This past week, over 300 of our Acceleration Partners employees from around the world gathered in Pennsylvania for a week of Summer Camp at Camp No Counselors. It was our first in-person AP Summit since 2019.

While some of our employees had been to an overnight camp as children, it was an entirely new experience for most. As a childhood camper, I knew they were in for an eye-opening few days.

In my speech welcoming the team to Summit, I shared how camp was a formative experience for me and for my kids, who each spend their summers at camp in Maine. I also shared why I think summer camp is especially important for kids today and prioritizes key developmental qualities that have been weakened recently by social media and accommodative parenting:

  • Camp encourages free play in contrast to their overly-scheduled structured home lives.
  • Camp encourages everyone to push beyond their comfort zones.
  • Camp promotes healthy competition through fun, competitive activities such as Color War.
  • Camp prioritizes connection, including sharing a cabin with new faces.
  • Camp promotes intrinsic motivation—rather than doing things to please parents or for others to see, kids can spend camp doing what they actually enjoy.

I also shared my belief that these same qualities might be what many adults need most today, especially after two years of isolation and anxiety from a global pandemic. Having watched our team throughout the week, I’m convinced my hypothesis was correct.

During the event, you could find people doing a myriad of activities across the camp each day—including tennis, rock climbing, swimming, hiking, waterskiing, painting, jogging, canoeing, paddleboarding, and more. It was free play at its best and a much-needed break from an overly-scheduled world.

What encouraged me most was how willing our team members were to escape their comfort zones at camp. For some people, that meant taking on a physical challenge, such as trying waterskiing or playing kickball for the first time. For others, it meant painting, competing in a lip-syncing battle, or even sharing a cabin with people they did not know from around the world. As I wrote in a post a few weeks ago, nothing exciting happens inside our comfort zones and trying new things in a safe environment builds confidence and character.

Our team’s camp experience also included several team-based competitions, particularly a soccer tournament and an “AP Olympics” that emulated Color War through games of tug-of-war, kickball, dodgeball and more. In life, we win some and we lose some, but I believe healthy competition raises the bar for everyone and it’s important to learn how to win and lose well—something everyone did with respect and passion.

Though we have been a remote-first company for over a decade and prize the flexible work environment remote work creates, we have always believed that people have a need for in-person connection. We wanted our AP Summit to facilitate as many connections as possible, and it was great to see so many people just walking and talking by the lake, eating meals together, enjoying s’mores around the campfire or having a late-night chat on the bunk porch or in their cabins. None of that is possible on Zoom, even if work is.

But the last virtue of camp might be the most important. We live in a world today where smart phones and social media have put far too much focus on staging important life moments for others, rather than fully enjoying the experience ourselves. Kids don’t have phones, social media or parents at camp, and this means they can learn to enjoy their experiences, which was the default in a world before cell phones.

In that same vein, one of the most interesting pieces of feedback about the week was how few pictures or videos were taken by employees. Whether it was a morning walk around the lake, or a sunset canoe, people were just enjoying the moment and often left their phones in their bunks. I hope it was a powerful reminder of the joy of enjoying the present for oneself without needing external validation or likes.

Many of our employees travelled from around the world to spend four action-packed days with their colleagues, sleeping very little in a small bed, in a cabin with many people they were meeting for the first time. And yet, I would venture to say many of our employees will consider this one of their favorite memories since COVID began. While not everyone can go to camp as a kid, everyone can and should bring principles of camp to their personal and professional lives.