What led 350 innovators, creatives, and change-makers from around the globe to show up at a summer camp ground just north of New York City for 4 days?
It’s a fair question.
Sometimes we can say why we’re drawn to a place or an event. Sometimes, we can’t.
A renowned painter and photographer from France had moved to Dallas. In the glittery city of steel and diamonds, the artist had found a few acres rich with hardwood trees, rock outcrops, and a stream where he made home. I asked him how the place inspired his work.
“Most people I know,” he said, “myself included, seek the landscapes of their youth. This place reminds me of my boyhood.”
In the French countryside, he said, he felt free to roam the outdoors that to him contained the mysteries and beauty that led him to pursue the artist’s life.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe many of us do, whether we know it or not, seek out our childhood landscapes. If so, what are we looking for? What are we wanting?
Was that what led this troupe of strangers to a summer camp for grown-ups?
For this introvert who grows itchy in groups larger than 20, I suspect it was what has led me there two years in a row and to leave a massive group feeling not suffocated but rejuvenated.
The event is called Camp GLP – which stands for Good Life Project.
For the record, I don’t take easily to crowds, and I take even less easily to anything I view as silly or frivolous or some desperate attempt for grown-ups to feel creative. It’s not a snob thing. It’s a disposition thing.
But there I was on Day 2 donning a blue t-shirt, blue jeans, a blue plastic lei, a blue bandana, and blue face paint. The camp staff – volunteer entrepreneurs and creatives from around the globe – had divided us into four teams to compete in traditionally campy competitions such as egg races, potato sack hopping races, that sort of thing.
I jumped in with boyish gusto. Ace copywriter Joshua Harbert and I, “tied together” in a three-legged race, flew like swans and found a quiet kinship.
A felt pink unicorn rallied us. Actually, inside that unicorn outfit was core GLP Staffer and Sidekick Kristoffer Carter. This bundle of amped-up joy also is the Culture Catalyst at Centro, one of the U.S. fastest growing tech companies.
Was the Color Wars just about being silly? I don’t think so. We all know heart-pounding exercise is good for us, but it’s rarely fun. An hour or two of running around, cheering and flying and inventing best strategies (or not) left many of us feeling more alive in our bodies than we had in months back home or at the office.
Somewhere in my skinny legs 40-year memories woke up of me running with all my heart through a meadow in high pursuit of pirates and bad guys (aka, my best boyhood friends).
Why did I, normally reserved and quiet and preferring to talk to one person at a time, feel free to be loud and a little nuts?
I think it has to do with what that French painter told me. That place of boyhood where I felt most free among other kids and grown ups was summer camp.
From 9 years old to 19 years old, summer camp became the place where I learned to love learning, where I had one serious conversation after another with both campers and counselors, where I nourished my innate love of the woods and water, of starry skies and skinny dipping, and where I could play with every fiber in my boyish body.
At the grown-up camp, workshops topics included things like The Art of Recurring Revenue, creating online courses, how to make a mala. Jonathan had a conversation with open-hearted teacher and author of the new book Start Here Now (Shambhala Publications) Susan Piver, and physician, herbalist, and midwife Aviva Romm gave a keynote on keeping the candle lit without burning out.
The beauty of it all culminated in the last night’s Talent Show. A grandmother and grandson perform a duo about doing your thing. A poet offers her Wild Woman manifesto. Jazz lounge songs. Bob Dylan sung to spontaneous mime/hearing impaired translations. A Bollywood dance number. A comedy routine.
All of it a jaw-dropping, heart-exploding celebration of human beings’ astonishing capacity to create, delight, surprise, and move each other – without inhibition.
And the best moments often happen in the spaces between events.
On a porch one afternoon, another camper and I shared stories of our complicated pasts and relationships. At a picnic table, a camper shared with me how challenging is her juggling act as multi-creative and mom and wife can be. We mapped some ideas and priorities. I heard about broken hearts and open hearts, the pursuits of PhDs and of bold revolutions. I took walk-and-talks through the woods with one of my best buds and with new allies.
But, still, the question.
A friend of mine who also showed up asked me the question later, “So, most people go to conferences and gatherings to get some Thing. They go to get X. What was the X that drew people from around the world?”
Was it the lure of camp? Not everyone had the same boyhood experience I had of camp. In fact, one British friend of mine said that European Jews have a very different sense of “camp” than canoeing and horseback riding.
So it’s not just the appeal of “camp.”
My hunch: For the past several years, certain trends – digital technology + the recession + entrepreneurial leaps + work force shifts have led many, many more people to test out new endeavors, many of them on their own.
With those trends have come more and more isolation.
With the rise of digital connectivity has grown a hunger for real and visceral – not virtual – experiences with other human beings.
Camp GLP founder Jonathan Fields has responded in kind – and in kindness. Jonathan is telling a Love Story. A Love Story is a story that appeals to our longing to belong or to our hunger to feel connected to something or someone or to a group greater than ourselves.
“Thou shalt exalt love” is one of Jonathan’s 10 Commandments for an Epic Business. Not all brands or innovators tell a Love Story, nor do they need to, but Jonathan does. I’ve watched Jonathan shift and change over the past few years. A former lawyer-turned serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness world-turned epic community builder & creative revolution maker. He tells the Love Story well, and he lives it. It has integrity.
Camp, I think, was an extended experience for people to taste uncanny connections to other human beings and, maybe for a few moments or days, feel in their marrow at home.
Even if our youth had more trouble than treasure, maybe there was a place where we felt free, at home, and at our best.
A place where we felt free to take risks, invent, and imagine other possibilities than the weird world we imagined grown-ups lived in.
A place where we belonged.
Maybe that’s what we were, and are, getting back to.