I find myself, in recent days, listening to an unusual amount of techno and dubstep; not because I’m particularly fond of either one, but rather, because I’m audibly reliving my memories of WeWork Summer Camp.
It’s true: I’m a grown woman suffering from summer camp withdrawal, and I’m not alone. Over 2,000 members of WeWork, an international coworking community, made their way to the Adirondacks last weekend for two days of watersports, live music and, among many other perks, a 24-hour open bar. Social media has been buzzing with the hashtags #wwcamp15 and #wwsc15, with images saturating Instagram of sunsets, kayaks, empty beer cans, and spinning DJs among a mountainous backdrop.
I’ll admit it: At first, I absolutely did not want to attend Summer Camp. It didn’t matter that I’m a member of WeWork and a big fan of the community; I had no interest whatsoever in sharing a cabin with 25 strangers and taking part in what I thought would be a sleepless weekend full of startup kids of barely legal drinking age. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong.) It wasn’t until Lily, the manager of the WeWork location where my business is headquartered, talked me into it.
“Lily,” I told her, “I’m a crotchety old lady. I go to bed at 10. There’s no way this experience is going to be fun for me.”
“Trust me,” she said. “You won’t be sorry. You’ll make best friends. There’s something for everyone. Just go.”
And so I did, but not before begging and talking my friend Seamus into coming with me. We each shelled out $360 per ticket and, two months later, I found myself waiting to board a bus at 6:45 AM for a six-hour drive upstate, staring at the fully-packed suitcase, duffel bag and sleeping bag that I would be toting with me. “How the hell do I need this much crap for two days?” I wondered. “What the hell am I getting myself into?”
On the bus ride, my perspective began to shift. Being the Queen of Tiny Bladders, it wasn’t long before I needed to use the restroom and was greeted by several young men sitting in the bus’s rear, large handles of Jameson in tow.
“You have to take a drink to use the bathroom,” one of them told me.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Does it matter?”
I pondered the question. The last time I consumed alcohol at 8:30 AM was one St. Patrick’s Day in Boston at the age of 27.
“Okay,” I said. “Gimme.” Was this what Lily was talking about? I could feel myself making best friends already.
We finally arrived at the camp, where these young men, it turned out, were among the crowd of people with whom I’d be sharing a cabin; good thing I didn’t decline their liquid hospitality. We exchanged niceties and, after sweating out my 8:30 AM Jameson at a Bollywood dance class (Lily was right; there really was something for everyone!), I found Seamus and the acquaintances he had picked up on his bus ride. The new Six Friends, as I came to think of us, spent the evening on a large lakeside rock, sharing what would have normally been far too much personal information.
The next morning, I managed to make it to an outdoor yoga class: Yet another indication of Summer Camp’s something-for-everyone nature.
“The compassion in my heart is the same as that in yours,” our instructor said, concluding the session and prompting the “holy-shit” moment for me: The moment when I really understood how indicative the entire event was of the WeWork brand, and the resonation of its “Do What You Love” slogan. Summer Camp was a two-day focus of that. To my left, the all-day bloody mary and mimosa bar was opening. To my right, multiple tennis games were in progress. Several feet ahead, people were sunning themselves on a lakeside beach. Do What You Love, indeed, whether it’s your life’s work, or how you choose to spend a digital-free weekend.
That revelation lasted through the afternoon, when I met the Six Friends at the beach and, before spending an hour in a floating inflatable trampoline, I took some time to people-watch. This setting, unlike certain gym chains claiming to be so, was truly a judgement-free one. Everyone, no matter what shape or size, was letting it all hang out; no body-shaming, no cover-ups, and no one who cared. Normally, I wouldn’t even want to be seen in my own two-piece without a minimum of five preceding carb-free and circuit-training-fueled days. Stripping down to my bikini, it was completely uncharted emotional territory for me, as I not only sensed the palpable shortage of judgement, but also, began to feel a hint of – gasp! – confidence. Was that the cute community manager from one of WeWork’s lower Manhattan locations? Why, sure, I’ll go say hello.
The trend continued after sunset, when one of Summer Camp’s musical headliners, the Chainsmokers, took the stage, and such exuberant levels of dancing took place, that at least one of us would come away from the weekend with an injured rotator cuff. I wasn’t sure if each of us, the Six Friends – all close to 30 or older – were vacating our day-to-day personalities, or if we were reaching down to the mental depths of our respectively submerged desires to surrender our exterior shells of concerns.
During the show, I realized that, perhaps somewhere near the lake that afternoon, I had lost my own shell, when I bumped into one of my cabin-mates on his way back from the bar. “Are you having fun?” I asked him.
“Yeah!” he answered. “I’m rolling!”
“Nice,” I said, questioning my pending urge to make out with a 25-year-old, who would henceforth be referred to among the Six Friends as “The Target.” I went for a high-five instead.
The Six Friends, however, weren’t having it. Back in the cabin, around 3:30 the next morning, one of the Six, an Englishman named Johnny, nodded toward The Target and asked me, “Are you going to hit that?”
“Probably not,” I said, “mostly because I’m too tired to stand up.” Wrong answer. It didn’t take long for Johnny and Raquel, another cabin-mate, to physically pick me up, carry me across the room, and drop me at the way-too-young man’s feet.
The Target looked down at me. “What are you doing?”
“I have no idea,” I replied. I really didn’t. There I was, a 30-something business owner with an MBA, and yet, I found myself quite literally at the feet of a virtual embryo, in my glasses and sweatpants.
Throughout WeWork’s many locations, walls are emblazoned with various entrepreneurial anthems, including, “LET IT GO.” Before, I never really understood what that meant within a coworking context, but now, it made sense. “Don’t spend your days in misery,” I took it to mean. Don’t keep a job you hate. Plan for failure, but don’t fear it. Take off your stupid cover-up, shed your shell, even if temporarily, and silence all those judgemental voices. Go for it. Do what you love.
Sunday morning finally arrived and, not long after boarding the bus back to Manhattan, “3G” reappeared on my phone for the first time in two days.
“Let it go,” I thought to myself. “It’s okay. Let it go.”
I tapped out a text message to the person who, underneath it all, I had actually been thinking about all weekend: The real reason, I suspect, no making out with any age-inappropriate men took place.
“What?” he wrote back.
“Summer Camp,” I responded. “I don’t have any other words to describe it. Just ‘holy shit’.”
Here’s to the shreds of dignity we’ve maintained. Here’s to our responsibilities, our daily realities, and our life’s work. Moreover, here’s to the occasions upon which we abandon them.
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Image: Amanda Zantal-Wiener