Courage Camp: And Then What?

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by Agnes Hardy-Boyer

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I came back from courage camp and I have that irresistible desire to write about what happened to me since I came back. Inspired for sure by my co-campers and facilitators awesome posts (https://couragecamp.net/camp-stories/) but there is something more to it, before the camp I would never have written a post like this because I would have auto-censured myself for not being good enough or interesting enough, building my own walls and barriers.

Was it the magic of the place? Was it the outstanding skills of our facilitators (Lois Kelly, Jullian Reilly and Daniel Doucette), was it the beautiful people that I shared those 2 days with? Was it my extreme desire to dig deep into my soul to find my true self and unchain myself from too long lasting inhibitions? The answer is probably a combination of all, an algorythm that got me transformed into a new me, a me that I enjoy spending time with, a me that I recognize when looking in the mirror, a me that I like!

For this to happen, a deep introspective had me understand that I was an hostage of my own DIY cage, roadblocking myself with negative believes and lack of confidence. Not easy to admit, not easy to let go and it will take many more weeks to break or jump over all the walls, some being higher than others, but at courage camp I woke up a beast in me that has a huge appetite for what I’ve started to feed her with during those 3 weeks: lollipops! let me explain …

During camp I dug up my need for fun, my need to let go, my need to admit that I cannot control everything, that everything does not have to be perfect, my need to simply enjoy the positive excitement of my actions, my need to smile, my need to show how much I love spending time with others.

At the end of the camp Lois gave us a simple advise for situation when we feel anxious: repeat to yourself (out loud if necessary): I’m so excited! I’ve used that technique several time and it’s amazing how well it works!

Last example wasn’t a small one … At work I’m part of a big and exciting change movement and last week with a couple other colleagues we organized a big 3-day meeting (60 people) at our site. During the week, our leadership was invited to presentations and discussions about our achievements … I was one of the presenters … as I said, not a small one. in the last couple minutes before my talks my inner voice was like ‘I’m so so excited!’ and guess what, it totally worked I enjoyed every second of it, I wasn’t overwhelmed with stress. The positive excitement took over and it was such a good feeling and experience.

Before the camp I would have missed out a lot during those 3 days because of the fear of not being perfect, the stress that something could not work out well, instead I had fun, I enjoyed the moment, I had confidence in the effort we put into preparing the meeting and I accepted the glitches. All those moments were my colorful lollipops, feeding my beast’s appetite.

After this week I know how much impact Courage Camp had on me, I know from now on that I’ll cherish the memories of the intense and beautiful moments I shared with all the people I met there, I know that my lolipop collection will grow bigger and bigger, I know that walls exist but they can be jumped over or even broke down, I know that those 2 days were a new beginning, I’m alive and fired up for positive, joyful and fun experiences.

~ Agnès

What I Learned from Courage Camp

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by Janet Swaysland

Summer Camp – it conjures images of rustic cabins, sun and dirt and outdoors, new and old friends, some mischief and lots of stories. That’s just the backdrop of my Courage Camp experience in August. We packed our duffel bags to dig deep, to uncover and declare what we could say more “yes!” to. And how we can get closer to living it.

Everyone wants to accomplish things. Perhaps more important, to feel fully themselves – at work and in larger life. This takes courage. Sometimes it means speaking truth to power, or having a difficult conversation, to get a project back on track or go in a new direction, or support someone who needs our help. Or it’s making a leap to take on something we’ve never done before – what if we fail? Or maybe it’s simply letting go of our control freak self and having a little more fun. That takes courage, too.

How to bring more “courage” into our lives? How to imagine what more “yes!” looks like for each of us, and what we are protecting that holds us back?

Our three wonderful camp counselors – Lois Kelly (Rebels at Work, and my dear friend), Daniel Doucette, and Jillian Reilly – gathered and guided 16 of us at Mount Hope Farm, a beautiful seaside farm in Bristol, RI (who knew there were farms with ocean views?) for Courage Camp 2017.

Our group was diverse in background, life stage, why we were there. One of us is an innovation and engagement executive at a big pharma. Another is leading a nascent non-profit dedicated to girl empowerment. One had recently lost her son and then her husband divorced her. Another is shifting from hippie life in Vermont to rejoin her Midwest family’s banking business and local politics.

Me? I have a great life. I love my work. Nothing is broken. Never perfect (that would be just weird) but when I first signed up I wondered what I’d work on. First courage challenge: being willing to uncover and share my messy “yes!” journey.

