When I ran the Masters

I’m sort of bummed that I won’t be going to camp this summer. The Masters made me think about it and so, I came up with this post. I’m reposting it because it’s from the old blog.

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Three years ago, I had my first summer back at camp after five years away. You see, I wasn’t a kid that went to camp. Hearing me talk, you’d never realize that since I talk about camp like someone who attended for years and years.

But the truth is, my first summer at camp came after high school, when I was hired to work at a camp in Wisconsin as the journalism counselor. I spent four years in the Air Force and when it was over, I went back to camp, this time in Connecticut. I did the tennis director thing in Connecticut over parts of three summers. Then the real world showed up in earnest, I got a job and there were no more camp summers.

So when I had the summer off three years ago, I had no doubt that I’d look for a camp job. But having worked my way from the youngest kids in camp to the oldest kids in camp & heading my own department, I wanted to do something else. When a tennis camp in Vermont wanted a head counselor, I made my pitch and was hired.

Private residential summer camp is weird if you’ve never done it. Every camp is like a separate culture with its own mores, quirks and habits. Some places remind me of cults. Others are more like something you’d probably see at Scout camp. But when you have places with history; where parents pass down tribes through the generations, stuff becomes personal.

With that being said, starting at a new camp in a leadership position can be harrowing. I showed up in Vermont in charge of over 20 guys (almost all college aged) and eventually, over hundred boys ages 7-16. I told my staff from the start that I recognized the power that staff have. You see, when there are more of them than there are of you, you’re not going to throw your weight around. Especially when all of the kids know them, have history with them and you’re the new guy.

For whatever reason, I managed to ingratiate myself with the staff by just being me. So we got off to a good start early. During pre-camp, I talked to the guy in charge of golf and suggested that we do our own version of the Masters. I’d love to claim credit for this idea, but the reality is, my first camp had their own Masters complete with green jacket and I always liked the idea.

Head counselors are basically the “directors of residence life” at camp. So we don’t have specific activities we do, though you always get in where you fit at different times of the year. So sometimes, I’d go down to the courts and give a lesson if I was free and I’d often drive the golfers to the course. Since I have a background in the game, the golf dude would humor me. But the Masters was easy to put together, because I would “run” the tournament and this would free up the coach to coach each one of the players during the event.

After the first Masters, we managed to find an old blue jacket that we used to award the winner. I printed certificates and we had ourselves a little event.

Every two weeks constitutes a session and with it, comes new campers while some will stay behind. As time went on, the tournament got bigger. But the problem is, having 6-10 teens (and one or two pre-teens) on a golf course, even a small, private one is problematic.

So we’d start going early. I’m talking 6am. Some thought “are you sure they’ll get up to do that?” I wasn’t entirely sure myself. I just knew that I couldn’t sleep in myself if the kids were going to be up. Sure enough, both times we did the 6:45 start times, we had the entire crew in tow, even the younger ones.

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The only thing I could do to make getting up early worth it was to offer a Dunkin Donuts trip after the round. This was always a hit after a long day. We’d award the Green Jacket at the all-camp awards ceremony at the end of the session banquet. I found the jacket at a thrift store and purchased it for $3. I was pretty happy with myself, especially since it was big enough to fit pretty much anyone who put it on.

All we needed was a trophy. The director we could. One day, when I was cleaning out an old room full of old stuff, I ran across a box with trophies. Inside of it were two giant trophies for cheerleading. Apparently, they’d been sent to camp years earlier by accident and we still had them.

I went to the director and asked him what they were for. He had no idea they were even in there. I asked him if it were possible to use them for the Masters. He thought it was an excellent idea. So he ordered new toppers for both (one for guys and one for girls) and new nameplates and there we had a massive trophy for our newly christened event.

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When I look back on the Masters, I think back to how much went into making it work. It wasn’t one person doing everything. It took a willing golf staff to let me help out and really innovate something that wasn’t even in my area. It took a willing group of kids who wanted to participate and embraced the tournament. The director being willing to embrace the whole exercise and really just everyone for participating. It was just an enjoyable exercise.

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While it wasn’t Augusta National, each one of those events, for those moments in time they were for us. When I was running tennis programs at camp, I liked to joke that I cared more about the results from our intramural leagues than I did the real life tennis scores because the drama was more interesting to me at the local level.

Competition at its core isn’t really about wins and losses. It’s the work that you take to get there, the will to fight and participate and seeing kids worth through the challenges to overcome and prevail.

When it’s Masters time, I think not to Amen Corner,but to the tricky hole next to the railroad tracks at Northfield Country Club in Vermont. For me, it’ll always be about a $3 green jacket and celebratory donuts.

On Context

The other day, I was talking to a friend about LinkedIn. He’s on the job market and a recruiter told him about how necessary it was for his field (he’s not in higher ed) and that he needed to get serious about it. I was telling him that I’ve never been much of a fan of LinkedIn because it was just your resume splayed out there for whoever to read, without any real context for what it all means.

It works fine in my mind, if you went to a good school. If your career has been linear and makes sense to someone, then I can totally understand how just copying your resume with some extra words and maybe overselling your accomplishments for all to see would be worthwhile.

But how do you decide what’s important? What if your own experiences don’t quite move along that path? I’ve managed to do okay in spite of having a career that I mostly fell into. There’s no way that I’d ever encourage some kid to follow my trajectory and yet, so many of the experiences I’ve had that I value immensely came from being bold and making the moves that others would’ve admonished me not to make.

