Living an Action Lifestyle

6 ways a bias toward action can bring life, to your life.

Rachel Dungan
Dec 29, 2015 · 10 min read
All cited photos were taken by Action Campers. | Photo: Dave Cole

Standing poolside on a hot summer day, I tried to look nonchalant and comfortable despite being in jeans that hit the pavement as temperatures hit the roof. No, no — I’m fine. I don’t really feel like swimming anyway. There’s no way I successfully hid the discomfort and frustration from my face but, in my 9-year-old little head, I had everyone fooled. Of course I wanted to swim and play, but that would involve subjecting myself to humiliation.

Welcome to summer camp. Everyone has the stories, nightmares, and memories. Looking back, we laugh to each other at our own naiveté. How foolish to have been so afraid! Why did I care so much? We reminisce and silently congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come. Convinced of our newfound confidence, we go back to our complacency.

That is, unless you know Steve and Matt — the masterminds behind Action Camp. Envision a real-life Willy Wonka role-play: you receive a letter, complete with iron-on camp badge. Congratulations! You’ve been identified as a badass, with knowledge worth sharing and strengths worth leveraging. Guess what else? You also have some learning to do. Block off these dates, bring your bathing suit, fold in some humility, and prepare to check your ego at the proverbial carved wooden gateway.

Anyone who knows Matt Kane and Steve Garguilo knows not to get doe-eyed or nostalgic. This invitation, hardly for a fun weekend getaway, comes fully loaded. With their tendency to be highly intentional comes a habit of showing almost irreverent disregard for the obstacles and excuses that inhibit progress. They push the boundaries of people’s personal and professional potential — encouraging others to explore their passions and pursue their purpose…relentlessly. In no way were we going to have a leisurely lakeside weekend. Instead, we prepared to leave behind our shame, devices, and security blankets of all kinds. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t braced myself for the calculated dismantling of my own comfort zone.

Guess what? We really haven’t grown up that much. Adults still worry about making friends, being scrutinized, or speaking up. We hold back — discounting our ideas, silencing our opinions, and finding excuses not to get in the pool. Camp exposed this reality.

By creating a culture of receptivity, populated with people primed to be non-prescriptive and unrestricted, Matt and Steve woke us up. This environment offered stark and obvious contrast to the worlds we’ve created for ourselves — worlds in which our limitations carry more weight than our aspirations, and insecurities get more credit than our credits.

Here, we could play, fail, and learn.

Here, we had to.

People explored new ideas they’d previously written off as foolish, frivolous or destined for failure. We questioned, challenged, encouraged, and empowered in the spirit of activating each other. Every person brought to the discourse his or her unique lens through which to process, and contribute to, the experience. Situated in the center of a refreshing landscape, we removed ourselves from the real and imagined walls that keep us from being our best and thinking our biggest.

Camp enabled us to reimagine our futures by rediscovering our more authentic and unaffected selves — the people we were before years of becoming jaded, hardened, skeptical, and overlooked. By reframing our past experiences, we got to rewrite the scripts we think define us. One particularly masculine and stalwart camper set aside his shame, and discovered that he really benefits from yoga. Another camper reflected on the realization that she’d become the very person she promised her younger self she’d never be. Camp helped her, and others, reconnect with those “other-ed” identities. It also forced us to write off fears that we’re destined to become anyone other than who we dreamed up as our spunky, strong younger selves. As for me, I didn’t need to be told twice. The pool (and the lake) had no option but to embrace me — unadulterated smile and all — with open arms.

Build-your-own-boat battles aside, Camp wasn’t all fun and games. It had to pack a pretty powerful punch to fuel the minds, inspire the hearts, and hold the attention of 65 handpicked, casually incredible people. Structured sessions enabled sharing of wisdom and expertise in diverse fields: from healthy habit formation and personal branding, to songwriting and self-defense. Travel neophytes got insider tips from experienced nomads, and people with two left feet got a hand with dance basics. Every person had to contribute — often in ways he or she didn’t feel fully prepared or qualified to. This enabled us to name our talents, recognize our value, and demonstrate (mostly to ourselves) that others do in fact benefit from what we bring to the table.

Exhaustive exposure to new, exciting, challenging, and discomforting stimuli left people emotionally vulnerable and sensitive. Heightened levels of personal and communal awareness created a sense of mutual empathy and trust that made way for the true gift: Action Surge. The Action Surge Framework walks people through the often unprecedented experience of embracing a personal dream, and assigning it the same value they would grant a professional commitment. Through a highly collaborative and intensive process, Action Surge breaks down barriers that tend to cloud the processes of naming your passion, articulating your vision, designing a roadmap, and establishing accountability. The experience is carefully timed and intentionally designed to push people past their inhibitions — inviting them to operate at a higher-than-average frequency, shall we say, of intuitive application and creative strategizing.