I said yes, and I was on my way with the very first discussion: What is courage, anyway? And where have we already demonstrated courage in our lives?

 

Courage is all about heart, more than heroics. The Latin root of courage is cor, or “heart,” as a matter of fact.

Courage is a pretty big concept. So it was helpful to break it down a bit, in this case with VIA Institute Character Strengths .

Courage is made up of
• Bravery – you do not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain
• Perseverance – you work hard to finish what you start
• Honesty – you live your life in a genuine and authentic way
• Zest – you approach everything you do with excitement and energy

Searching our past for these characteristics, we went “courage spotting” for examples where we’ve demonstrated courage. We were all struck by the stories we shared in our beach chair circle. Challenging the CEO as a young associate. Taking the stick away from a parent who beat. Learning the tango. Playing jump rope with the girls instead of kickball with the boys. Painful memories, proud moments, pivotal and illuminating.

Compass time. Instead of “What’s your true North?” we returned to “what do you want to say more ‘Yes!’ to” in creating our compass art. Yes is North, No (or less) is South, about the same/all good is East and West. I found this a liberating way to reframe ponderous questions like true North and “what’s your why,” especially for me right now. A huge pile of postcards with wide-ranging and evocative images inspired and clarified our compass points.

Life is all about Yay and Boo. Or, let’s build in some resilience with all this Yes-ing.
There may not be blood but there will be setbacks. Resilience – bouncing back – can be learned and practiced, especially if you notice what has worked for you with previous “boo’s.” So, we did that, too. Now our courage kit was nearly complete.

One last step: Appreciation.
After two intense days together, our last act was about gratitude. What did we notice about each other that we learned from, that touched us, that we appreciated? We each took away sixteen personal notes on colored cards, guaranteed to inspire more courage and more Yes.

Courage Camp 2018? Yes.

Unpacking my "A Game" at Courage Camp

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by Deb Walsh

Last week I went back to camp. I hadn’t been to camp since I was 14, when my beloved summer ritual was a retreat to the Silver Lake Conference Center in Sharon, CT.  Silver Lake was a place where I felt unlimited and expansive and hopeful and free. Weeks filled with contemplative walks down wooded trails to the lake. Soul-stirring conversation circles on the scratchy rolling lawn. Talks that opened with the nature of our own unique spirituality and ended up with group hugs and backrubs. It was a magical place nestled in the woods by the water. In retrospect, I see how that place nurtured my very young and true spirit: wild and free. Seeking. Philosophical.

I didn’t know how much I needed this 2017 camp reboot until I pulled off the main road at the sign reading “Mt. Hope Farm” and to my surprise, my eyes welled up. A signal I was onto something good - and important. Driving into the quiet to reflect on the big questions in the company of strangers. I exhaled and leaned into curiosity. 

My friend Lois and her colleagues Daniel and Gillian had masterminded Courage Camp, though they hardly knew each other and had never done anything together. But, being the rebels and change makers that they are, and after seeing the breathtaking beauty of Mt . Hope Farm, they knew it had to happen. “We all deeply believe in possibilities and know that the human spirit needs nourishing and replenishment to take the next steps and the step after that,” said Lois.  “And we knew it had to center on courage because all meaningful change takes courage. “

Sixteen of us  had taken up their invitation to courage - gathering in a circle of lawn chairs under the summer skies of Bristol, RI.  The Mt. Hope Bridge looked on from the western edge of our camp.  Spangles danced on the bay.  A hawk circled. Leaves rustled. And our stories began.

We opened with stories that defined courage for us. How we had risen to challenges. There were stories of leaving – home, people, countries, family, identity. Of longing – for joy, for truth, for connection, and healing.  Of truth – of finding our voice when we thought we had none. Of breaking the rules and writing our own. We shared how these challenges became the catalysts for personal change and had often unexpectedly given our lives meaning. 

I was in a circle of every day heroes - strangers we knew only by first name choosing to bravely show up and share the most vulnerable and intimate stories:

  • Bravely confronting one’s hero
  • Leaving when my parents said I wouldn’t amount to much.
  • Deciding to break all the rules
  • Grieving at the loss of a beloved one, then learning to dance
  • Losing your voice
  • Turning abuse into a lifeline for others
  • Being the rock when everybody else ran tail. 

Camp had barely begun and courage was already revealing itself. 

Courage, I thought, is how we want to make a difference, to be heard, to follow the calls of passion. It is how we yearn to be understood. To be applauded for standing up for who we are and who we think we want to be. To  dance, to write, to walk into the unknown. It is the courage of showing up with brave intention. Intention to change, to choose, and to listen to our hearts – then bravely decide to set sail in that direction.

