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Go Beyond the Map & Find Your Way


"The journey began at random. The comradery was chosen by fate. The challenge was provided: 

Go beyond the map and find your way.  

The growth and collaboration came with humble and vulnerable conversations. Conversations grew into truth bombs. 

Truth bombs. Friendly blunt insights. 

Bombs of inspiration and depth that lead to the recognition of the sacred spot. An experience was designed. The second hurdle approached. Take the depth and passion of the developed experience and hand it off...

Take a different experience. Cultivate it and adapt it to be as important and significant as the first. 

The conversations lead to deeper understanding of self and others.  The path lead to someone else's sacred spot. A beautiful well loved spot that had to become our own.

A respect for nature and necessity of leaving no trace lead to an ever evolving totem. A thing that brings one back to reality... the reality of mother nature's beauty.  

A beacon. An item to bring a traveler in further.  

An installation. To enhance an already magnificent place."

(Written by Myself. SHiFT Design Camp Final Presentation. Winter 2016)



So here is what happened this past week in Northern Alabama with about 60+ individuals. 

We hiked. I ended up hiking 34 miles. The goal was to understand where you are going and why. The staff brought in industry professionals with   interesting journeys. All of the professionals started with an Industrial Design Degree and ended up in jobs where they never thought they would because they listened to their gut and found their passion.  Our first Campfire conversation was from Steven Gaffin who spoke about his IDUS degree and how he is now going to med school because of his passion. There is one quote that stood out to me from his talk.

“One thing I was taught was to never yell...because good leaders should never have to yell.”

We started the week at home base but as soon as we woke up in the morning, teams were randomly picked and our first adventure begun. We hiked to a place called Wave Rock for a quick break, where naturally occurring evidence of waves are etched into the face of this  large rock slab. It is a reminder of time and how long time is but in a way how short we have been apart of this  time itself.  We hiked to our first away shelter. The Stanfield Worley Shelter, we set up camp and ate lunch. Danny Foster gave us some quick fun facts of the shelter, like  ancient Native American's bones were found there and there are funnel like holes carved into the face of a large flat rock. We hiked to the second shelter where Owen Foster explained that Native Americans tried to settle here but realized that this place was not best for them. He went on to explain the challenge and the theme of the camp. Sometimes where you end up or think you need/want to go is not always the right place for you to be. & That is okay.

Danny Foster at Stanfield Worley Shelter

Danny Foster at Stanfield Worley Shelter

We split up into teams and were told to go beyond the map and find your way back to the campsite for dinner. My team (the Pink Hawks) walked along the ridgeline, every so often we stopped to ask a question so we could learn more about each other, we found really cool spots and made it back to the campsite with minutes to spare before dinner. Gabo from FDN Studio was the campfire conversation that night, and he spoke honestly, and purely. He spoke about how to look at things with a different eye and how to define design. How to take responsibility for design. How design and nature relate.

"Nature for me is the closest thing to me as that mystical creature, full of wonder fascination and mystery. Most importantly.. it is full of condition and consequences..."

We slept through thunderstorms and woke up to frozen tents and hammocks, we packed up camp, ate breakfast and headed back to Wave Rock. Owen gave us our first challenge:

Find a spot that means a lot to your team, create a map and wayfinding points to lead the next group of travelers to experience this significant location.

Our team almost immediately knew our spot because we had found it yesterday while getting to know ourselves better. We gathered our materials made our game plan and we split up, some stayed to create the map, and some went into the woods to create the wayfinding. We wanted the next group to experience the bond we had created just yesterday, so we left conversation starters and team bonding questions along the trail. We came back for dinner, presented our location, and James Kraus from Canary spoke. He spoke about how he moved to Hong Kong and then moved back to the New York, he has worked in a variety of places and now he the Director for a startup that is saving lives.

The next day we ate and traveled to Red Rock where we had the opportunity to see the oldest living thing in the area and the second largest white oak in America. Danny Foster told us stories of this tree and his childhood, he talked about the significance and history of it. We then had to climb a mountain to reach a flat spot where you could see for miles and miles. When we all climbed down the mountain, Nate Justiss from Distil Union spoke at the Campfire Conversation about his journey from working at large companies and now owns a business. He wanted to make products simple and minimal. After the campfire conversation we released paper lanterns in the sky and had meaningful design conversations around the campfire. Oh and dinner was Mama Faye’s Chili...which if you have not experienced are missing out on life.

In the morning our second challenge was given:

Swap Igniters, swap maps, go on someone else’s journey, find importance within the journey and location. Build a totem to show your team’s significance in the final destination

My team complete Team Wolf’s map which lead us along a trail that also had conversation points, out all five teams only two had conversation starters along the trail, it was really cool to experience someone else’s conversations. Our team’s bond grew stronger and we ended at one of my favorite spots; a waterfall by the Saloon. We found beauty in the area and significance. We had our materials to create a totem but our team wanted to create something that did not distract from the beauty of the area. We wanted to create something that brought people in further. We did not want to use man made materials and we wanted something that would change over time. We created a circle, just like the ones we had left along the trail for other groups to experience. We chose the location of the circle because it can be seen from the saloon and will lead people down the trail to the waterfall.  We presented our totem with the poem from above.

That night was our final campfire conversation, Chelsea McLemore. There are so many things to take away from this talk, she was blunt and honest. She was the first professional I have ever heard admit that they are still editing their portfolio. She was relatable and inspirational. One of my favorite quotes from her is:

“If today sucks, life is going to be awesome.”

When we woke up in the morning, it was all over, breakfast, pack up, and hit the road. Just like that another SHiFT in the books.

