When we talk about provisional tries in Counselor Training, the stakes are often relatively low – at least at first. That game didn’t work? How could you explain the instructions better? Dinner a little late? What could you do differently to be sure the fire is lit earlier, or the food is prepped by more campers, or the group is less ravenous and therefore more patient?
For the staff person with a group, there is a bit more pressure. Issues of safety, wellness, cohesion, adventure, and transformation are at stake (and those are in no particular order!).
Outside of the summer camp adventure group context, provisional tries (identifying what happened, analyzing the situation, and applying what is learned) remain incredibly relevant, no matter the stakes. Our relationships, our jobs, our commutes, our personal hobbies all grow and transform when we respond to dissatisfaction and keep trying.
Over the last couple weeks I’ve been working on a screen print for my son’s school’s annual t-shirts based on student designs. A relatively simple process, screen making is precise and easy when everything is in order. A black and white image is reverse imprinted onto an emulsion-coated, framed silk screen by exposing the screen to light. The image covers some of the emulsion, which doesn’t expose, and therefore washes out leaving plain screen for ink to pass through onto the shirt.
Last week I unsuccessfully made and washed out three screens (last minute, after my boys were in bed, of course), tweaking each based on prior experience and in-front-of-me observation. The emulsion just wasn’t setting. The day of the screen printing bonanza I had to cancel because I didn’t have a screen to use. I grew more determined and solicited help
Yesterday, with help, I made two more screens. The first had the same problems as the first, but the second seemed to work (hooray for help!). This morning, after I unloaded my supplies at the school and set up my area, I could see that the students were excited. Two samples and one actual shirt in and I knew I was in trouble. The print quality was poor and rinsing the screen to clean it made the emulsion sticky which is a big red flag – it wasn’t set or exposed properly.
Here’s the thing I learned this morning in the school courtyard with excited students and a bad screen. Yes, provisional tries are important. Yes, I learned a lot about the process of screen printing (and still will – I have yet to get this one right!). And yes, my time is probably the most significant tangible thing at stake, which is frustrating but okay.
But more at stake in this screen printing example and all provisional tries at and away from camp is our pride and lessons in humility
When we ask our counselors to lead a group game for the first time, one of the biggest things at stake is that counselors pride. How can we set them up for success – not at the game, but at the try – so they are inspired, empowered, and challenged to try again?
When we ask our staff to lead groups on overnights and cook meals over a campfire, what resources, including training, do they need to go confidently into the woods knowing that failure is not the worst thing that can happen?
When we ask our children to work harder at school, learn lines for a play, or meet a new friend or student, how do we prepare them that day and over time to accept failure or dissatisfaction as an opportunity and learn to push past it, tighten their bootstraps, and try again?
When we take on challenges in our jobs or schools or relationships, what support do we need to turn dissatisfaction into a growth experience?
Personal determination, sure. But also humility and grace toward ourselves and those around us, people who love us for who we are, reliable sources of feedback, and reasonable stakes.
Here’s to a successful school screen print in the near future and to opportunities for all of us to learn about pride, humility, and trying again (and again, and again).