In my work at X Factory, and throughout my life of telling stories, I know that it is often in the company of strangers that we find our own voice. We hear someone’s story and clarify our own.  Witnessing someone’s courage in telling their story, we find courage to tell our own. Collectively we find strength. We connect with something greater than ourselves. And we become greater individual versions of who we are. 

Courage Camp was an invitation and a sacred space to practice self compassion:

  • Finding the courage to rewrite a disempowering script.  
  • Choosing to release hurt and offer forgiveness.
  • Deciding to experience the exhilaration of travel into the unknown.  
  • Being brave enough to ask for a cheering section when our role has always been to support others.
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Between stories, we were invited to walk around camp and find our own places to reflect, nap, sketch, or write in silence. To unplug and reconnect. Honor our need for simply being. To trust that our truths would reveal themselves. Facing inward, we bravely asked to hear our own answers:

  • What do we really want?
  • What needs to grow?
  • How can I dance more? Live more? Write more? Love more?
  • What needs letting go?
  • What are the masks we wear?
  • What is the intersection of our roles and our identity?
  • What are our unique strengths, and how can they be used to heal and expand ourselves and the world?
  • Where can we step beyond the limits of our current selves and expand our own sense of unlimited potential?
  • How can I turn pain into healing?
  • What do I want to create?
  • How can I commit fully to my A Game?  

We spoke of finding our True North – our “yes” - our quest.  And I was reminded of the Native American Medicine Wheel and the teachings of the Four Directions: East, South, West, and North; and of the three “unseen directions” – Above, Below, and Within.

Each of these seven directions represents a sacred path along our spiritual journey and personal development, writes Jamie Sams in one of her many wonderful books, “Dancing The Dream: The Seven Sacred Paths of Human Transformation." 

Here, at Courage Camp, we were witnessing just such transformations:

  • In the East, we encounter the first stirrings of the spirit
  • In the South, the healing of relationships;
  • In the West, we work to build self-esteem;
  • In the North, we learn wisdom and the opening of the heart;
  • Above represents the world of spirit;
  • Below, the earth;
  • Within, full awareness of the present moment.

Stories poured into our circle - creating an astonishing container of wisdom. Shared discoveries of strength, beauty, truth, resilience, joy, change, creativity, and grace.  

As my new camp friend Simona so beautifully wrote: If you think you are courageous:

  • You acknowledge your vulnerability, and are willing to share it with people you've just met.
  • You accept your limitations, and practice to overcome them every day.
  • You feel raw pain and you choose not to ignore it. Instead, you put it all in one sentence and set it free with your tears.
  • You affirm you don't love yourself, but make small steps in becoming friends. 
  • You admit you're still trying to find your way, and that is OK.

When the last words were spoken and camp officially ended, it was “a wrap,” but no one moved from the set.  A few more minutes of this unbroken magic before we hugged goodbye and headed back up that winding road out of the woods and towards home. Notes of appreciation in hand - written by 15 strangers I now call friends. Meaningfully changed for the better. Hearts full. On fire. Inspired by each other and fueled by courage.  

To all who produced and joined this magical gathering, I send back love, friendship, and gratitude. We are never on this journey alone, and having discovered you all as my new and courageous companions fills me with joy.  I can't wait to hear how far you've flown when we meet again next year. 

More Free, More Me

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By Jillian Reilly

I couldn’t help feeling like a fraud in the days leading up to Courage Camp.  A happy fraud, mind you, but still a fraud.  

Courageous wasn’t something I was raised to be.  Courage was the purview of others—people I didn’t know, or at least wasn’t friends with.  Boys.  Big mouths.  People who stood up to bullies and stood out in a crowd.  I’d spent a fair portion of my life hiding.

How long before one of these paid participants figured that out?

I arrived at Mt. Hope Farm in Bristol, Rhode Island and was immediately struck by its heady combination of natural beauty and history.  The place possessed such an endearing simplicity, everything – from buildings to butterflies – a perfect rendering of natural and human capability.  The original Inn.  The original barn.  Both at once original and restored.  Both bearing names, plaques, stories.  It all felt so worthy.

Maybe if I checked in I’d feel more like I belonged.

“Oh so you’re one of the Courage Camp organizers.” That was the manager of the place.  I swore I caught a side eye as she said it.  Was she expecting muscles?  A cape? The sheen of someone practiced in everyday heroics?  Actually she just wanted to show me around, but still my mind buzzed.  What would the participants say if they found out I’d spent the previous day remotely handling logistics for a cake sale at my kids’ school? Worrying that my eyebrows were too bushy and I’d forgotten my tweezers. Lamenting a chronically sore hip that surely signaled my overall decline.

