On Hammers and Nails, Surviving and Thriving

John Beitner
January 2022

I’ve been taking long walks recently. As we have been providing mental health resources for camp directors, we often suggest eating better and getting more sleep and exercise. So I’ve been walking. My doctor thinks it’s good for my cardiovascular health. I feel like it has been good for my mental health, but even more I think it has been good for my creativity. The ideas keep coming when you are out walking alone — especially when you don’t listen to music.

One idea that stuck in my head is about hammers and nails. “Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail.” Bumper sticker poetry? I can’t remember where I first heard it, but it was stuck in my head. What am I, the hammer, or the nail?

I’ve asked friends, and a surprisingly large number say they want to be the hammer. I wonder if they are people of action, doers, and solvers. To them is the hammer active and the nail passive? To me the hammer symbolizes force and is a bit aggressive. I think the challenges of the last few years have felt like being pummeled with a blunt object. I’ve heard camp professionals share that too — that they’ve felt beaten up, pounded by difficulties with staff, parents, wildfires, insurance, and even food delivery.

I would rather be the nail. A nail has a good head and a good point. Nails are strong. “Go ahead, hit me with your best shot. I’m made for it.” Nails are resilient. If a nail has the proper orientation, you can drive it straight and true. If it is off a bit, it will bend, but you can still usually tap it back into working shape. Most importantly, nails join things together. Camp professionals are nails to me. I am in awe of the resilience of these leaders.

Times have been hard. Managing a major health crisis on top of everything else camp directors normally do has been a real test of strength and purpose. Accepting my nail-ness helps me take the blows. It helps me remember that my purpose is to join people together. I can take life’s knocks because I know I’m built to absorb and learn from them.

I hope you will have fewer challenges to test your strength in the months to come, that you will be pummeled less and celebrated more, and that you get to take lots of long walks.

And I hope you make it to Portland, Oregon, for the ACA National Conference in February, where the resiliency we nails possess will be on full display as we get reacquainted with being physically in the same place again and talk about and learn new ways to “Survive and Thrive.”

John Beitner is a professional development manager for the American Camp Association.


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