We are so excited to be bringing you the second of our Compact Summer Camp recap posts. We’ve partnered up with Squarespace this month (and last month if you want to get caught up) to highlight some of the people who contributed to making The Compact happen and to bring some of the summer camp goodness to your desks. If you’re looking to start your next project, Squarespace is our favorite platform to build with, thanks to their fully customizable designer templates, their super simple domain finder, and intuitive software that lets you customize your website with the click of a button (and we know from experience, because we built The Compact’s website in exactly one week while watching TV on the couch). Thank you Squarespace for allowing us to share The Compact with APW (and for allowing us to build The Compact’s excellent website with ease).
When I signed up for The Compact Camp in early spring, what I did not know was that in between buying my ticket and heading out to the redwoods would be some of the most trying times of my life. My husband had recently received military transfer orders to leave our home in New Hampshire move west. This meant that I was leaving yet another job behind me, as I played the role of dutiful trailing spouse.
Prior to The Compact Summer Camp I had been job searching for months with no traction. If you haven’t done it in a while, job searching is like online dating, with none of the upside. This is doubly true for women and persons of color (of which I am both). I’d send five hundred word nonfiction essays about myself through the internet hoping that the Applicant Tracking System robot overlords would send this nonfiction to an actual person who could hire me. The whole thing is a relentless assault on your self-esteem and self-value.
Less than three weeks after our move, I kissed my husband good-bye and drove the three hours through the foreign, parched California countryside into the redwood forest. I occupied myself during the long drive with such useful musings as would I’d arrive on time, should I have brought more outfits, would I make friends, and would I have fun? This was an awful lot of money to spend on a weekend making friendship bracelets.
I arrived to the usual camp identifiers—bunk beds, dining hall, mosquitoes. But there were also crystals made from pool noodles, life-affirming messages strewn throughout the woods, a camp witch, and a hundred people looking forward to a weekend full of feminist programming. I was excited and also terrified. Bright and early the first morning, we headed to the lodge for our first keynote with Cyndie Spiegel. We had been at camp for less than twenty-four hours, and I still didn’t know many people. I picked a chair near the back and settled in for the opening keynote.
I didn’t know anything about Cyndie. Had I bothered to give her Squarespace website even a cursory glance I would have known exactly what I was in for:
Well, hindsight and all that. What I knew was that she was a motivational speaker who did something for small businesses. I didn’t have a small business; I didn’t even have a job. So I settled in to listen, and I was confident I wouldn’t take much away from her presentation.
I wasn’t remotely ready for what happened next.
Government Cheese and Friendship
First, Cyndie started her speech disabusing us of any notions of her fanciness. Then she went into her New Jersey roots, giving up a lucrative career, and government cheese. I have never felt so seen in my life.
And then she asked the bombshell question (for me at least). “What are women afraid to ask for?” Words like “help with the kids, vacation time, sleep, sex” were bantered about by women in the room. These were all valid things I had been afraid to ask for at some time or another. But nothing resonated with me. I have no job so no need for vacation time. I have no children. I get plenty of sleep and don’t need help. This wasn’t a networking conference; none of these people could get me a job. What I needed was some friends who lived in my time zone.
Much to my surprise, my lips parted and I heard my voice mumble, “friendship.” Cyndie’s bat hearing must have heard me because she came closer to my chair.
“What was that?” Her voice sounds like honey.
“Friendship,” I said louder this time even as I shrank further into my seat. When you shout it out to the world, it sounds so embarrassing. Who admits to being uncool?
The entire room erupted in “awws,” and I thought for a second that murder would be too good for this woman. There is nothing quite as embarrassing as a room full of people feeling sorry for you. Not for the first time since I arrived I wondered what the hell was I doing here and why did I pay for this. I stood there, painfully aware of my slubby sweatshirt, messy hair, makeup-free face—all the usual female battle armor missing—waiting for the silence to end. I contemplated making a run for it. I mentally calculated how long it would take to pack up my things and drive home. I could be home by noon, I thought, without traffic.
