Cooperation, Control, Confidence

Three weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane to our first (campground management) conference. I was seated across the aisle from The Campground Kid and Campground Papa, which meant I could read for the whole fight (and when I say read, I’m talking my OWN book, not reading the whole entire safety card to a very curious kid). Three years ago, that was normal. Now it’s like heaven.

I finished the book I was reading, and flicked through my Kindle looking at unread books. I opened a couple, and eventually decided to go back to a book I’d started a while ago, but had lost steam with – No Contest: The Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn. I don’t know why I lost steam however many months ago, because this time I started highlighting as soon as I started reading, and pretty much never stopped.

The basic premise of the book is that co-operation is better for us than competition. Better for our self-esteem, better for our productivity, better for our happiness. It’s a radical thesis in our current society, but I found the arguments compelling. My mind was instantly whirring with ideas on what could be improved through a shift in mindset from competition to co-operation (pretty much EVERYTHING, except Game of Thrones and Suits) and how I could achieve that shift.

“Pious admonitions about not getting carried away in competition, however well-meaning, are just exercises in self deception. If we are serious about eliminating ugliness, we will have to eliminate the competitive structure that breeds the ugliness.”

(Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition)

The book stayed at the back of my mind all through the conference, but I was distracted by the logistics of conference + pre-schooler + new experience (an equation that only balanced because of a very generous Campground Uncle who came along to hang out with The Campground Kid for a good chunk of the week). I hadn’t even had the chance to really let the book’s ideas sink in before something else started my mind whirring.

Taking a break from the conference to hang with The Campground Kid

The whole conference got my mind whirring, actually. The talks were about balancing, about how our business needs to be positioned for the future, and what potential threats lie on the horizon.

But the real star of the week for me was the conference’s keynote speaker. Mike Ashby runs The Breakthrough, and is one of NZ’s top speakers and advisors to small businesses. If I had to summarise, I’d say that the key message was “if you’re not running [X], [X] is running you.” (through his talk [X] was mostly “your business”, but it was easy to extrapolate and generalise to other [X]s that were more relevant to me.) This advice obviously relies on a level of control and choice that mostly applies to those with a fair whack of privilege, but was appropriate for the audience (me included), and helped me to realise just how much my life is “running me” at the moment.

We are all pulled in many directions, free-time is a luxury that we don’t get enough of, and self-care has been sorely lacking for the grown-ups, which flows down to the poor Campground Kid. SO MUCH has changed in the last year (a year ago, we were just starting to pack up to move back to New Zealand), and all the change has started piling up on us. We don’t really have a solid medium/longterm plan for various reasons, and the short term plan is pretty much just to get through each week. Long story short, The Campground Family is stuck in reactive-mode right now, and this talk reminded me that we don’t necessarily have to be.

After some discussion of how and why we should work towards a better balance, the topic turned to making the choices to regain control. Most importantly, how this necessarily involves making change, and how all change involves loss. With the amount of change I’ve opted for in my life, you may think that I love change. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But still, making change is scary. Scary and hard, and (for me) anxiety-inducing.

Ashby summed it up perfectly with one quote:

“The past is desirable because it has been drained of fear.”

And that quote wedged itself firmly in my mind.

When the talk was over, it was straight into pinning tulle to a dress for the 1950s themed gala dinner. Then it was goodnight for The Campground Kid, who had a” kid party” while we went to our “grownup party”. Then it was winning an amazing spot prize, eating an amazing dinner, and dancing with new friends. Then it was waking up with a hangover, packing up, and flying home. But through it all, my mind kept coming back to this idea of time draining fear. It’s obvious, perhaps, but it stuck with me.

The day after the conference, I received a copy of the invoice from the hotel. I hadn’t checked it in detail, and when I looked through, I noticed a couple of charges that weren’t ours. I called the hotel, and queried them, and they said it was all sorted. I checked the next invoice – another mistake – and called again. It all got sorted and I got an apology.

This is totally basic adulting, I know. But it’s basic adulting that used to make me hella nervous. It got worse in Brunei because it was often hard to make my accent understood over the phone. If there was an email/online option where I could sort it out without a phone call, I always always used to take it.

But part of being a campground manager is talking on the phone quite frequently, both making and fielding similar queries.

And it turns out that doing it over and over again really HAS stripped it of fear. I sometimes even choose to call when there’s a way I could avoid it.

This is not huge in the grand scheme of things, but it was a timely example that proved and reinforced the maxim for me.

And if I can now make phone calls confidently and easily, maybe I can make some other changes my life needs right now too…

Maybe I can quit (or at least reduce) competitive thinking?

Maybe I can make some new habits or lose some old ones?

Maybe I can make some different choices to regain some balance and control?

Maybe I can even figure out how to wash my kid’s hair without the people in the next room thinking I’m torturing her…?!

(Or maybe now I’m just getting too bold!)

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