Beth handed me a blueberry-scented magic marker and a canvas-sized piece of paper. “Tonight you get to tell your story,” she said to all of us, a collection of ten strangers assembled in a vibrant arts-and-crafts room. “Tell it however you’d like. Timelines, webs, drawings. There’s no wrong way to do it. You’ll present them to the group in a few minutes.”
I turned to the white blank space that I needed to fill up with my nineteen years. A montage began in my mind’s eye, but I could hardly pinpoint it all. How do you summarize a lifetime?
At the LeaderShape Institute, nearly every minute of that week made me think as abstractly as this. Sixty Ohio State students came together for one week at Camp Joy, unaware of the startling new purpose we would find in ourselves, the puns we would groan at, the feels we would catch. By the time the buses were ready to head back for Columbus, each of us would have a personal vision for the future, outlined and approved, ready to bring into the world.
Tucked into cabins in a nostalgic nod to middle school summer camp, we, as caffeine-driven, technologically savvy college students, were a little out of our element. And we liked it. Unplugged and fully in the moment for the first time in a long time, we confronted ourselves, and, respectfully, each other.
It’s unnerving how hard it is to spot the roles technology, social structures and stereotypes play in everyday life until they’re gone. (I didn’t miss any of them). In the community that sprung out of those six days, acceptance became the new normal. Tables at meals never held the same groups of people, but the conversations were all the better for it. I began to wonder how many people I miss out on in life simply by not engaging with them the way we were encouraged to do there.
LeaderShape brought about a level of energy that not even the strongest shot of espresso could create. Unbelievably stimulating conversations broke out at 7:30 am over breakfast. Ridiculous inside jokes had formed by noon on the second day. At least five times a day, someone would approach you and casually ask what your biggest passion in life is. “What’s your vision?” became our “what’s up!” On a moment’s notice, you might need to frantically find your “high five buddy” assigned to you for the week (Up top, Elissa!) I won’t forget to mention that all these moments occurred after pitiful amounts of sleep each night, because games like Mafia and Euchre and Contact suddenly seemed riveting at 1AM. We quite literally could not get enough of each other. If you think all of this sounds a little weird, it was. LeaderShape made each one of us unapologetically, lovably, authentically weird.
Two months later, the simplicity and straightforwardness of LeaderShape seem almost quaint. Caught in a dizzying cycle of classes-meetings-work-sleep-repeat known as The Grind, we look back fondly now. What I’d give for the days when writing a hilarious skit was the focus of a whole afternoon!
Though I may never return to Camp Joy, everything I experienced in its vicinity, each conversation I had on the tree-lined gravel trails, stays with me. Surreal and idealistic as it was, LeaderShape is applicable every day. Keeping that week alive is as daunting as trying to implement my vision or as simple as putting down my phone and talking to a stranger in the seat beside me.
We built that supportive, original, uplifting community in a week. I love what that says about us, about college students, about millennials, about humans in general. We are more alike than we are different. Once we realize that, what comes next is marvelous.