What I Learned from Courage Camp

Janet Cabin-trees-670x528.jpg

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.