Author: Anna Birch

I’ve recently joined the ranks of being a mom to not one but TWO teenage daughters. There’s no greater reward and ego-leveler than parenting! There are probably as many parenting models, tips, and sets of advice as there are diet fads. Just when we think one might work, our child or society switches on us and we lose our title of “Parent of the Year…”

Recently I came across an executive coach (Caroline Miller) as well as an article by a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania that assembled a term I’ve been trying to put to words for years. GRIT.

Something about the “everybody wins” psychology and self-esteem movement seemed to allow self-imposed helplessness in some children. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. introduced me to the term “grit”. She’s studied the role that character plays in success since 2005 and has identified that grit (the ability to push through or bounce back from failure) is a stronger indicator of success than intelligence or academic achievement. I realized that it was self-respect and GRIT that I most wanted to develop in my teenage girls! I can point directly to times when I tried to ease the bumpy road in front of them or make excuses for them to their detriment. I also realized that through both experiences they’ve had at home or with our very own summer camp we’ve created opportunities for the opposite! They’ve both ‘busted through barriers’ of their own, faced the potential of failing and came out ahead, or simply stayed dedicated to learn something difficult. The good news is that we have some ways to foster grit and I’ve listed those below. To explore in more depth- the Ted talk by Caroline Miller and the article by Angela Duckworth are below.

1) Put new challenges in front of your child

2) Promote perseverance- “Don’t Quite on a Bad Day”

3) Be a nudge

4) Be ok with boredom and frustration

5) Let failure unfold and model resilience

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/social-emotional-skills/power-defeat-how-to-raise-kid-grit

Good luck!

Anna Birch-Anna Birch | CEO

Just the other day, we had the sad occasion of one of our leadership team members unexpectedly losing a childhood friend. The Facebook post/tribute he wrote to this friend was vivid, beautifully written and it read as if the memories were as fresh as yesterday. However, he hadn’t seen this friend since their childhood.

I realized in that moment that there were some of my own childhood memories more crisp, vivid and alive than things that occurred just yesterday. There’s just something about the mind of a child that holds images, feelings, words, wonderful friendships, and even scents!

In the midst of this nostalgia, I was out for my daily run on our property. Upon reaching our mailbox a mile away, I opened it to find my very own treasured piece of childhood. There it was, the smallest trigger flooded my eyes with tears and took over my face with a smile, I KNEW that handwriting! You see, back then (the 70’s and 80’s), we girls wrote notes to each other and LOTS of them! The boys? Not so much. Their notes went something like this:

 

Dee Dee's letter
Dee Dee’s letter

“Do you like me? Circle yes   or no. Don’t show anyone.”

But I had shoeboxes full of notes from my dearest, most cherished friend Dee Dee and I would recognize a note from her anywhere, anytime. We hadn’t corresponded in nearly 10 years and there it was… my very own note from her in my mailbox. The memories flooded back and I smiled and actually teared up even before opening her letter. I credit that ‘little girl’ and those wonderful notes for getting me through a tough childhood. I navigated the confusing ups, downs, and sideways of a dad battling bipolar.

Little did I know that years later a talented keynote, psychologist, and writer would explain what all of this meant to me. Michael Thompson wrote ‘Best Friends, Worst Enemies’ where he explores the crucial and hidden role that friendships play in the lives of children. I was sitting in a keynote session he delivered at the National Cathedral in 1996. Michael described the research that demonstrated that a key indicator to a child’s resilience was the existence of one, at least one, BEST friend. He began to list all sorts of qualifiers that determined BEST friend but frankly, it was all I could do to not leap out of my chair and scream “THAT’S IT! I GET IT NOW!! I had a best friend! We believed we could get each other through anything!”

I stayed in my seat that night but quite soon after that keynote session, I left my many years as a teacher and decided it was my time to create and pursue something, something bigger than me. I knew I could build a place for best friendships and personal journeys and a place where children could uncover their own courage. And now the exciting part is that it is now something much bigger than me and I WILL let my best friend Dee Dee know that she played an integral role in creating the magic behind this company.

That something is Adventure Links.

IMG_1845
Childhood camp t-shirt of one of our leadership team members.

 

Anna Birch-Anna Birch | CEO

 

Our family took a magical, adventurous, and once in a lifetime journey together to Arizona in December. One of the trip highlights was a descent into Glen Canyon. The hike was not for the timid and we took extra precautions throughout to “take risks” in a safe and controlled environment. Both subtle and obvious lessons emerged on that journey- equally powerful.

The first lesson for our teen girls was: Commitment creates stability. It took several practice attempts for them to realize that in order to gain stability from footing on sandstone, you had to resist the urge to use your hands for stability. Instead- by digging deep into your courage and committing your weight fully into your feet- you establish connection with the sandstone. The result? There is an amazing feeling of strength and that you have solid ground beneath you.

climbing sandstone

The second lesson came when we approached some of the set “anchors” along the descent.

