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Living a childhood dream: did it measure up?

Cheryl Rickman, author of The Flourish Handbook and creator of The Flourish Challenge, hit 40 and decided to live out a childhood dream. What did she learn?

by Psychologies

American summer camp, The Good Life Project

I don’t have a bucket list, as I wonder if having one might perpetuate the feeling of 'I’ll be happier when…I’ve ticked this off my bucket list'. I am happy with, and grateful for, my life as it is and I do my best to focus on what I have rather than what I haven’t.

Yet, as I was about to turn 40, I sat pondering (as you do when you're thinking - 'what do you mean - actual F-O-R-T-Y?') whether there was anything that I wish I had done but hadn’t.

One *unfulfilled* experience popped in to my head.

The American High School Summer Camp.

I’m a Brit, and I’ve always wanted to go to the States and I wish I had gone to summer camp as a teenager. How much FUN would that have been? But I didn’t. And it's too late to go to high school camp.

That unfulfilled wish didn’t have a negative impact on my life, but I did have a moment where I wondered what might have been if I had followed that teenage dream? Would I still be living this good life I have now, with my amazing daughter and mister, working as an author, pursuing my purpose to enable flourishing in business, life and childhood, working from home and living in the English countryside?

Or would I be living in America, doing the same, or doing something quite different? What if I’d taken a different path? Who would I be? Still me or not? …Oooh?

That same week, an email popped with ridiculous serendipity into my inbox from The Good Life Project. 'Summer Camp For Grown-Ups' it said. 'Life will never be the same,' it declared. I sprung up from my mouse-clicking-induced slouch. Excitement subdued for a moment though when I considered the latter part of that message. 'Life will never be the same.'

'Eek,' I thought, 'I like life as it is now.'

That said, I had been running around like a maniac the past few weeks, in the process of buying a home, juggling a number of projects and wildly in need of some deep down-time to reconnect with my purpose and gain some clarity about which projects to pursue and which to ditch.

So I honoured the serendipity of that invitation and booked a place and a flight to New York. And when I had doubts about venturing outside of my comfort zone, leaving my six-year-old daughter and going away on my own, my other half helped me justify the trip by saying it would be a 40th birthday present from my late father who past away last year and joined my darling mum in spirit.

So, despite Bye Bye Miss American Pie… this will be the day that I die blaring out of the radio from the taxi to the airport giving me a slight sense of unease (I mean, really?!), it was a pleasure to have this time to myself before the intensity of camp. After a day and a half staying in Chelsea, Manhattan and making like a tourist, I excitedly skipped onto a yellow school bus and instantly connected with fellow Brit, Marsha, an inspirational storyteller and networking coach who lives in Toronto. Our non-stop chatathon made the two-hour bus trip to Monticello feel like minutes and then we arrived at #CAMPGLP to the warmest welcome I have ever experienced, involving cheers from bouncy crew members and equally bouncy large bubbles.

Vital connection

I instantly felt at ease. Why was that? I had never met these people before, but, I immediately felt like I’d found ‘my people’. We were from all walks of life yet we were on the same page.

The same wavelength-ness was mind-blowing and, as such, we connected really quickly. We attended workshops together, ranging from tea-blending and time-bending to hand-lettering and crowd-funding, ate delicious meals together and enjoyed an epic dance fest and talent show before heading back to our bunk-style dormitories together.

As fellow camper Jeffrey Davis of TrackingWonder.com commented: 'To belong is to feel acknowledged, honoured, and respected for whom you uniquely are and in turn to give space for others’ uniqueness. To belong is to feel that your quirks are potential strengths, that your oddities are potential medicine, that your peculiarities are potential badges of honour.'

Belonging was comforting. As far out of my comfort zone as I was, miles from home. I felt at home.

Expecting the unexpected

When you meet a childhood hero a frequent warning is that they may not live up to your expectations, thus destroying your perception of them forever; fantasy ruined, inspiration expired. The same concern pops into your head when you are embarking on pursuing a long-held dream. What if the experience fails to live up to expectations? That's what our negative-bias-brains focuses on. But here's an idea... what if it does? What if it surpasses expectations? And, if it doesn't, isn't it better to try and fail than to not bother trying?

I wasn't expecting to find the deep connection with others at camp. I thought I might make friends but equally would spend a lot of time one my own, reflecting and thinking. I didn't. But what I noticed most of all was that everybody flourished at camp. As well as feeling naturally able to Just. Be. Ourselves. I realised that we were revelling in the five pillars of wellbeing as laid out by forefather of positive psychology, Marty Seligman.

Camp GLP epitomised the key pillars of wellbeing but then it occurred to me that it wasn't just the combination of the right people, doing the right things,  at the right time which made this such a flourishing experience; the very nature of fulfilling a long-held childhood dream boosts the likelihood and intensity of flourishing.

Here's why:

POSITIVITY. When you get to do something you've always wanted to do, you can't help feeling grateful. The simple process of showing up and living your dream gives you immense joy.

ENGAGEMENT. As leading expert and author of Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihali, says, when you are engaging in optimal experiences time passes quickly. 'Flow is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. When you embark on an adventure of a lifetime, whether that involves jumping out of a plane, travelling to Peru, meeting a childhood hero or going to summer camp, you are setting yourself a challenge. And therein lies the key to experiencing flow – stretching yourself just enough to make what you are doing a challenge, to achieve certain goals, where you might use your strengths.'

RELATIONSHIPS. Supportive relationships bolster us and enable us to see more possibilities and bounce back from tough times. If you are pursuing a dream and you share that you are doing so with others, they're likely to encourage you. Tell the person next to you 'I've wanted to do this since I was a child,' and watch their faces light up. You may find that there are others on different journeys who have arrived at the same place and are fulfilling their own dream alongside you.

MEANING (PURPOSE). I left my summer camp adventure feeling sufficiently aligned to my true purpose in life, (to enable flourishing in business, life and childhood) and my intentions well and truly channeled. When you do something you've really fancied doing but never quite got round to; and, when you step out of your comfort zone to do so, you lift yourself up. From this platform of postivity you are often better able to see the scope of possibilities available to you. The act of fulfillment also gives your life an added dimension of meaning.

ACHIEVEMENT (GROWTH). Showing up and attending camp gave me a sense of achievement, as did having the courage to step out of my comfort zone of my safe, English village. I could do anything now that I’d travelled alone to New York and made this experience happen. Most people's childhood dreams are big ones that have gone unrealised due to the sheer size of them. As such, when you go out there and do what you've always wanted to do, the sense of achievement is immense. Essentially, living your childhood dream is empowering. The duality of immersing yourself in a new experience and fulfilling that unfulfilled desire opens the doors to new possibilities, gives you sense of achievement and confidence in your abilities. Because you did it!

For me, making that commitment to doing something I'd always wished I'd done enabled me to flourish, but it also gave me a sense of belonging, an empowered state learning and helped me to feel truly aligned to my work, purpose and people. Together we embraced possibility and moved away from our fears. In doing so, we came alive. Mind-blown, soul-soothed, possibilities-expanded, expectations-exploded and unfulfilled wish of venturing to American Summer Camp well and truly fulfilled.

Furthermore, thankfully, I’m still me, just more purposeful and bolder. Onward!

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