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The Power of Time & Personal Responsibility: Reflections on a Company’s Closure and Getting Laid Off

The final ceremony for existing and previous staff at SUWS

I’ve now experienced being in a company that got liquidated; laid off because of a company restructure; lost contract work because sales were down; and most recently laid off due to the parent company closing SUWS of the Carolinas down.

I think I have the bingo of job loss now!

This post is intended to share:

  • The pain of going through a company closing & processing getting laid off

  • Learning the difference between help and rescuing others

  • Understanding of the power of time

  • How to take ownership of your circumstances

  • The power of expression versus identity

I’ve been pondering the recent closing of SUWS of the Carolinas – a company that I spent almost 3,000 hours in 1 year due to the nature of how we served children by living in the wilderness with them. In case you’re wondering, SUWS stands for School of Urban and Wilderness Skills. My work afforded me the opportunity to have a front-row seat in understanding the challenges kids are going through. Some of them are the eternal struggle against doing what your parents ask, learning to become adults, figuring out who they are and what values hold true for them, as well as the additional pressures covid and the lockdowns created socially.

It represented a microcosm of the world’s challenges.

The closing of the company also represents a microcosm of what I believe is wrong with society and how challenges are being faced. SUWS of the Carolinas provided a level of care, love, support, space, and time for all who walked through their doors to heal, grow, and master their emotions through communication and powerful coping skills. Not just the kids benefited – speaking for myself – I know how much I healed from depression, exploded my confidence, and embedded the difference between rescuing and helping people.

The Difference Between Rescuing & Helping People

Sadly, I learned that my natural response to another’s suffering or challenges was to rescue them – not actually help. I had to practice pausing before responding to any situation to ask what would really help the other person at this moment. I don’t believe there are many malicious people in the world genuinely trying to cause others harm – and reading Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are setting up a Generation for Failure, it’s easy to see why so many people blame others for their misfortune and give away their power to heal.

Even with all the love and support that SUWS gave, the hardest part was watching some kids avoid taking responsibility for how they move forward in life. What I’ ve learned about giving opportunities to people who have none: Ensure that they understand the success of any opportunity given to you depends on what YOU make of it. Simply put – if you stop breathing and die, is it the oxygen’s fault? The opportunity of a lifetime needs to be taken within the lifetime of that opportunity.

Even with dedicated support 24/7 from some of the most incredible human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, all our words meant nothing if the kids didn’t start to believe their worth themselves. The point wasn’t to tell them how amazing they are or special just because… we used what they DID to get them to see that. Imagine living in the wilderness for 60-90 days? These incredible kids did something 99.9% of adults would avoid – AND they flourished. My favorite line to a kid saying “I can’t do this” was breaking the news to them that, “I’m sorry to say you’re wrong – because you already ARE doing this having been for (insert number of days)”

What SUWS did for me was pressure test my beliefs, my skills, and my humility. When you work in the wilderness, you don’t get to go home at the end of the day, decompress, and sleep in a bed. You don’t get to drive home and disconnect from the stress of the day. As someone that values alone time, I was lucky to get 30 minutes a day.

Genuinely helping people can only happen at the same level to which you are prepared to help yourself. The more challenging circumstances you are willing to go through, the easier it is to help others. Not because you know more than them – but because you’ve done more.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand Confucius

SUWS helped teach kids how to turn challenges into wisdom. How to solve problems. How to communicate what they felt more than “I’m fine” and gave them opportunities to practice dealing with being uncomfortable every day and then how to keep operating in a community through that discomfort. SUWS was actually an Ubuntu incubator. It taught us how to be our best selves while being in service to our little community, as well as seeing how you benefit from others too.

Change Takes Time – Even Nature Gradually Moves Between Seasons

I was privileged to witness incredible transformations in kids. Imagine going from swearing every second word, disrespecting everyone in the group, doing the bare minimum for 49 days – then seeing your mom at a parent workshop and realizing how much you miss her, so you start doing what the instructors and your therapist have been telling you since day one. Then in your second half, you reconnect with your true essence and leave SUWS as one of only 3 students I’ve seen out of 61 to truly graduate – that is to complete their phase work, the equivalent of a growth book identifying new skills to learn, master, and then uplevel.

We dealt with kids that other programs kicked out, boarding schools rejected, or that courts ordered them to complete to avoid jail. They were society ‘discards,’ most likely given up on – when what they needed wasn’t less attention – it was more. The family lives I participated in helping to change will live with me forever. But more importantly – that change lives on forever in each of those families as they understand what taking personal responsibility and accepting help means and how to support your family going forward.

We crave a pill to solve our weight challenges – instead of building the discipline every day to eat and exercise.

We want instant success in business – instead of listening to our internal voice to build something of value that takes time.

We want instant fame and millions of followers – instead of serving our community and being known for what we do.

SUWS taught me why – even the best-intentioned Trump haters – do exactly what they hate about racists. Or bigots. Or misogynists. I learned that Trump, his haters, and his admirers all need the same thing; they need to heal, and be given time, care, attention, love, and space to learn about themselves. It takes time to understand what someone else has been through that now shapes who they are.

Just ask Daryl Davis, considering he’s helped 200 KKK clansmen over 30 years leave the organization. And he’s black. But it’s so much easier to label a problem like “toxic Masculinity” when actually it’s far more complex and down to the individual person – who most likely is toxic from hate, neglect, abuse, trauma, or all combined. A wise friend told me, “Masculinity isn’t anything in and of itself. A man can choose to be toxic, just as a woman can be toxic herself and view masculinity that way. That doesn’t mean masculinity is the cause.” I had to be careful to separate cause and effect when working with kids – actually even my co-staff – because it’s easy to slip into branding a person by their behavior. I had to learn to treat each child based on what THEIR needs were – no matter how similar their patterns of behavior were to mine or anyone else’s.