Photos: Nate Mook

Each individual sculpted his or her idea, with the help of friends who committed to invest as deeply in this vision as they would their own. Teams set in motion the process by which these ideas would almost inevitably be realized. Now, each person simply had to follow the actionable steps outlined in the personal project roadmap. The usually frustrating process of streamlining involved ideas and distilling complex emotions became instantly effortless.

In closing, we listed things that might thwart our progress after leaving the highly-charged space. Symbolically giving ourselves permission to grow beyond these barriers, we tossed our hang-ups into a massive bonfire. Sharing a poignant moment of closure, we sent paper lanterns up into a dark and unknown sky — a reminder of what our bright ideas might reflect, even if acting on them puts us in vague or vulnerable territory.

I can only speak for myself but, in earnest, the ideas I encountered are powerful enough to shed serious light on solutions of substance —actions that will benefit our broader communities in profound, unprecedented ways.

“Idon’t want to go back to the real world.” (The echoing words of someone walking away from a moving experience, and toward the routinized reality of daily life…)

As someone with a penchant for seeking out more-than-meaningful conversations — thirsty for emotional and intellectual engagement — I allowed this to become my mantra, for a while. I intentionally sought out experiences and situations that would spark this feeling, as proof that I was really living. Each time, an almost painful thought followed:

That was amazing, transformative, powerful, distinctive, (fill in the blank), but I guess I have to go back to reality.

Someone finally pushed back.

“I hate when you say that. Coming back after something like that doesn’t change the fact that you really had the experience. That is your reality.”

Pause. He has a point. By separating these poignant moments from our “real” lives, we leave them out of the story. Why would we want to water down our own narratives? Why gloss over these realities, instead of embracing them as viable and powerful slices of life? There seems to be a massive wall between things that move and mean something to us, and those we interact with or act on each day. This transition from depth of experience to daily life is hardly seamless, and that can change.

The collective sentiment I heard resonate long after Action Camp was that people wished it could last. Many hesitated at the thought of returning to environments that inhibit the channeling, cultivating, and projecting of our authentic selves. We were afraid to lose momentum, and to re-encounter the realities we allow to be less-than-stunning.

Action Camp can’t happen every day. In fact, it would lose gravity if it did. Everyday, though, might become more meaningful if we hold ourselves accountable for actively building the realities we want.

Sparing the Hallmarkian details (maybe fearing I’ll analyze-out the magic?), here are some musings on how to take your ideas to action — casting yourself in a more active role as the creator of your own reality.

“We’re fortunate to live in a time when you can conceive and implement an idea faster and more cost effectively than ever. Most people start out in life willing to be creative, but tend to have it beaten out of them, or surrender it for the pursuits of other things.” –Action Camper | Photo: Nate Mook

1) Know your own essence.

Your authentic self doesn’t need to be silenced.

The bright-eyed or idealistic qualities you have don’t need to be tucked away. In fact, you can engage them even more fully, knowing your critical eye and maturity will keep them in check. Trust yourself to marry various influences in a sophisticated way. Instead of compartmentalizing your true self out of the equation, you’ll be able to let your many facets and experiences build on each other in complementary ways.

If you experience cognitive dissonance — knowing the real you d.n.e. the you that goes to work or lives your life, every day — take action to change that.

“When you open your heart and mind to ‘strangers’ they won’t be strangers anymore. Connection, inspiration, aspiration can come from anyone, anywhere. If you’re open to receiving it, you will thrive.” –Action Camper

2) Strive for meaningful engagement — even, and especially, when it’s uncomfortable.

Many people are afraid to engage others on a more-than-superficial level, fearing they won’t know what to say or how to start. Try a question.

What are you curious about? What don’t you know? Commit to acknowledging your curiosity, and invite others to explore with you.

Ask. Then listen. Really listen.

Photo: Nate Mook

3) Be intentional about building safe and authentic environments.

We are heavily influenced by social, cultural, and environmental factors. We’re impressionable, and we sub/consciously respond to what we see and hear every day. Seek out spaces that challenge and champion you — enable you to take risks and try things. Surround yourself with people whose influence inspires you. Make sure your space doesn’t just include people you want to be with, but also people you want to be like or want to learn from.

Actively pursue these communities. If you can’t find one, build one.

Photo: Dave Cole

4) Don’t give yourself permission to let something as important as your progress, purpose, or passion remain a possibility. Take action.

You are responsible for your ideas. Unless you choose to express them, they sit isolated in your brain — unacknowledged and underdeveloped. Eventually, they die. Someone might have benefited from that idea. Isn’t it a bit selfish to keep it tucked away? Yes, you have to humble yourself enough to subject it to others’ scrutiny. Yes, you have to humble yourself enough to admit that someone might have a different or better idea. Guess what? She might be excited to share her idea with you — melding the two and expanding your dream into something more robust than you could have imagined yourself.

Once you’ve acknowledged your idea, act.

No. One. is going to give you permission to shape your reality. