There’s a nature activity where campers break into pairs and one person closes their eyes while their partner guides them to something. The camper keeps their eyes closed and cups their hands around their eyes like a camera while their partner brings them close to the object (leaning over to look at a leaf, leaning in close to see tree bark, crouched down to see an animal track). The partner says “OPEN” and the camper opens their eyes for 3 seconds to get a ‘snapshot’ of the object their partner wanted them to see.
The camper is then led, with eyes closed, back to the starting spot and they have to figure out what and where the object was.
It’s a super fun game, and I’ve learned that it’s hard to find a tree or a leaf after getting such a small glimpse for such a short period of time. (I’ve also learned that getting me to lean in close to a spiderweb is a bad idea and that you should not be within jumping/ arm flailing distance when I open my eyes…)
Photo credit: Threthny / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Which got me thinking…
All we ever really get is a snapshot of the people in our lives.
Everyone is very aware of this in the early stages of employment, dating, etc. so when you go into an interview you are putting your best foot forward because you know that the interviewers first impression of you may be their ONLY impression of you, or during your first week of work (in the case of summer camp this would most likely be staff development) or on a first date, you are aware that every story you share, every thing you do, or don’t do, is shaping how others see you.
But we often forget that we’re only seeing pieces of the people we work with day in and day out, no matter how long we’ve known someone and how many hours we’ve spent with them, we’re only seeing part of who they are.
Working at camp is a really unique experience, I’ve never worked in another environment where people get to know each other on such a personal level so quickly, or create bonds so easily. This all happens so quickly and easily in fact, that it’s easy to forget that you don’t actually “know” this person. It’s unwise to make assumptions about your co-staff based on the small piece of their lives you get to be part of.
The way someone acts in a work environment may be entirely different from how they behave at home/ school/ in the company of close friends/ strangers/ etc.
Again, because camp breaks down a lot of those barriers quickly, you may feel like you really know someone but to make assumptions about who they are and what they are capable of is a huge disservice to you and to them.
I have seen staff grow so much from the beginning to the end of the summer and especially between seasons. Since we are primarily working with staff who are in their teens and 20 somethings … and those are the years that you change the most (in my opinion), we need to remember to allow them to change and grow, and not try to fit them into the little Polaroid frame we’ve created for them.
Sometimes it’s a hard concept to grasp, regardless of whether you’ve worked with someone for 2 days, a summer, 3 years or 8 years… that doesn’t make you an expert on them. I always get a kick out of it when my staff are surprised to learn that I know something about programming, or that I can jump in and help in a cabin – I mean I get where it comes from… because I don’t often do those things anymore… I’ve hired amazing people to do those things. And as someone who has really struggled with learning to delegate over the years (and who works every day at being a good delegator – it’s still a struggle sometimes) I try not to overstep, to jump in and take over – I’ve tried to empower my staff, to encourage them to be experts in programming or cabin management. But what on earth do they think I did in the years before I became a director?
All they have is a snapshot of me… and for some of them, it’s a cropped image because we’ve known each other for such a short time. So of course they’re going to make assumptions based on what little they know. We all do it. But let’s try to stop. Let’s start asking questions instead of making judgements.
Tell me all the things you know about me …
And on the flip side of that… now that we know our staff are only going to see a snapshot of us this summer, and our campers will see an even smaller one… what image do you want them to take away? How will you present yourself, your team, and your camp so that the snapshot campers, their families, and the community get will be a good one? Tell me about it in the comment section below.
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