There’s no real way for a resume to explain “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just figuring it out as I went along and each place I went, I maximized my opportunities,” because well..even a cover letter saying that might be a bit strange.

Alas, this is my own dilemma of sorts. I was a non-traditional student after spending four years on active duty in the Air Force. I left college at two different times after that before finally getting my undergraduate degree while working my first job. I tried a few startups including a time when I sort of stumbled into developing an athletic brand with a Chinese company. (Yes, this actually happened.) Back since the early days of personal websites, I was never a partisan of “put your resume on your website” and so, LinkedIn doesn’t really offer me much in that way.

Plus, the competitor in me is not too keen on giving away too much of the “secret sauce.” That is, there’s a whole pitch that goes into getting you to a place where you can even get into the room to talk to people. I’m not convinced oversharing does anything other than give people more ways to scrutinize.

So what do you do? I’m more interested in it from the perspective of someone who wants to try to encapsulate a bevy of life experiences into some kind of coherent narrative. I want to provide context for the things that wouldn’t make sense (or let’s be frank, raise red flags) because while the answers might not satisfy, I’d rather people know the right answers than to assume the wronganswers.

Maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way? Everyone approaches these kinds of things in such a predictable way, maybe the right approach is to take it from a different angle? What if the answer is really to own your path for what it is and communicate that in a way that owns every aspect of what’s made me who I am and why that makes me an asset? (Now you understand why I called this post “Thinking Out Loud…”)

This all boils down to the notion that there’s no context button online. Context takes time and not everyone seems to have much of that these days. I’ve taken to segmenting my messaging on Facebook because I feel more comfortable having contextual conversations rather than just barraging everyone with inane things they may or may not care about. While this is a strategy most of us employ in our work social media lives, it’s not one that we always feel like bringing to our personal worlds. Or if we do, it’s more in theory than in practice because sites like that don’t make it easy to filter out the noise.

The trick is finding a way to provide context for strangers. Dinner guests are easy to cook for when I know they’re showing up; it’s the ones showing up unannounced (with food allergies) that I always have a difficult time preparing for.

I’m headed to the kitchen.

From the archives (2013)

I sometimes fail to revisit my own archives, especially on the personal side. But it’s instructive to see where you came from, to know where you’re headed. It’s also a useful check to reflect on where you are now and if you’ve made any progress. This is timely. I wrote this back in April of 2013 when I still lived in Wyoming but didn’t post it for months after I wrote it. – (2/2017)

I tend to personalize things a bit too much. I can’t put a finger on why that started, but as I notice I have to remind myself that it’s not always about you. One of the things I underestimated about being (back) in the hinterland was how much I’d yearn to have connections with real people more regularly.

It’s not to say there aren’t interesting people floating around the stock yards and cornfields or even on campus. Our lives are just different. I realize this is a conscious choice that we make at phases of our lives to dictate what we’ll do, how we’ll do it and why. I think it’s really easy to look at someone else’s life and think “What am I doing wrong? Is there a blueprint to this that I’m missing?”

One of the things about the time when there were people around in my circle constantly, was how fragile I knew it’d be. It seems the more you run into friends who’ve “embrace” the accouterments of grown-up life — spouse/kids/house — is a certain kind of plainness to it all. It’s as if, they’re quite pleased with what they’re doing, but aren’t especially concerned with whether anyone else is happy with it. This is horribly anecdotal and owes largely to how many friends I don’t have who despite good jobs simply haven’t been able to find someone they like to marry and are in a major state of transition. This probably makes it easier for me to cope because in my circle there’s nothing especially odd about my life. There’s a practicality to where we find ourselves and we’re all at various stages of finding it.

I’m not writing about that, though. I’m instead thinking about how we synthesize our networks to find what works for us. People live where they want to, connect with whom they find some commonality and do stuff that (presumably) gives them some satisfaction. One of the things that began my glacial shift politically comes from this idea that you derive so much of your identity to where you live and interacting with people who share your values. I don’t now if it ever occurred to me before how much this was important. It’s this kind of structure that makes rural life sustainable for so many people. They find people who fit them, they make it work and live lives that provide a semblance of satisfaction.

Connections are about sacrifices. You choose your friends and some people come and go. Others remain for a long time. You accept that no one is perfect, that people with warts and all still matter. Choosing a place to live is full of the same kind of sacrifices unless you’re wealthy enough that it doesn’t matter.

As I try to connect the pieces on the board, I find myself assess and re-assessing what’s really important and it seems that right now, it’s not even about people. I yearn for the kind of satisfaction that’s eluded me because of choices I’ve made. That part can’t be overstated, because it’s a lot easier sometimes to dismiss choices as circumstances.

I used to believe that experiences mattered more than stuff. I feel more strongly about that now than ever. I loathe checking boxes, making middlebrow choices in an inevitable rush towards retirement; then stuffing my future kids with a bevy of unrealized expectations aimed at fulfilling promises (for me) that I made to myself but couldn’t keep for one reason or another.

Maybe this makes my thought process seem too much like a zero-sum game, but I don’t see it as that. There’s a balance between making conscious choices towards an unknown future; delaying satisfaction in an effort to play a part in a larger context without understanding whether any of that will really matter to you or not. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for building a foundation from which you can reap the benefits should you find yourself in a situation where you can’t move at the speed you’re accustomed to.

Connection is a process and exercise and right now, it’s about building a sustainable foundation for a live worth living. But the key part of that sentence is the last part, life worth living. If you’re not living it, it’s not worth much.