Hey you, aging suburban housewife, you think have something to say – much less teach people! – about courage? Meet aging suburban housewife. She’s my alter ego, my partner, my shadow side, my enemy, my friend.  She’s all that I am, and all that I am afraid to be. Whenever I’m feeling scared she sees an opportunity.

I unpacked my clothes and went for a jog, hoping it might make me feel more vital, relevant.  Hoping it would tire out aging suburban housewife.

I followed a sun-speckled path, past baby goats (baby goats!) and headed towards the sea, which seemed to be calling me, offering up a reminder about limits and possibilities all at the same time, the way the sea always does. I could hear my breathing, the fall of each foot; I could feel the exquisite simplicity of the place starting to work its way through me.  Maybe just being here would be enough.  My chest heaved as I stared out at the Mt. Hope Bridge, the boats care-freeing their way through the water.  Maybe the unabashed sense of campiness – the riot of bugs and breezes and sun that has you almost instantly reaching for a hat — would be enough to make them feel the trip was worth it.

To not have them blogging about this aging suburban housewife with delusions of braveness.

The start of Camp came and I started nervous – you always do – wanting everything to be Right, wanting to make everyone Alright.   But then… but then…by mid morning on Day One I found myself lying on my back, on the grass, staring up at the sky.  So many things buzzing – boats in the distance, insects – but not my mind.  We’d just done an egg and spoon race.  And again I could hear my breathing, watch my chest.  The grass was pokey in places but it didn’t matter.  Flat on the ground felt like a gift.

Then we sat in our circle and talked about our rushing towards finish lines in life, the eggs we try to protect from falling and cracking along the way.  What are we trying to protect, I asked? The question meant for them, posed silently to myself. Our identities, some said, our egos, our place in this world.  People shared stories of the eggs they’d spent lifetimes protecting – metaphors came easily and stories were told without scripts.

By break time on day one I realized that aging suburban housewife was lying prone on a beach chair, unbothered, maybe even relaxed.

Ease is the only word to describe the feeling.  Ease with the place, with each other. Ease in my role, if not my skin.

I cannot recall such ease ever before in my life – though it must have been there before I started tweezing my eyebrows.

I’m enough, I told myself over lunch on the grass, and I’m sure aging suburban housewife heard me.  But still she didn’t budge.  I’m enough – it felt silly to say the words, but I did, you get silly at camp.  Not good enough or fit enough or young enough or even brave enough.  Just enough.

Maybe it was because it really did feel like camp.  Maybe I was conjuring up that kid who at some point in her life must have felt absolutely, wholly enough. The perfect rendering of herself.

I have no idea when I lost her.

Because before there was aging suburban housewife, there was academic geek whose skin breaks out.

Then college student who still hasn’t gotten laid.  

And how about project manager who doesn’t know Excel?  

Not enough had been a friend to me most of my life.

Until Courage Camp.  Until Mt. Hope.  Until that circle of people and their eggs.

Until I reminded myself that courage was the capacity to listen.  For as long as was necessary.

To look at people.  In the eyes.  And then know when to look away.

To be honest. About myself and my feelings, mostly. To reach deep into those feelings and pull out things you knew but didn’t recognize.

To be quiet.  To not always have to have answers or even questions.

To be uncomfortable.  Inside and outside, and not try to fix it.  

To not get it.  And have faith that soon enough I would.  Or wouldn’t.

That first night I walked slowly back home giggling about men with another participant. I was tardy the next morning, pasted snippets into my sketchbook and admired my work.  At Courage Camp I’d returned to something: some original potential, some belief in possibility, some stepping into and occupying the full space of the present.  

Courage Camp taught me I didn’t have to hide anymore.

I am original.

I am restored.

I am brimming with Hope.

*Thank you, Deb Walsh

We All Make Magic: My Lessons in Courage

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By Daniel Doucette

Purple is my favorite color. It inspires me. It makes me think of beauty and kindness. I also love purple because it’s a “girl” color and since I’m a guy, taking purple as my favorite color makes me feel a little rebellious. Whenever I’m doing creative brainstorming, I use a purple colored pencil. Never a pen or a marker, but a pencil. Sometimes a crayon. Pencils and crayons feel playful to me. And if they’re purple, I think of them as an instrument for making magic.

