A Painfully Awesome Experience

“How could somebody describe summer camp as being scary?!”

This was the question I have asked myself when I read the first e-mail that David Gallagher sent to the European participants for Camp Ketchum. The ideas I initially had about Camp, which was held in Quebec, Canada, were all about having fun: meeting new colleagues from all over the world, sharing knowledge, dancing in an aprčs-ski bar (just because it’s too hot to stay outside!), jogging with moose in the morning. Just fun, you know?

Now let me tell you about how Camp Ketchum really was.

Day One: The adventure started on the way to our hotel. First, the bus I was on got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere (and I must admit, I thought this was part of our challenge), and then we were stopped by the police for a routine “security check.” This is how we managed to be the first group to leave the airport in the morning and the last to arrive at our hotel in the afternoon. Still, we were perfectly in time for the opening ceremony. If I would make a word cloud of the counselors’ presentation, the most emphasized words would be “stars,” “challenge,” and “sleepless.” I thought, “They’re just exaggerating for effect.” (I’ll admit, I can relate to that.) I discovered soon enough that this was just wishful thinking.

After all the inspiring speeches, it was time for the entertaining part of the evening: riding the gondola to the top of the mountain, where we had to play with QR codes to identify the team we were part of. Every team was full of people who had never worked together, with mixed geographies and expertise, and we had to compete with other teams in the same boat in order to win the assignment. The entertainment continued with golden oldies sung by our musical stars, Rachel Wallins and David Rockland. So, Camp is fun after all, I thought!

After dinner, almost everybody went quietly to their room to get some rest. We were left with six die-hards who shared the same goal as I did: “Okay, let’s have some more fun.” Some other campers decided also to change their pajamas and join for drinks, but not too many. The rest had probably looked at the schedule for the following days a bit more closely than we did.

Day Two: This was like a school day, with all of the campers bouncing around between four different classes. The counselors taught us how to build a good strategy, how to go the extra mile for the breakthrough idea, how to deliver a great presentation, and also how to bond with your new team and how to avoid conflicts. Thinking back on this day — man, I should have taken even more notes!

After all the information we’d absorbed, we started to realize that Camp was becoming serious. Seriously serious. Therefore, after a short dinner, my team (the green team) had already called our first team meeting. After the first five minutes, all I could hear in my head was, “Wow! The counselors were not kidding when they called the campers stars.” And this was the first scary moment. Positive scary, but still scary, because you start asking what your role in the team is going to be. And  I, for one, was worried I wouldn’t be able to shut up and give the floor to my impressive colleagues. But no matter what, I was convinced I was on the BEST team.

Anxious, we all went to bed early that evening.

Day Three and Four (aka, the Big Day, or the Two-in-One Day, since we had a sleepless night in between): At 11 o’clock on day three, we finally learned our assignment – an extremely challenging one, if I may add. We basically decided that lunchtime was considered a luxury and took our food in our “boardroom,” where we spent the following 19 hours. Yes, 19 hours of brainstorming, debating, brainstorming again, then debating a bit more. Oh, wait! First we have to set our norms. Oh, and the roles in the team. And the attributes for our “big idea.” Okay, back to work. Let’s brainstorm again. Oh, we can use resources from our offices? Yes, let’s do that!

“Riiiinnnggg, riiinggg. Arthur, can you give us some CSR insights?”

“Riiiinnnggg, riiinggg. Esty, can you talk to us about mindset shifts in the B-to-B space?”

Okay, now let’s debate again. Please do keep in mind, there were many strong personalities in the room. As my colleague Kate said, there were no Indians, just chiefs.

By evening, we had two ideas. A bold, cheeky one (of course we all loved it!) and a great but safe one. It’s time to call in the counselors. We needed some guidance. After presenting the two ideas, the feedback from our masters was, “What would you do?” Okay, it was definitely something we had to figure out ourselves.
It was time to find the third idea – which meant it was time to fill the room with chocolate, cookies, sweets, nuts and everything that had a high percentage of either sugar or caffeine. If both, even better.

I think it was almost midnight when we had the revelation (for which we have Woody Allen to thank – long story). From that moment on, everything came together – both the presentation and the team. We had one idea we all believed in. This united us and kept us enthusiastically awake.

At 6 a.m., we had a comic moment. One of my teammates, thinking that maybe we should have a 30-minute nap and a shower before our official rehearsal time, started to ask if we should break to rest. “It’s 6 a.m.,  should we . . .?” Allison, our amazing leader, interrupted her: “Yes, yes! We should . . . rehearse!”  And so we continued, with no sleep, but with great energy. We rehearsed, we improved and we had our final presentation. And we were DAMN proud! Even if we didn’t win, we all agree we did great, and that was the most important thing for us: We were a team! A freaking awesome one, if I may add!

So, yes. David was right. Camp can be scary. But one goes there because he or she was specifically chosen. And there you are . . . surrounded by 100 others who were chosen. Really special people. All of them have my respect. They made me feel even more proud to be a camper. And, actually, it WAS fun, even despite the scariness. Even though Camp has ended, we’ve just begun to shine.

P.S.: I really want to thank my awesome GREEN team for making Camp such an experience: Allison, Adriana, Carlisle, Ami, Anatol, Kate, Leah, Rudi and Adriana. You’re all my stars!