Staff Culture: Reclaim Your Purpose, Part 1

September 27, 2021
Kim Aycock, MST, and Jolly Corley, MS
campers releasing wishing boats

This Way to Baggage Claim 

I was recently reminded of those times in the past when I was (sort of) patiently waiting by the baggage claim to retrieve my luggage after a flight. Before the very loud buzzer announces the baggage is about to make an appearance, I look at my watch every few minutes, I nervously shift my weight back and forth, and I sporadically scroll through my phone (for what, I don’t really know). 

With every suitcase, duffle or box that is delivered from the underbelly of the aircraft, I am actively scanning the sea of identical black roller bags that are now making their continuous journey along the conveyor belt until collected and in the hands of the rightful owner. I am watching out for the telltale sign that distinguishes my bag from everyone else’s. There are plenty of impostors that look like my 22” Samsonite but do not have the large orange ribbon stamped with my last name. 

Still no bag. I get more and more anxious. In my head I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do in the event it is MIA. Wondering how I might pull off an event without the necessary supplies or change of clothing. Praying that my bag miraculously arrives before the “last bag” marker sticks its ugly tongue out at me as it makes its victory lap. Disappointment, frustration, and even anger surface for me and the others still desperately hanging on to the hope for a ‘Hail Mary’ to reclaim what is most likely lost (for now).

Sound familiar? The build up to summer 2021 was very much like the scene just described. The closer it got to May/June, the more nervous or anxious I became. I was waiting for the loud buzzer to announce the start of the summer while crossing my fingers and constantly scanning to see if the few staff that were hired would actually show up. 

Scenarios ran through my mind of how to pull off programs with reduced numbers of adults to run them. Like the “last bag” marker, the final straw was staff quitting at some inconvenient point during the season leaving more holes and fewer people to plug them. Disappointment, frustration, anger, and a myriad of other emotions surfaced.

My Lost Bag 

It does not come as a shock that this year ranked high on the challenging summer scale for even the most veteran camp pros. It feels like the recent summer was “lost” in so many ways. Survivor mentality took over once it became evident the bag I started out with at the beginning of the season ended up on a different plane going in the opposite direction. 

What was in that bag that went MIA? In this context, a lost bag might equate to the purpose I so carefully and intentionally planned and laid out before the summer but unfortunately didn’t quite make it to its destination once the camp season conveyor was in motion (and going faster by the minute). 

Now that it is the other side of summer, I am again waiting for my “bag” to arrive but not quite sure what to do with it once it gets here. 

Emotional Baggage

While there are many bags that are similar on the outside, there are subtle (or not so subtle) identifying characteristics. There may be a ribbon or unique tag that sets one apart from the rest. Some luggage stands out because of its bright color. Just because bags may look alike, they most likely vary in weight.

My bag is extra heavy due to the challenging circumstances of the recent summer. Others may come out with added “wear and tear” or are banged up from getting bounced around or mishandled along the way. There are those that may even be missing a piece of hardware or a wheel and will struggle to travel a straight path once placed on the ground. Regardless of the condition, each bag has a story to tell.

I continue to stand at baggage claim, feeling weary and downright exhausted from the long journey. While the last thread of hope seems to have all but disappeared, and it looks like a visit to customer service is inevitable, I glance back one more time to the flaps that all bags must pass through before officially making it to the baggage claim area. 

There it is. The bag that was once thought to be lost or missing is now making its way in my direction. There is nothing quite like the flood of joy that the search is over. And, at the same time, panic sets in because now I have to do something with my bag. I can’t just leave it there. 

I reach down to grab the handle. I check the tag to be sure it really is the right one. I know it is time to head for the door. I hesitate. A flood of questions beat me to the exit. 

How can I even think about picking up this bag and doing it all over again next summer? When will I be ready to unpack this beast of a bag? Can I reuse it next year or do I need a new one? What needs to go into my bag so I can move forward, re-energize, and focus on my mission and vision rather than on protocols and COVID related challenges? Is that even possible?! 

How do I make sense of the highs and lows of the camp season? How do I recoup from the struggles and challenges to have the confidence to fly again without the fear of going in reverse with my staff/camp culture? How do I go about reclaiming my lost purpose now that the “last bag” sign has passed by and another summer is in the history books? 

These are all valid questions. And, it is perfectly OK not to have the answers (yet). 

Grab Your Oxygen Mask

It is then I remember the oxygen mask that is in the compartment above my head. While rarely used, it is good to know that it is there. In the time leading up to next summer, I can reach for the “oxygen mask” that fits best (rest, family, friends, yoga, exercise, meditation, journaling, more rest…) and take many deep, slow breaths to calmly regain my confidence and composure. I recall the message I don’t always pay attention to about the importance of putting my oxygen mask in place before assisting others.

My choice of oxygen masks will help during the months ahead to unpack my bag from 2021 and recombobulate. I can then put my purpose back in the pilot’s seat as I travel the long runway before liftoff to summer 2022. 

I also know that I need to develop a plan to prepare for the inevitable turbulence ahead. Stay tuned for Part 2...

This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job’s efforts to help camps recruit, hire, and retain staff.

Kim Aycock, MST, has several decades of experience developing young people with skills robots are unable to do. While blending the talents of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert, Kim ignites the learning for varying levels of camp pros worldwide through her interactive & innovative presentations. Kim speaks at regional/national conferences, contributes regularly to Camping Magazine & ACA blogs, and serves as Co-Chair of ACA’s Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee.

Jolly Corley, MS, has worked the past 20 years developing dynamic, thoughtful workplace culture, especially at camp. Jolly’s passion is helping others cultivate their purpose. Using games, theatre & life experiences she prepares staff to understand that our own experiences are the most useful tools for reflection & growth to a solid foundation in becoming leaders for life. Jolly collaborates with organizations nationwide to present ideas & actions that promote personal & professional growth.

Photo courtesy of Camp Newaygo in Newaygo, Michigan