On August 16th, around 10am in the morning, I held a magic purple pencil in my hand, ready for inspiration. I was sitting on a lawn chair in a grove of trees, joined in a circle with 16 other people. We had all come together for Courage Camp at Mount Hope Farm, a first time collaboration between me, Lois Kelly and Jillian Reilly. Having gathered casually over breakfast and opened up the two-day retreat sharing what courage means to each of us, we were now beginning our first introspective exercise. My magic purple pencil hovered over the big blank white paper. Nothing came to me.

Here I was, one of the three facilitators who’d designed the program: stuck. Here I was, someone who’d just spent three months selling the heck out of our inaugural event, not knowing what to say. Here I was, Mr. Coach, Mr. Self-Awareness, Mr. Magic Purple Pencil, unable to think of a single thing to write. After 5 minutes trying to force myself to be inspired (yes, I know, that was my problem) I simply wrote:

“HOLDING SOMETHING BACK.”

Now, you must be able to guess that in fact my magic purple pencil was working just fine! And although in my immediate consciousness I didn’t have any clue what that meant, by the end of the the two days of Courage Camp I had come to understand very clearly.

Over the course of the 30 hours from the moment I wrote, “HOLDING SOMETHING BACK,” and the warm embraces goodbye, I didn’t experience Courage Camp as if I were one of the facilitators. I let go of that ridiculous pretense early on and fully surrendered. At first I worried, “How will these people who have paid good money for this experience respect me, one of their guides, if I indulge myself in working out my own stuff?” But once I’d started down that slippery slope of digging to find the answer about what I was “holding back,” I felt powerless to resist. And so, indeed, I surrendered.

I had told Lois and Jillian the week before that I fancied the idea of bringing fairy dust to sprinkle on everyone. Seemed like a fun idea. But there was no need for that because there was plenty of real magic. Magic rustling through the trees and lapping against the shores of the bay. Magic about the commitment everyone in the group made early on the first day–a commitment to a circle of trust. Magic in listening quietly to everyone’s stories, all so unique and yet within each an element of familiarity that gave comfort. Magic in our playful spirit, evoking echoes of young, unadulterated versions of ourselves who whispered wisdom from within our bones. Magic in a spoon and egg race without any eggs…a pile of art supplies strewn on the floor…spraying each other with a hose after swimming in the bay…dancing giddily to Latin Pop after dinner and too much wine…all being stuck to our chairs in the stunned silent moment when reality struck: the event had ended. Time to go home.

All of that magic sure as heck did its work on me. Courage Camp brought me the answer to that horrible question, “What am I holding back?” The answer looks less impressive to me now when I see it written here in front of me. But in that moment of seeing with honesty and kindness directed toward my Self, it was nothing short of magical. I was holding back forgiving myself for being a scared little boy on the playground, terrified by dodge-ball and ashamed of playing jump-rope. I was holding back making friends with my Anger–the anger that I’d trivialized for over 40 years, only to have it rule me more powerfully and often than I ever wished to admit. I was holding back acceptance of what being a man means for me.

“BEING MY OWN MAN.”

I came to this crystal clear revelation in the last two hours of Courage Camp. That’s what I was holding back. As much as I pride myself on self-awareness, and as much time as I spend reflecting on how I show up, I have fooled myself for so long with this big, giant, blind spot.

Courage for me is surrendering on the inside. For me it was surrendering to my anger. And there in the clearing under the trees I found a large missing piece of what it takes to be the man who I–and I alone–am meant to be.

The Idea of Camp and Sacred Sapce

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by Deb Walsh

I have been thinking non-stop about our time together, and starting to write about it. The idea of camp, which for me has amazingly powerful presence along my spiritual development.

Of finding a power place to reflect and connect again with the earth and all its mystery.

Of a sacred space - a sanctuary - which is what I believe we built under the trees for 48 hours - and now with us all forever moving forward. Strangers now connected in the deepest ways. Circles of trust to hold new courageous beginnings and perhaps endings.

The crystal clarity I got at the very last hour of our time together, about the mindset I need to become the courageous Me I have always been but somehow got chained to safety along the way.....no more!

 

Honoring the Courageous Elephant Matriarch

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by Lois Kelly

Miss Smarty Pants here thought she was pretty clear about what courage means to her. In fact, for the first day and a half of Courage Camp I was like one of those straight-A girls in school who zips through the reading exercise faster than any one else.

Maybe I default to reflections and responses that I’ve used before because I lead and have participated in many convenings like this.