This week was intense...not only physically but mentally. SHiFT is always exhausting for me because believe it or not, I am an introvert and having a week of constant communication with 50+ people is a lot. But this week pushed me, it made me evaluate who I am, where I am going, where I want to go, and it made me constantly ask why. Why am I here? Why is this moment significant? Why am I answering these team building communication questions the way I am? Why? Why? Why? Everyone is taking away a lot from this camp, I cannot tell you how many times I heard "it is about the journey and not the destination" being said as something someone learned. (at least 100 times during a 5 day period). But, not to be cocky or arrogant  I have looked at things this way for a while, so this was not a new thing for me to learn. So what am I taking away from this week?

I am taking away the idea of acceptance, acceptance of taking a new path, or just going with the flow. I am taking away the idea of looking at your peers, and knowing who is a real friend and who is not. I am taking away the power and confidence to know that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I am taking away the knowledge of how important a community is... John and Owen brought in their friends from Auburn, one of their OG communities that they still have 10 years later. I am taking away the importance of trying new things even if you hate it. I am taking away the idea of forgiveness... specifically with this one, one of my best friends doubted me and put me down to build themselves up, and after a year of being mad, it took this SHiFT to realize I can forgive them and accept them. We may never be friends again, but we do not need to avoid each other or be awkward in the same room.

There are many things SHiFT offers, but I feel like it is these little lessons, that mean the most. It is these little moments of truths or Truth Bombs to realize what an amazing and memorable week was had.

It is hard to explain to people why SHiFT is so awesome. Why it is one brand/ experience that I will promote until I am blue in the face. This past SHiFT was my fourth one and I had a ton of people asking why I keep coming back and how I convince so many people to attend. It is definitely difficult. How do you explain that conversations get so deep and meaningful that some people end in tears without making it sound like I go to a therapy camp? How do I explain that I get to hang out with amazing industry professionals for a week in the woods...where I may or may not be extremely dirty, my hair is definitely greasy and I think Anna Z. said it best.... Trail Spicy..? How do you explain these awesome things without scaring people away? How do you explain a community that is free of judgement? Well it is hard, I might not mention in detail how many times I cry in my tent because of a moving conversation, or how many times I have looked in the mirror after a few days and in the world am I making friends looking like this.... but I feel like once I start talking about it, it is hard for people to not see how passionate I am. I mean sometimes I cry just trying to tell people how damn great this camp is. Maybe I am just a cryer or maybe this camp is just that good.

Anyways, I started asking myself and others around me, why do I /students keep coming back to SHiFT? I mean many of the people there not only come back for a second time but there are many people like me who have come back a 3rd and 4th and 5th time because it is just that good. But why?

Here is my answer, I can give the cliche answer, the community and the lessons, but SHiFT to me is about self discovery, every time I go to SHiFT I learn something new about myself, or I get motivated to do something different with my life. SHiFT is where I found my leadership voice, it is where I found my community voice, it is where I build my future. Every time I go to SHiFT, I leave thinking, feeling, and knowing, my future is brighter. SHiFT has given me the confidence in myself and in others. SHiFT to me is not about your hard skills, who cares if you can sketch, who cares if you can build, or 3d model, SHiFT cares if you laugh, or cry, they care if you are a people person or a task person, they care about all of your soft skills. SHiFT cares about me in ways I never thought people could or would.

Here are some answers from other SHiFT family members:

"I'm constantly asked why do I think people keep coming back to SHIFT. I would love to say it's because of the unique educational platform. The outstanding professionals that we bring in as igniters. The team building events. Maybe the witty banter that I provide. But after thinking long and hard about that question I came up with this....
Shift means so much to so many people. For me it is a way to give part of me to others in a setting that means so much to me. When I thought of it that way the answer came to me.
It's about finding out more about oneself. At SHiFT it is okay to be who you really are. Each day you challenge yourself differently. The people that surround you there believe in you, the real you. That allows you to grow to become whom you are most proud of. To me a person needs to identify who they really are. The true you. Once you do that own it. No one can take that from you. Be proud of your uniqueness.
A person can only reach the greatest heights after knowing who they really are. And with all of that said I believe SHiFT allows for that soul search each and every time. All the while supported by the entire SHiFT family" - Owen Foster, Director of SHiFT
“People connect through LinkedIn all the time to grow their networks. But with SHIFT, it's like allowing everyone personal access to Owen and John’s own network. Allowing shifters to be face to face with them. It's a true sign how much Owen and John truly care about everyone at shift and their futures because they are trusting us with their friends and community.” -Summarized response by Gabi, Staff at SHiFT

“I don't come to SHiFT for the camping. I don't come for the competition, or for the awards that are sometimes won afterwards. I come to SHiFT for the people and the community that they continue to create. Every year you get to connect with people from all over the globe that are either old friends or new faces. For me the most interesting part of SHiFT is getting to hear everyone's ever changing story and to know that you played a small role in it. Without the people SHiFT would just be backwoods in Alabama, pool noodles, and hand saws. Add the community and that's what makes it so appealing each year.” -Sydney Fowler, SHiFT Camper

SHiFT is something that is very hard to explain, it is something deeper than any words spoken or on a blog, or on paper can explain. It can only truly be felt. I love talking to Igniters and first time SHiFTers at the end of the week because they almost always say something on the lines of... "you hear about SHiFT and how amazing it is, but it is something so powerful to experience. It is an experience that is so unique than anything ever before." 

SHiFT is the future of education and design. If you are reading this and have not attended one, please come and experience the magic.