The Summer Camp Effect

229A7253-2.jpgNew York, NY | September 7, 2017
Madison Bickham Photography


Remember back in grade school when you counted down days until summer camp? I couldn’t have been more eager to pack up my swimsuits and play house with friends for a week. There was some sense of newness and control that made it so appealing as a kid.

I actually had my first kiss at a summer camp (sorry, Ma). I remember being at the peak of my awkward stage, still a head taller than most, when I caught a boy named Jonathan stealing glances my way at the pool. He had the courage to approach me in my one-piece glory and strike up a conversation. (Now that I think back on it, this guy really had his confidence game down!)

The day after we met, we somehow snuck away to the gym when everyone else had gone for dinner. We sat shoulder to shoulder with sweaty palms clasped tight, and it was in breaking awkward silence that his lips met mine.

It was sloppy, and weird. But having l nothing to compare it to I felt like a freaking princess. Later that evening he walked me to my cabin, and as we embraced with a heartfelt passion an older camper yelled, “YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN AFTER THIS WEEK!”

PSH, what did they know!? This was REAL love potential ready to blast past all adversity (and all real sense apparently).

I digress. Daily we spent hours on the phone together… but really after the small talk we would just sit in silence. We barely knew each other, and had absolutely nothing in common. We didn’t even like the same music! This kept on until I had my best friend answer the phone one day and break up with him for me… but that’s not the best part. She spoke to him as me, and he never even noticed!

I share this story to dive into a phenomena I call “the summer camp effect.” Because I may not be a kid anymore, but my adult life is full of similar social constructs. From time to time I find myself enveloped into a group of people. This may be due to a work project, vacation or otherwise. These situations are characteristically all-consuming, and tend to box people in from the outside world.

It may seem odd, but I believe these types of situations have a way of distorting our reality. For example, in April I spent 21 days working on a music festival in Fort Lauderdale. TWENTY. ONE. DAYS. I emphasize this because I’m not used to being in the same state for more that 3 days, much less for 21!!

I was on location for a work assignment weeks before the other members of my immediate team arrived, so that meant I either had to make friends, or commit to a (temporary) life of solitude. I had the privilege of working with a lot of different people, and was lucky to connect with many of them as we worked together.

At about week 2 I began to notice “the summer camp effect” taking place. The symptoms include, but are not limited to:

-Relatively long periods of time spent with a new group of people
-A distortion of reality or consuming focus on the group’s goal
-Uncommon closeness in relationships and bonding
-Common examples: company trips, vacations with friends, rehearsals and shows

After a considerable amount of time in these “summer camps,” it’s easy to get caught up with what’s in front of you. It could be your immediate social circle (new friends, new flirtations), or in the work you’re putting forth for the group. Nevertheless, it takes up a lot more mind space than normal life, and often starts to take its place.

What I’ve found the most interesting about this effect is the way relationships with the people involved carry on afterward. Most of the time it’s in healthy levels of social media stalking, or trying to continue constant communication. In almost every instance however, when you try to exist the same way outside the project, you inevitably reach a dead end.

Honestly this has been hard at times, especially because so much of my professional life as a flight attendant and event producer is filled with projects with a set beginning and end. The hopeless romantic in me wants to bottle up those people and time in my life and relive them over and over. But reality is, that the world keeps spinning forward.

I’ve learned to fall in love with the next step without diminishing the one I’m taking. Even though I still have friends from summer camp, the truth is, they are few and far between. And that’s okay.

People will come in and out of your life, no matter what path you lead. A big part of growing up for me has been recognizing that each person plays a role in your story, whether big or small.

So if I’m worthy of granting one advice, it’s to PLEASE live in the moment. Don’t ever be eager to leave or too determined to stay. Every day is full of purpose, and each person you encounter is capable of making an impact on your life. And even if you never speak to them after 3 weeks (21 DAYS), they still can be an important part of your story.


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