This second lesson: Be your OWN anchor first.Sandstone rock anchor

It was very clear at this crossroads that we were to resist the urge to blindly accept this as our anchor. Instead- we were sure that we could count on our own footing and only make moves that we could maintain our own safety.
The most breathtaking section of the trip was when we approached this cable and after some investigation by mom and dad- we decided to live our family mantra and lesson #3: If you’re not living life on the edge, you may be taking up too much room!cable over the edge

Lesson #4: The best gifts may be those you cannot wrap. The hike out was our best family gift of 2014 and was filled with moments to open over and over again. We took the “path less traveled” and this proved to create an adventure, a family memory, and a set of mantras and lessons to draw from as we go through life’s challenges and rewards together.

Lesson #5: The best connections are from nature, not WIFI. We spent 5.5 hours on this journey as a family and when we did “find the car”, we treasured the fact that we did not see a single person the entire time- only us- the crazy, loving Birch family…

 

billyfort

It seems the older I get, the farther back in life I go to look at times I had it “all figured out.” Today I reflect upon one of my most treasured childhood memories and my first marriage proposal. I was 6 years old…

As a child, well before WiFi was even an idea, we spent our summers on an island in the Adirondacks only accessible by boat with a rustic cabin deliberately absent of electricity or running water. The adventure of it all was profound. Even better, I knew I would see my best friend, Billy. Although Billy and I disappeared into the woods the moment we stepped ashore, there was something this island brought out in the rest of my family I treasured as well. Each in a different way, we accessed a peace and connection otherwise tough to find in the day to day shuffle and scuffle of family life. We had to eat, so the grown-ups knew we’d all be together at mealtimes.

The memory I treasure was spending hours constructing a shelter/fort on the edge of Bear Pond where the rowboat was docked. We couldn’t google “fort building” at that time so we were left to our imaginations, our spirit for “survival,” and the untouchable joy of convincing ourselves we had everything we needed to live forever in that spot. In fact, he proposed that we get married and stay there. 37 years later, the memory is as rich and vivid as if it was present day. What we knew then was that we had the key ingredients for our survival: 1) a place to call our own, 2) a rowboat to travel “wherever” we wanted, 3) some handmade tools and “weapons” to get food, and 4) a connection, adoration, and friendship that gave us freedom and content.

I am stunned at how far we allow ourselves to wander from the simplicities and essentials that bring connection and contentment. Amidst the pressure, the constant input of external stimuli, and speed at which life occurs, I relish the treasures lodged in the mind of that 6-year-old that re-introduce myself to me. I may spend some more time here…

Brian3

As fate and luck would have it, Brian returned summer after summer to continue impacting the lives of youth as well as the lives of his colleagues. He grew in talent and the application of his teaching skills and passions were clear to all.

At the beginning of one of his last summers with Adventure Links, he met a lovely young lady as a fellow staff member. Appropriately, their first date was whitewater kayaking on the Staircase in Harpers Ferry. That young lady accepted and has created years of adventure with Brian and it is with pride and happiness that they announced their engagement! Our community of friends and staff will come together from far away to celebrate this serendipitous journey.

I was also able to experience the proudest reference call of my career. Brian was interviewing to be an elementary school teacher and three different schools were hoping they would be the school he selected. Notice… not the other way around. Brian’s love for teaching, competency, and potential were so clear that all three principals were determined to have Brian on their team. With so many changes and beginnings for Brian, it is with deep sentiment and honor to have been, and continue to be a part of this amazing life journey.

ice

Unbridled joy… that’s what you get when you mix a snow day, ice-coated mountain
driveway, and a run with a 10-year-old.

My daughter’s face lit up when I posed the idea of going for a run on this icy day
home from school. “This will be pretty funny, mom.” And it was. The laughter erupted
when we struggled to gain and maintain traction up the first big hill—we couldn’t look
at each other (we were too focused on our own balance) but we could clearly imagine
how ridiculous we each must look. Each step was an adventure of whether we could
continue to gain ground. Finally, one of us said what we were both thinking: that
coming back down was going to be really crazy. We journeyed the icy mile separately,
but were brought together when we heard the yelps of each of us almost falling
peppering the quiet woods. That was only broken with the sounds of our redbone
coonhound’s nails grappling for control and sliding as she shared in our struggles.
We ran, slipped, and searched continuously for places of stability where gravel poked
through the ice or bits of ice chunks provided the slightest reprieve.

Coming down was as crazy as predicted and although the goal was simple, to not fall, I
realized that this challenge of coming down was much different. While we were trying to
not lose ground on our climb up the hills, on the way back down, we were desperate to
slow the pace and not gain ground too quickly and slide out of control.

Of course, it made me think about the personal and business challenges I approach
and navigate each day. Which of those am I trying to gain footing, move carefully
through to not lose ground or fall, and where do I find places of strength, stability, and
safety to continue to push on? And, which of those am I worried the accelerated pace
is potentially a threat and I need to gain traction and control to not gain faster than
I can manage? And then… are there times that I am skipping or avoiding “the run”
altogether?