I stood there waiting, all eyes on me. I resisted the urge to joke and make light of what I said. I meant it. I needed a job and all, but what these people could give me was friendship. In that moment I realized the power of what Cyndie was trying to get us to do.
I could have spent the rest of camp weekend worrying and stressing about whether I would make friends or wondering how to approach new people. Or I could stand in my truth and let the chips fall where they may. I could have been embarrassed by what came next (note: I was extremely embarrassed), which was Cyndie asking who was willing to be my friend. The whole room raised their hands. I will admit that I sort of went blank for a minute or two. When I stopped being mortified, I realized the gift I had just be given. Cyndie gave me permission to ask for something big. Moreover, by amplifying my ask to the rest of the group, she gave them permission to show up for me. Which was more powerful: my temporary embarrassment or my permanent need? Which was going to win? Thankfully, I was allowed to sit down and the presentation continued. I began furiously writing notes. Maybe this keynote was for me after all.
Asking For What You Want
The rest of the keynote was equally as powerful. We talked about what fears were keeping us from showing up, what parts of our lives that we were making ourselves smaller, and steps to ask for what we want. The rest of the weekend whenever I got nervous around a new person, I just remembered that I asked for this and leaned into the uncomfortable feelings.
Compact Camp was magical. Where that magic began was different for all of us. For me it began with Cyndie challenging me to live in my ask. What was important wasn’t what we were asking for; it was important that we were asking at all.
When I got home from camp there was more to unpack than my oversized bags. How would I continue to spread the camp magic that sustained me during that weekend in the woods? My life was the same when I got home. I still was searching for a job and had no prospects. And then I thought about how I could turn the job search into camp magic (pro-tip: adding glitter to your resume is not the way). My main takeaway from the keynote was to ask for big things and small things knowing that our wants are valid.
So I asked for things.
I asked for special dressing on the side.
I asked (read: applied) for jobs that were super stretch positions.
I asked my husband to take nightly walks so we could stay connected.
I asked my doctor “what are we doing to do” about a health issue and politely waited until I got the answer I needed.
I asked for interview times that coincided with my best time of day.
I asked for pep talks from my new camp friends before job interviews (and boy did they deliver).
When I was rejected from a position, I asked for feedback.
I asked for help.
I asked if anyone needed my help.
For weeks now, I have asked and asked and asked for things. And I have learned that in asking for what I need, I also get to show up for other people. I have said “go girl” to the woman in front of me at the checkout who asked to review her coupons. If I’m going to ask for things, so should everyone else. My wants and needs are valid. So are other people’s. Cyndie gave us permission to go big and deserve things. Like the stretch position I applied to the week after camp and then promptly forgot about until I was called in for an interview. Like a definitive health diagnosis because I asked for the tests I knew I needed.
What Are You Leaving on the Table?
Compact Camp asked me to think about what I was leaving on the table if I didn’t ask. What money, opportunities, friendships, and joy am I missing out because I am afraid to ask, afraid to fail, afraid to be imperfect? What would I have missed out on learning about myself had I not taken the chance on this camp experience?
This is not the part where I tell you I recently received a job offer as Global Chief Marketing Strategist for Beyoncé because of camp. I didn’t. Camp was magical, but not that magical. I still sent my applications into the void and hoped the robot overlords would send my resume to an actual person; but whether it did or didn’t wasn’t the point. The way I looked at the job search was what changed. What I was able to do was push back on interview times that were absurd (5:30am!) without guilt because I was confident that my ask was reasonable. If I thought I had a good repertoire with the interviewer, I stressed that I was still interested in the job. I thought about what I could ask at every chance. I forgot to wonder if I was good enough for the company and instead wondered if they were a good fit for me as well. I remembered that this job search isn’t a referendum on my value as a person. I know what I bring to the table. I will find the right opportunity in my own time. I am the only one running my race; therefore, I cannot lose.
I’m still recovering from camp and there will be so much ahead as I continue to process what I learned about friendship, fierceness, and that wonderful, hypnotic power in being unapologetically ourselves.
Oh, I also learned that you should read a speaker’s website before you attend their workshop. It was all there. “Out loud and with courage.” I should’ve known.
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