I recently returned from two and a half months working as a camp counselor for children with emotional, behavioral and learning challenges. I don’t think I could confine the true impact of this experience to words. However, I want to attempt to share some of what I took away because it resonated with insights I wish I gained earlier, insights which would have helped guide me through my years at the College of William and Mary.
At camp, I became more painfully aware that we can often be our own worst critics and enemies. Some campers self-harmed by hitting, punching or biting when they became frustrated or angry with themselves. These behaviors are overt and noticeable, but there are countless other, more subtle ways in which we are too hard on ourselves. We fall into negative self-talk; we put ourselves down; we are unrealistic with demands of ourselves, and then we become upset and deprive ourselves when we don’t meet our unrealistic expectations.
In college, we fall into these habits too often — so please, please be kind to yourself. While there are so many impressive people at this school, know that you are talented and accomplished in ways that no one else is. As tempting as it can be, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Rather than feeling inadequate or inferior to other people (which never leads to anything productive or positive), strive to be challenged, humbled and inspired by those around you. All of us have different life experiences, have overcome different challenges, have different qualities, passions and strengths to enrich this home we share. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and make you feel valuable — people who can guide you in treating yourself with love and compassion.
Going hand in hand with being kind to yourself, I think camp really taught me to treasure positive moments and bask in the joys of “little things”which we sometimes take for granted. When times get stressful, it can be easy to get trapped into dwelling on seemingly endless negatives. Little things — especially things which we can do to take care of ourselves and make ourselves feel better — can make a world of a difference. At camp, counselors’ days could often be made by hot showers, a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, clean laundry, driving to Dunkin’ Donuts with the radio blaring during a period off, or receiving an encouraging note in our mailbox from other counselors.
Give yourself regular breaks throughout the week to recharge and relax by doing something you enjoy: Go to your favorite spot on campus and write in a journal, kick around a soccer ball on the Sunken Garden, read your favorite magazine cover to cover, go for a long drive, or watch an episode of one of your shows. Remember that you don’t need to be working all the time. Time to decompress and treat yourself can be even more valuable than time spent reading and studying.
Camp has reminded me of what a wonderfully rare magic it is to have like-minded people from around the world brought together by a common purpose sharing a home — that is something we can appreciate everyday at the College. Even in the tough moments, try to love and find the strengths in the rare experience of being where you are and treasure the people with whom who you are sharing these moments, as they will shape you in ways you never could have imagined.
Email Andrea Aron-Sciavone at firstname.lastname@example.org.