Or perhaps I was so enthralled in listening to others’ stories that I didn’t have the energy to dig any deeper into my own obstacles and aspirations.

Or maybe I have written so much about creating change and showing up naked-hearted that I thought I had figured things out.

Oh, girlfriend, you are so wrong.

About halfway through Day Two something blurted out of my mouth that shook me awake. An idea that I’ve kept in the back of my mind for four years because it seems so risky and hard to do.

In the exercise four people got together as if it were 2018 and we were all back at Courage Camp sharing something that had happened in the past year.

“You wouldn’t believe what I did last year since Courage Camp 2017. I finally did ___________, and it felt ______________ because ______________.”

This playful approach allowed really scary yearnings to jump out of who knows where. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone in my group was bragging and laughing and reveling in what they had done. Even though, of course, it was all make believe. We imagined what we’d love to do.

My hunch is most of us will attempt to make those things happen.

And so I surrendered to playfulness, and told the controlling me to step aside, sweetheart. You are way too old in your thinking.

By old I mean you think you’ve figured things out so you stop really thinking and experiencing and imagining. Even though I like to think my ideas are creative, they’re not if I’ve thought and used them before. They might be interesting but they’re not fresh and new.

Had I started coasting on good ideas in my life? Was I subconsciously cutting myself off from the playful, new ones? Well, that was a big enough epiphany to make the entire Courage Camp experience worthwhile.

But there was a second one about being old that rattled me awake, too.

Being called an elephant matriarch.

Sometimes I catch myself being ageist — against myself. I noticed at one point that I was probably the oldest person at camp. It was fleeting, but still I had pangs to be 20 years younger and so that all the wisdom I was gleaning could be used for years and years. Instead of just for years.

In passing while we were drinking wine and dancing on Wednesday night someone said I was like an “elephant matriarch.” When we wrote our appreciation notes at the end of camp, the same person again thanked me for being an elephant matriarch.

Really? Can’t I be a playful gazelle? A graceful egret? A resilient willow tree? Anything other than an old elephant.

When I got home from Camp I researched elephant matriarchs. They are wise, unselfish, nurturing. The males take off, but the matriarch teaches, models how to respond to threats, balances the needs of the group, avoids unnecessary travel and remembers where the good resources can be found.

So the other epiphany was accepting — no, honoring — how other people see us vs. how we want to see ourselves.

Learning with and from a community of openhearted, wise people is more expansive than anything we can learn on our own. Slowing down to listen to others and to ourselves reveals surprises.

Cuts off our usual self-narratives.

Wakes up an inner voice that wants to sing.

Invites us to believe in our manhood, finally.

Tells the shitty roommate in our heads that dorm life isn’t for you anymore.

Yodels to the adventurous spirit that is lost in bureaucracy.

Commits to Plan A and tosses the Plan B safety net into the Atlantic.

Confirms the sageness of wearing a corporate mask as you simultaneously transform the corporation.

Convinces us to cut our hair and let it blow wild and free.

Assures us that our deep hurts are what make us deep healers.

Urges us to go find that beautiful, wild alter ego abandoned long ago.

Reminds us of what saves us, be it God, tango, Zumba or leaving a bad relationship.

 

And so I will playfully attempt my creative risk — and honor myself as an elephant matriarch.

Knowing that none of us have it all figured it out.

But together we can surprise ourselves.

Courage To Me Is...

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by Lisa Lillibridge

Lstening to my AUTHENTIC SELF even when my SOCIAL SELF is screaming at me to act in accordance with societal expectations and not listen to my inner voice.

AUTHENTIC SELF: who I am at my core, the true substance of what makes me uniquely me, how I desire to live in my heart and soul, who I am when no one is watching

SOCIAL SELF: who I am in relation to others, more protected and very concerned about how others see me, often scanning for what’s appropriate in any given situation, ego

When my authentic self and social self are out of whack, things get pretty weird and I can feel like a fraud.  I don’t want to feel like a fraud.

However, now that I’ve identified what courage is for me, I’m noticing which voice I’m listening to much more quickly.  I think simply noticing is a great first step.

So You Think You Are Courageous?

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by Simona Ralph

Then:

You acknowledge your vulnerability, and are willing to share it with people you've just met.

You accept your limitations, and practice to overcome them every day.

You feel raw pain and you choose not to ignore it. Instead, you put it all in one sentence and set it free with your tears.

You affirm you don't love yourself, but make small steps in becoming friends.

You admit you're still trying to find your way, and that is OK.

You only let your passion guide you, even if you know you'll loose some on the way.