Brian2

Brian graduated to the age of our Teen Expeditions. His growth as a learner, a leader, and a contributor shone brighter and brighter with each trip. 

It was years later Brian moved the room giving a speech at the wedding of one of his Adventure Links mentors—there was not a dry eye in the house. He said that life had delivered exactly what he needed at that time in his life—an angel. He was searching for guidance, inspiration, personal challenge, and those that believed in him. That angel came in the form of an Adventure Links expedition leader named Elena. It was a poignant moment of realizing that the gifts she and her co-leader Scott had given of themselves during their leadership at Adventure Links would return in gratitude and powerful impact.  To me, I felt like I had started something exponential and the circles continued to expand as our staff and campers made their marks in the world. 

The story only grows.  Stay tuned.

Brian1

I had absolutely no idea just how many hundreds of lives would be changed with that
fateful phone call on a beautiful Spring morning over a decade ago. It was a mother,
an unbelievably committed, energetic, and wise mother looking for a summer camp
program for her son. Little did I know that our conversation was launching a journey for
her son Brian, for our company, and for a gift in my life that still lives strong today.

I lost count of the number of times this mother called back to speak to me to “get
just a little more information” to make sure we were the right match for her child. I
was intrigued by her passion and she was not remotely hesitant to ask me the tough
questions. Eventually I learned that Brian’s mom was the founder of an advocacy
program for individuals with developmental disabilities—Starfish Savers. It’s no wonder
she knew all the right questions!

Finally, she signed Brian up for an overnight program and he arrived, duffel in hand, with
gratitude in his eyes that his mom was sending him on this adventure. It was not
long into the overnight camp that Brian is rumored to have said “I’m going to work here
one day—I like it here.” The good thing? We liked him too! Brian navigated the effects
of bi-polar every day of his life and with us had found a community and an emotional
embrace to explore his potential, his gifts, and ignite and focus his unquenchable
energy and zest for learning.

Year after year, Brian returned, he thrived, and as a company, it is an honor to consider
that we were a part of his journey through adolescence and were direct witness (and
beneficiaries) to the development of his passions. And we had only just begun…

Sometimes you just have no idea how powerful a role your child plays in another child’s life. It seemed like just another one of many play dates for my 5th grade daughter recently but this one ended quite differently!
The light conversation with her friend’s mother quickly gained depth and speed when we began sharing about our own childhoods (the good and the “bad”). We shared its impact on us as mothers and how we strive to support our daughters’ lives and whims.  She described how her daughter spent most of her early years with an inability to express emotion and did not speak a word until she was four years old. Upon reaching school age, she scored off the charts in testing but struggled to express herself verbally both academically and socially. She saw the look of surprise on my face as she described what sounded like a stranger to the little girl I had come to know as my daughter’s friend. She said “I don’t know who sent your daughter to us, but I am so thankful! She has changed our girl’s life and is her first friend ever.” She went on to describe how it has given her daughter confidence and a sense of belonging. I thought back to the lessons I was taught in my years as an elementary school teacher by the brilliant works of Michael Thompson. I realized that his philosophy on the impact a quality best friend has upon the ability to cope with adversity as a child was coming true right before my eyes.
I dug a little deeper to see what he meant by quality and it was EXACTLY what my daughter was giving to this girl:
Adolescents Definition of Quality:
“…an open ear to listen to me, don’t judge me, different perspective on me, gives me no slack, gives me the power to talk about anything, something to smile at, gives me hope, strength, courage, trust, self-confidence.” taken from: Best Friends, Worst Enemies by Michael Thompson
My resolution:
In the turn of this new year, I will reach out to those best friends from years past and those standing with me today and thank them for giving me hope, strength, courage, and trust. I will also continue to honor and provide opportunities for youth to experience quality friendships with Adventure Links as thousands pass through our life here.
Thank you and Happy 2013.

Sometimes it takes a dramatic or painful event to have realizations that pierce the veil of limited understanding.  Here was one of mine…

It was a beautiful June day and our facility was bustling with the return of staff and the arrival of brand new team members for another summer season.  I was finalizing my plan for their intensive weeks of training with us while balancing meet and greet time with office time.

The phone rang, my life changed. It was my big sister letting me know our dad had taken his own life.  Sound stopped, movement stalled, and the world and all that was happening around me fell away for a immeasurable moment in time. Once I regained a little composure, I began to wonder how I would face the staff, how I could possibly navigate the next three weeks that required me to be emotionally and physically accessible to so many, and when I would have the time to grieve.

I couldn’t help but collapse in tears in front of the staff as I tried to explain.  They silently acknowledged that it was their turn to be strong. What emerged from that silence was the most profound, meaningful, and connective training in our company’s history. What I viewed as an inconvenient, incomprehensible, and inescapable time of vulnerability as a leader was actually a gift to us all.