Have you ever attended summer camp? I did, several times, as a kid. I think the last time was when I was thirteen years old. Growing up in New York City, it provided an escape for me (although I didn’t always love it) and a break for my mother, who spent her year working and raising two children.
Why do you care?
I just returned from attending Agile2011. I spent five nights and five days immersed in the community of friends, colleagues, luminaries, associates, strangers, and vendors that comprise the event. As always, it was entertaining, illuminating, exhausting, and heart-warming.
I had conversations about techniques and challenges, career and day-to-day work, my recent job situation, family, friendship, travel, technology, games,… I’m sure you get the picture.
I spent much of my time in the Open Jam, as I was the Producer and felt some responsibility there, and because that’s where I would spend a lot of time anyway because I love to shmooze with people, and because I’m looking for a new job and it was a good place to catch up with people to talk about it. And I did – shmooze, talk about jobs, and fulfill my responsibilities.
I also attended a couple of sessions, and poked my head into a few others. I delivered my Facilitation Fun! session in the Open Jam Fringe to a small but enthusiastic group. I coordinated the PechaKucha area and presented there one evening.
I wrote a few blog posts while I was there, stimulated by recent events in my career and by the book I’m currently reading.
Mostly, I was immersed in the sense of community that exists at this event. I’ve experienced it at lots of other events, as well, but the Agile20xx events bring a sense of community that is remarkable. There’s a sense of intention, collaboration, and connection that I rarely experience elsewhere.
And then it was Friday. I had two meetings on Friday morning, so was only able to spend a short time in the halls, catching up with a few people with whom I had not yet caught up, and waving and saying goodbye to and hugging a number of others. The event was primarily at the Grand America hotel in Salt Lake City, with some sessions and some lodging across the street in the Little America hotel. On Friday morning after my last meeting, as I started to leave the Grand America to go across to finish packing and leaving, I hesitated on the threshhold of the Grand America.
“Have I seen the people I wanted to see, and said goodbye properly?”
I looked at my watch, and thought about it for a minute, standing there quietly, looking across the driveway towards the Little America across the street.
Summer Camp Syndrome™.
I found myself feeling drawn back into the venue so I could extend the immersion and the feeling of connectedness and belonging. I was exhausted, had just enough time to finish packing and check out, and still – irrationally – felt myself drawn back in. After all, with 1600+ people attending, and knowing many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them, it’s obvious that I had not been able to even see, much less talk with, all the folks that I would have liked to connect with.
So there I stood, on the threshold both physically and emotionally, considering the irrational. Should I go back in, make at least one more pass through the halls, maybe feeling rushed for time, or continue on my way and do the rational thing.
It was agony. The banquet the night before was “the climax” of the event, but of course I only saw a relatively small number of people there. I was feeling like I wanted something like the closing circle of an Open Space. Not exactly, but something like it. Some sense of closure and completion was lacking for me.
I did the rational thing, mentally and emotionally and physically leaving the event and the community, and walked across the street to the Little America.
Of course, it’s never that clean and simple. I ran into friends from ThoughtWorks in the lobby of the Little America and stopped to chat. After packing and while on my way out, I ran into friends from Leandog and stopped to chat. Waiting outside to go to the airport were Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd, creators of the Agile Coaching Institute. We rode to the airport together, and I continued the connection while walking through the airport and having lunch with Lyssa.
Lyssa and I separated after lunch, me going directly to my gate, which was right there, Lyssa heading off to another terminal for a later flight.
Summer Camp Syndrome™.
There’s a feeling almost like addiction and withdrawal, regarding an event like this. The immersion is so powerful, so emotional, that it’s almost a physical pain to end it – to cut it off. That’s “Summer Camp Syndrome” – the sadness, sorrow, and sense of disconnection that comes at the end of an immersive, community event in which strong connections are formed. The need for continuation and closure, all at the same time, that leaves me (and maybe you) standing at the threshold feeling simultaneously drawn in and out.
There’s no question that I’m very happy to be home with my lovely wife of 35 years, Debbie.
And there’s no question that I’m feeling sad about the people I didn’t see and talk with, the people I did see and talk with but didn’t get to say farewell to, and even the people I spent time with at the end, because that time ended too. I am, as I said, exhausted, but in the best possible way. And I’m eager for next year’s conference, so I can do it all again.
I don’t even want to stop writing this post, because it helps me to keep feeling connected.
But I will.