You turn your ugly scar into a medal of honour, and expose it as a reminder of beautiful things to come.

You say you lost yourself somewhere on the way, but that there are songs waiting to be sung.

You learn to tango and you're willing to follow, when all you know is wanting to lead.

You are numb from your losses but let the music bring you alive. You dance, just dance like wild.

You could rest and watch the misty waters; instead, you let the foghorn guide you. You set sail again, like first time.

What Happened at Courage Camp

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by Celine Schillinger

Courage Camp starts with a Pink Bikini. On Hope Street. This can’t possibly go wrong.

It is a cool summer evening, August 2017. The crisp blend of watermelon and mojito, imagined by a fine bartender, freshens the palate and opens senses to the conversation. We’re five women around the table. We’ve come to Bristol, Rhode Island to attend Courage Camp, a first-of-its-kind 2-day retreat for people eager to explore the idea and the practice of courage. A dozen more will join the next morning when Courage Camp begins. Around the table, there is small talk and laughter, and some early thoughts about courage. 

The thin line between courage and foolishness. The need to self-protect. How courage may be more than a character trait and have to do with… age – especially for women (do you struggle with morons at work? check out this Maxine Waters’ moment “reclaiming my time”). In the news, the Charlottesville violent events and the Google Echo chamber controversy raise questions. Are the neo-Nazis “courageous” to parade in plain sight? Is the Google engineer “courageous” to oppose his company’s diversity policy? While courage is seen as a virtue, maybe it is just “fearlessness”, independent from moral values.

Lois Courage-Maker Kelly

At this point, I’m impatient for Courage Camp to start. It took a leap of faith (courage?) to register as I don’t know what to expect, but it was done fast. Lois Kelly is one of the three organizers. I don’t know yet the other two, Daniel Doucette and Jillian Reilly, but I’m an absolute fan of Lois. A few years ago, Lois’ Rebels at Work, along with Peter Vander Auwera’s Corporate Rebels, have provided some decisive inspiration – and courage – that helped me change and bring change. We both participate in a global network of future of work practitioners committed to changing work: Change Agents Worldwide. Together we had contributed to a fun event back in 2015, a 24-hour Rebel Jam, in which I’d shared15 tips to resist a controlling culture”. Lois is a talented writer whose books I love. And I’ve had the immense pleasure to meet her in person several times since moving to Boston. Ahead of the Camp, I read a second time Lois’ blog post “Amplify Courage”.

The courage to share

Courage Camp is an experience I’m about to share with several people I know, which is both exciting and challenging. What I originally envisioned as a solo adventure evolved quickly into something else. First, my Twitter friend Simona registered and we decided to share a room there. Then my friend & colleague Agnes registered too and we switched to a triple room. Then my friend & colleague Zsuzsanna registered too – but there was no quadruple room :-) …Then my CAWW fellow Igo suggested me to live-blog. All right! Courage Camp won’t be a solitary event. Let’s return to what actually works best for me: sharing! It takes an additional step to expose oneself to people we know, but it’s worth it. Sharing makes courage more abundant.

A beautiful, spectacular, lovely, perfect place

Apologies for the adjectives overload. This place deserves it. Courage Camp takes place at Mount Hope Farm, nested on a vast saltwater farmland, with a history of more than 300 years. As we get to know our environment on the first morning, under a perfect blue sky, we are blown away by the beauty of the historical buildings, the manicured gardens, the exquisite forest trail leading to the Cove Cabin. There, on the shore of Mount Hope Bay, a charming authentic log cabin with large windows and a deck is an invitation to reflection and creativity. Sixteen chairs forming a circle are ready for us, on the lawn, under the trees next to the Cabin. Courage Camp starts.

Courageous stories

To explore what courage means, a good place to start is oneself. We all have taken courageous actions at some time, either big or small, as adults or as kids. "Where and how have I found myself being honest, speaking the truth and being the real me?" What are our courage stories?

They don’t come easy – and they are not shared easily – because courage is painful. It is a lot of work. Sometimes it has awful consequences. So, here we are, 16 of us, most of whom didn’t know each other an hour before, sharing our courage stories. Bodies are nerved; attention is high, tears well up sometimes. Words speak of confronting one’s own vulnerability, resisting abuse as a child, overcoming the loss of a loved one, speaking truth to power, and else.

These stories weave an essential piece of courage: the acceptance to be exposed. With Brene Brown, we all know now that showing vulnerability is an essential piece of courage.