  • It takes time to get to know people.

  • It takes time to heal.

  • It takes time to learn.

  • It takes time to master.

  • It takes time to think.

  • It takes time to build a life.

Pressure Testing My Beliefs & Understanding Why Others Believe What They Do

As SUWS so valuably taught me, even though I may know I’m good at something – doesn’t mean I’m in the best position to help someone else. In every one of my 24 shifts, I was asked the question, “How much DO you believe in the power of challenges?” with all 61 kids I worked with. It is no good if you cannot explain something so someone else can understand you.

For example, it’s one thing for me to embrace challenges as the only way to move forward and grow; it’s another to teach others to see it that way too and push through those challenges without giving up. It’s yet another to maintain composure, love, kindness, care, and calm when the very person you trying to help is ignoring you, hates you, despises you, thinks you’re an idiot, curses at you, and even physically attack you. The wisest words SUWS embedded in my brain from day one was, Learn to separate the person from the actions.

Everything is a choice – and I had to choose to see each child as the most necessary human ever born and see their negative behavior as a cry for help. I had to live the motto, if you fall down 10 times – get up 11. I was never proved wrong either that the power of consistent kindness and love routed in genuine help will always overcome any trauma.

These kids learned how capable they really are. They discovered perseverance they never knew existed.

Identity versus Expression

Last but certainly not least, I developed an even greater understanding of learning to see things like success or failure, male and female, extrovert or introvert, as expressions of what we’re capable of, instead of wrapping it into our identity. I understand why so many children are depressed – part of it is that they are told to identify as (insert any number of things).

Making your job (as an example) your whole identity is a catastrophe when you no longer work in that role. However, seeing something, like your role, as an expression of what you’re capable of suddenly changes that whole dynamic. I lived it when I was climbing the mountain every day for a year and, coming to the end, was told, “You’ll be depressed when you’re not on the mountain climbing anymore.” I had time to think about why that would be? My realization was, yes – if my identity were wrapped up in being on the mountain, then, of course, not being on it would cause issues. I’d probably get wrapped up in becoming the challenge guy and move on to the next challenge to feed my self-worth. But seeing my yearly climbs as an expression of what I can do became a new way to ask myself a better question for growth, “What am I capable of now?”

Just like SUWS closing down doesn’t impact my self-worth of what I’m capable of – it actually gives me another opportunity to ask that question, knowing what I was capable of holding space for others in extreme conditions to have their own “AHA” moments. It’s why I’m building programs for adults to have their own experiences, you can head over to the Expeditions page to see more on this.

One of the kids was looking for a weakness in me and thought he could get under my skin by throwing away something I love – my walking stick. I promptly walked across to it and threw it even further into the forest. He was shocked and asked why I did that?! My answer was simple.

I made that walking stick – the walking stick doesn’t make me. I can make another one.

He never touched it again.

Why SUWS Was The Greatest Company to Work for & Now Emulate

Every single employee at SUWS was solely focused on putting the kids at the center of everything we do to help them heal and grow. SUWS gave me words for ideas I could never formulate. SUWS taught me why structure is so valuable. SUWS helped me practice what I know I can do in a way that allowed me to make mistakes to highlight my weak spots and areas for growth to work on. SUWS taught me how to communicate my feelings with intention, how to link how I’m feeling to my values and a choice to move forward, it taught me to be a better active listener, it taught me to ask if someone’s open to feedback and ready for it, it taught me how to therapeutically understand another’s challenges and how to help them overcome it. It taught me how to explain why you do something and the value it gives if you genuinely want buy-in.

The Feelings wheel that better explains how you feel at a deeper level.

As our Program Director, Colin Walsh, said on our last day, “The fire of SUWS may have gone out. But each of you are the coals that will go and spread a new fire using the same intention and care that SUWS represented.”

Again – just like all opportunities – without hard work and preparation to nurture that coal by collecting the necessary materials to build it up – we decide how much effort goes into starting the new fire so that we can spend less time rushing around trying to keep it alive.

Every morning before breakfast and after handwash gratefuls, we finished with the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I recently learned three more lines in the prayer I wish we had said further. I think this is the perfect way to finish this off:

Living one day at a time

Enjoying one moment at a time

Accepting that hardships are the pathway to peace.

I feel disappointed in the decision to close SUWS, as well as motivated by the opportunities that the next chapter brings for me.

A belief about myself is that I always grow through challenges and become a better man for the experience. No matter how difficult at the time – it always works out in the end. My choice is to focus on what SUWS did for me instead of purely focusing on the grief I have for the lack of opportunity other kids and staff will have to become their best selves. My choice is to continue supporting others on their journey as we relentlessly try to create the kind of world that embodies Ubuntu. An African philosophy that teaches us how to live better together. I highly recommend reading, Everyday Ubuntu if you’d like to learn about the 14 Principles.

We didn’t help these kids because we sat around talking about their faults, how clever we were to know them and point them out; we were taught to get stuck in and sit in the dirt and darkness with them, knowing that being a guiding light means you’re only visible in the dark. Desmond Tutu said it best, “If you want peace. Speak to your enemies – not your friends.”

Being a Senior Wilderness Therapy Guide is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But SUWS taught me that the harder the effort, the equal reward awaits in accomplishment and fulfillment too.

Let’s all help each other, by starting with asking ourselves what we’re prepared to change within.

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