR.
This year was my first time being a part of the Spring Maintenance Day and, while I knew that one of my team members would be chopping wood to clear trees that had been cut for safety reasons, and to stock our campfire woodpiles, I was curious about my assignment. It turned out to be perfect for me, and addressed one of my strengths of having a green thumb and a passion for gardening. Our Logistics Director had thoughtfully purchased healthy, ready to plant, flowers and vegetables for me and pointed out the places I could garden. Not only was I part of the team, but did something I am pretty good at doing. I felt enormously satisfied with myself. So you could say my self-esteem and confidence was bolstered that day!
One of our team has a particular interest in the aesthetics and character of our SOAR sites. She has the ability to complete projects that add to our setting’s ambiance of outdoor adventure. She contributed by making and applying some stencil work additions to our structures. Now we have an eagle on our landing for the high ropes course as well as a poignant quote by John Muir that reflects our sentiment about our location on our rock climbing wall. Her work was tedious and took plenty of perseverance to finish, but added to the team’s feelings of pride and satisfaction.
There were many more assignments and work projects going on all day. Some members of our team were going from one job to another, and in some cases, making sure all supplies and equipment were available for all projects. They were often making encouraging comments, observations, providing advice, and yes, moving us forward, or motivating us to work even harder.
It occurred to me at the end of the day, as I was leaving feeling tired and happy that all of our being at SOAR is made up of much of the same philosophy we pass on to our campers. We provide structured days of activity with plenty of fun and adventure, focus on strengths, talents, and interest, keep a team-based approach with a purpose of inclusion of all, and hold each other accountable and valued. Our goal here at SOAR is to help each and every camper leave with a positive and light-filled reflection of themselves.
Join Big John Willson on a beautiful reflection of perseverance, purpose, and achievement.
I had a top ten experience the summer of 2000, one of those amazing opportunities that leaves you breathless, invigorated, and rejuvenated. I had the very good fortune to summit Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, in Maine this summer with a wonderful group of students. The day began at 6:30 am as we rolled out of our tents into a world filled with clouds, mist, a spattering of rain, dashing our hopes of a beautiful summit day. At nearly sea level we had over 5,000 feet of elevation to gain before reaching the summit. As we embarked on this tremendous journey, the sun came out and filled our morning with spectacular terrain, lush mountain foliage, and breathtaking vistas. We worked hard as we ascended upward with each step, and by mid morning felt we were making excellent progress. Approximately 12:00 noon we summitted and to our dismay realized it was not the peak of Katahdin. We had not yet traversed the ridge named “The Knife’s Edge”. We debated the merits of continuing onward and upward, or having reached a respectable goal, descending the mountain. A vote of 4 to 7, and we forged ahead toward the elusive summit.
Immediately we realized “The Knife’s Edge” was an entirely different beast. This daunting and intimidating ridgeline spans 2.5 miles of rocky outcroppings, and requires climbing moves to complete a successful traverse. This band of adventurers continued to advance on the precious goal of the summit. The weather changed bringing mist, rain, and its very good friend wind. Howling, knock you down and laugh at you wind turned this day hike into an epic journey of humans testing their spirit and will, and finding the courage and strength to realize their goals. “It must be soon now” I said, “Surely we are almost there.” Our bodies reminding us that we are not mountaineers, screaming to stop, to rest, to abandon this assault on our abilities. Then at 2:30 pm suddenly, through the mist and clouds, our goal was there staring at us. We had climbed to the top and we were courageous and proud, and most amazingly triumphant.
We had overcome fear, self-doubt, and a daunting physical barrier to achieve our goal. We stayed together supported one another, and would not be deterred. I am still so proud of my summit team Drew, Max, Ryan, Andy, Joey, Eric, Jeff, Andrew, Mike, and Mark. Thank you for reminding me why it is so important to live purposefully.
SOAR is an authorized permittee of the National Park Service and the National Forest Service. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.