Awareness is another piece. We need to “switch on awareness”: of ourselves, of what is important to us, of what happens around us. This space is all we have as individuals. Can we create, out of it, something different? Better? Have more of the good things, less of the bad ones?

It’s a successful start for Courage Camp. These authentic, moving stories reveal the humanity in each person, and bond the group together. We’re not perfect. We’re all struggling with something. We’re in the same boat.

Vocabulary of courage

As Courage Camp goes on, I catch words or expressions heard from the group. Each brings a different dimension to our understanding of courage:

  • Acceptance: We aim to be accepted by whatever group we want to belong to. “What is the rejection I'm afraid of?
  • Coeur (Heart): : The English word ‘courage’ comes from the French word ‘courage’ (pronounced differently) which comes from the Latin word ‘cor’ = ‘heart’
  • Exhilarating: “Leap without a net – it’s exhilarating
  • Fear: “Courage is not (or not just) fearlessness. Courage maybe actually doing something with fear
  • Flight: “Fight or Flight? Sometimes it takes more courage to flight
  • Friend: “My courage as a child triggered painful consequences. So I stopped using it. I need to reinvent my relationship with Courage and make it a friend
  • Fun: “Courage is not just fight and tears. It can be astute and a lot of fun
  • Imperative: “Change was an imperative. Something that had to be done, whatever it takes
  • Muscle: “Courage is a muscle. It can be trained
  • Pain: “the goal in life is to be alive, not to be happy. To be alive, we need to experience the diversity of our emotions
  • Precious: “Precious cargo” is what we protect while going through life. A job, relationship, family, reputation, financial security, inner peace, our own beliefs... likability (especially for women)… They can limit courage when we’re not aware of them
  • Soldier on: “It’s about soldiering on and not complaining”. Related: "I was trying to power this through"
  • Vitality: “Bravery is only one element of courage. Creativity, perseverance, optimism, vitality, enthusiasm, honesty with oneself are also part of it

More free, more me

Credit Simona E. Ralph

Credit Simona E. Ralph

 

One secret of courageous leaders is that they are “whole”: they integrate their identities in what they do. Whatever is important to them personally, they leverage it in what keeps them busy every day. They avoid a schizophrenic schism between who they appear to be and who they really are.

Being whole may not be easy but it provides a sound and rich base from where it is possible to grow. Being whole is a choice. It starts with self-awareness – honest conversations with oneself. It goes on with honest / difficult / courageous conversations with others, and acceptance of their feedback. Showing up more of oneself… Creating space for others to do the same… Accepting what is uncomfortable… Acknowledging the positive and negative emotions, giving oneself permission… Bit by bit, in a gradual process, a whole self can emerge. Passion, a powerful driver of courage, comes from there. It is a strong enabler in our journey, wherever we want to go – in our personal or professional life. What is it we want to say ‘yes’ to? What will keep us away from the most common “regrets of the dying”? How do we grow resilience and learn to bounce back, better and faster?

For some good read about wholeness, see Ayelet Baron’s book (referenced below) and blog posts.

"You're already the person you aspire to be. You're already there. "

Courage is not something outside of us. It is there. It isn't a skill. It is us.

From this understanding, our journey becomes pretty exciting. To become a (more) courageous leader, no need to be a superhero! (phew!). We just need to be more ourselves and show it more often; be more generous of us. In a way, we need to become a fullest version of ourselves.

Hail to Courage Camp 2018!

Courage Camp 2017 is now over and each of us have gone our separate ways, but the richness of the humanity I have seen and heard there will carry me for a very long time. I thank all my fellow participants for their honesty and I wish them all the best on their journey. May their path be as lovely and inspiring as the Mount Hope Farm forest trail. I’ll do my best with my path.

All my gratitude goes to Jillian, Daniel and Lois for putting this magnificent experience together. Through thoughtful individual and collective exercises, through role modelling – sharing their own stories and goals – they’ve enabled each of us to make a decisive step on the Courage journey.

Books, books, books

Many books were mentioned during Courage Camp. Here are a few:

So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World – Margaret J. Wheatley (2012)

…let me add this other book by the same author: Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity – Margaret J. Wheatley (2017)

…speaking about sanity, this excellent book that I can’t stop recommending enough: Our Journey To Corporate Sanity: Transformational Stories from the Frontiers of 21st Century Leadership – Ayelet Baron (2016)

Stop Look Breathe Create – Wendy Ann Greenhalg (2017)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott (1995)

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good) – Lisa Laskow Lahey (2009)

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most – D. Stone, B. Patton, S. Heene (2010)