The director used to tell us that camp was about The Cult of Personality. That is, most summer camps have similarities in activities offered, the general set-up (living in cabins, communal meals, health centre dispensing meds, morning dip, campfires), and a natural setting. The basics are there. What sets them apart is the director. It's the cult of personality, because it is their views, their vision, their voice that ultimately sets the tone for the staff to follow.
As the photos flashed by on the screen, my mind wandered and began to make the connection to other places where "cult of personality" holds true. In schools, it's the principal who sets the tone for the whole school and affects that school's reputation. The same is true of gyms, and of personal trainers. I had been drafting a blog post about what to look for in a personal trainer and how to choose one, and couldn't quite elaborate on what I meant by "good fit." Being at camp, thinking about what might change when the director takes his "step back" next summer, I realized what it was. The Cult of Personality.
Because people matter the most. Not money. Not flash. Not stuff. People.
The Y is a lot like camp, for me. There's obviously a direct connection, since the YMCA runs several camps. And maybe that's why it's a gym that works for me: the organization's philosophy goes beyond the workout room, goes beyond fitness alone, and extends to the whole person. Families. Children. Newcomers. The philosophy of building character extends to how the staff treat the members, and why it feels like family. Perhaps other gyms have this community feel too. I don't know, since I've never tried anywhere else. I've bought in to the stereotypes of intimidating commercial gyms, and having heard of other people's experiences, they're often rooted in some truth. I chose the Y because it offered a pool, and most other gyms don't. But I also chose it because the admittedly more-expensive-than-most-box-gyms membership supports everything else they do. I know my membership is subsidizing summer camps, and families in need, and the child care that is offered to parents while they work out.
The Y's not-for-profit status was also a hook, for me. That personal training wasn't pushed the way it is in for-profit gyms, that classes are free, that people of all ages attend and intermingle, that the wellness centre draws folks you'd not likely see at a Goodlife or L.A. Fitness, it all mattered to me. I don't really want to feel like a walking dollar sign, I want to feel like somehow I matter. Consequently, I felt more comfortable at the Y, and therefore continued attending, and started contributing, and it has become a part of my life in a way that I really hadn't expected or planned on.
I bought in to the philosophy. Yet, each Y has its own feel, too. It's shaped by the person in charge, it's directed by the CEO and board. Who is running the ship makes a difference. You don't always know what it's going to be in advance. That's as true of choosing a gym membership as it is when selecting a personal trainer, or a summer camp. There are ways of trying to find out, but ultimately it comes down to personality.
People matter. So much more than we give credit for. We make or break people's experiences, in ways we're not always aware of.
So, it always comes back to knowing yourself and what works for you. Most gyms are going to offer the same kinds of equipment. A room with barbells, treadmills, stationary bikes and TRX straps is only the base line. Zumba or yoga or spin classes will be listed on every roster, but will have a different atmosphere and feel, depending on who's leading. Same with personal trainers: where they got certified seems to make less of a difference than how they apply their knowledge, and how they interact with their clients.
Of course, the problem with "personality" being a driving force is that it can change when the person leaves. Change is inevitable, and necessary in life, but it can be hard to navigate through. There's an air of uncertainty at camp, though such a solid foundation has been built, I'm not too worried. As much as it was the director who led things for the first 20 years of the camp's history, he never referred to it as "my camp." It was always "our camp." He shared the direction, was generous with listening and incorporating other opinions, even as he instilled his values in the campers and staff. So, when he leaves, those values will live on.
When big changes in leadership happen, the ship keeps sailing. Life goes on.
But the person will still be missed.
Because everyone is replaceable in their job. And no one is replaceable as a person,