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What summer camp taught me about the power of simplicity

A few months ago, I suggested that simplicity is liberating for marketers. I make an effort to apply the laws of simplicity daily in my professional life. But earlier this summer, I was reminded of the power of simplicity during the least likely of circumstances: my child’s summer camp.

My son is 9 years old, and this summer he went away to camp for the first time. It was a two-week session at an all-boys camp in northern Minnesota.

In the days leading up to camp, my son’s anxiety about leaving home intensified.

His feelings were complicated and confusing, because he was both excited and scared: excited about the possibility of making new friends from around the country and creating the lifelong memories that can only be made during summer camp, but scared of being alone so far from home. In a nutshell, he wanted to go, but he didn’t want to leave. It’s a big deal to leave your family and friends for two weeks; this is complicated stuff for a 9-year-old kid.

Feeling completely inadequate, yet still hopeful I could put his mind at ease, I sat down with him for an old-fashioned father-son talk the day before he was to leave. My hope was to help him understand his feelings and find a simple way to truly let go of his anxiety and enjoy his camp experience.

I talked with him about how being scared and afraid is perfectly normal and okay (heck, even dads are scared and afraid at times!) and how all of the kids would probably be experiencing fear on some level. This came as great relief to him.

Next, I encouraged him to not let his fears keep him from diving into the full camp experience: from meeting new people with an open mind to laughing, joking, participating, contributing and embracing the whole adventure. I challenged him to have fun despite being scared and afraid. We agreed that having fun despite being scared and afraid is what it means to be brave.

And in that instant, he got it: It’s okay that I’m scared, but I’m not going let that stop me from having fun. I will be brave and try to have fun even though I might feel lonely or homesick.

What once seemed confusing, complicated and contradictory to a 9-year-old was now simplified and manageable.

And with that, I gave him a prolonged bear-hug and watched him head off to camp with a very simple handwritten message tucked in his bag: Be Brave.

KidHoldingBeBraveSign

He left for camp with confidence, and I left mindful of the liberating power that simplicity has on all of us, no matter what age.

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