Retreat Lessons, Taking a leap, or Lows & Highs

by Tolu Taiwo

One of the more dorkier things I geek out for—besides corny team builders, logic puzzles, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—is retreats. I love the idea of a department getting together and becoming a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Even those who aren’t about the outdoorsy life have to admit that there’s something magical about a group of people getting together and physically becoming a team.

A couple of weeks ago, the CSU Res Life department traveled to Pingree Park, which is like a Superman-jacked up version of any adventure camp I had ever encountered. This was also my first “grad student” retreat, and my first Housing retreat, so I was definitely in a new element. However, like my other retreats, I learned a few significant lessons that are going to stick with me throughout the year. Besides the inevitable lesson to always bring bug spray and a bottomless water bottle (the altitude up in the mountains is serious business), I also discovered:

Self-care is extremely important

During one of our low ropes courses, our team needed to balance each other on a giant see-saw. One of my fellow grad students and I stood at the fulcrum and squatted, so we could keep our balance and maintain a center of gravity for the rest of the team as they climbed on the see-saw. Have you ever squatted to maintain balance for over twenty minutes? I guarantee that you’ll gain major thigh muscle. I also guarantee that you’ll be extremely sore. Many of my teammates encouraged me to take breaks, and although I’m very much an “on-the-go” gal, I also learned to ask for short breaks in order to give my body a break. There are going to be times during this year when I’m going to have to stop for a beat for my sanity, and for the good of the team. There are also going to be times when I need to check up on others and make sure that they’re doing okay. Self-care isn’t a sign of weakness, but a way to make sure you can rest up and be the best version of yourself.

Sometimes the way you perform at ropes courses speak volumes to your life…

A high ropes challenge that I completed was one where I had to climb up a wooden pole, stand on top of it, and jump and swing off onto a trapeze line (I told you…Pingree Park is no joke). In the beginning of the jump, I reached out for the rope, but at the least minute, something pulled me back, and quickly snatched my hands away, relying on the harness to catch me. I didn’t even notice that, until one of the staff members noticed that I could have caught the trapeze line if I had just reached out a little further. And I realized I that do a lot. It’s not like me to pull away from a challenge when I’m know I can do it, but it is like me to pull away if I don’t feel confident in my abilities. But I need to give myself the benefit of the doubt. As Benjamin Spock said, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” I need to remember that as the semester starts to pick up, there might be some things that seem difficult, but I can get it done, and get it done well.

…and sometimes ropes courses are just ropes courses.

One of the scariest high ropes course was a giant swing that you rock climb to the top of, and then leap off with a partner, attached by joint harnesses and shared, sheer fear. Afterward, I couldn’t stop crying. Not because I couldn’t shake the idea that I just climbed and jumped off three stories (well… that was part of it…), but because I took such negative lessons from that activity. I had frozen up, and let my partner jump first, which made me a horrible team player. I had just let myself swing there, and had to be helped down, which made me a waste of space. I left the giant swing feeling like I had nothing to add to the team, and that the Res Life Department couldn’t use me. However, from the hundreds of hugs, words of encouragement, and the fact that my supervisors welcoming me to work the next day with a non-pitying smile, I don’t think anyone thought much of it besides the fact that I was momentarily freaked out. Not everybody can leap off things or climb to certain great heights, and that’s okay. A supportive department is not going to grade you, or judge you. They just want to make sure you are doing fine and that you learned something and you’re still down to be a part of the team. Plus, sometimes performing a three-story jump meant you performed a three-story jump. Not everything needs to be over-analyzed to your disadvantage.

Different departments go on different retreats and team-building days, and many of us take away different learning experiences from the adventure. What are some things you all learned from recent retreats?

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