My most treasured piece of inter-camp mail from my years at Philmont was sent to me by an adult leader upon completion of his trek. When this leader’s group was in my camp, there was one Scout in particular who was on the verge of allowing his fears to get the better of him. It was clear that this young man felt very much out of his element in such an athletic environment and was worrying to the point that he became physically sick on my porch. He explained to me that he didn’t see the point of completing his trek, as he had already participated in all the program elements that he had been anticipating. What this young man hoped for was to be evacuated out of the backcountry due to sickness, rather than face the even more challenging miles ahead.
I sympathized with this young man, for only a few years before I had hoped for the same loophole while on my trip at Philmont. However, I finished my trek, and it became a source of confidence to me when faced with looming scholarship applications and mission preparation. As I expressed the value of my Philmont experience to the young man, some of the anxiety on his face began to be replaced with determination. With one last glass of apple-kiwi-strawberry juice to fuel him on, and much to the surprise of the rest of his crew, he shouldered his pack and prepared to hike on.
Pillar 4: Confidence – Be prepared by learning to do hard things. A young man will gain confidence, learn leadership skills and prepare for the future as a son of God.
Days later, his leader wrote to thank me for the hand I played in encouraging the young man to finish his trek, commenting that the hike “proved to be a big boost to his self confidence.” The leader recognized that “finishing a trek with your crew is a huge accomplishment that he will take pride in for the rest of his life.” Where else will we let our young men face these near-overwhelming obstacles and gain the confidence that comes from conquering them, if not in Scouting?
Shortly after this experience, Philmont experienced a record-breaking flash flood. In the early morning hours, I listened to the radio as all camps received specific instructions on action plans. At this time, I, a camp director, was away from my camp for my scheduled days off and could do nothing to help my relatively inexperienced staff members accomplish those instructions. As I sat, feeling useless, I worried about my staff and the ranch in general as we faced an onslaught of nature more terrifying than we had ever seen before. I wished I could be there to take care of the problems and remove the obstacles for my staff.
As soon as I could, I rushed back to my camp to help my staff with whatever recovery or cleanup was needed. I saw relief in the faces of my staff when I returned, but, to my surprise, I saw that I was not needed. They had handled the situation on their own, expertly dividing the loads as four of the staffers went out to gather crews and the others prepared resources for them in camp.
They had worried, but they had performed well, and had gained confidence. And not only these staff, but staff across the ranch had worked together to overcome the challenges of lost gear, destroyed buildings, and impassable roads and trails. For the remainder of the summer, any challenge that arose seemed simple in comparison to what we had faced and overcome during that flood experience. That single high-stress situation had prepared the ranch team to face all future problems with confidence, including future absences of the camp director.
This is what we desire for our youth. We want them to face challenging situations in advancement or high-adventure and to navigate them with minimal intervention from leaders. We want a young man faced with unfamiliar food and discouraging results on his mission to remember that he was able to organize his patrol into a high-performance machine over the course of a few months, and that he can do so again, this time in a foreign language. We want young women, when faced with difficult school, career, or mission decisions, to recall that they were given the opportunity to lead their crew when on a long-distance backpacking trip, and that if a young woman were trusted to make course decisions in such unfamiliar terrain, she can also successfully navigate her future opportunities. This confidence to be steadfast and press forward is exactly what the church leaders, parents, and civic leaders of tomorrow will need, and it is that confidence that the Scout program has been designed to instill.
Author: Lee Ferrin | Utah National Parks Council Intern and Seasonal Camp Director at Philmont Scout Ranch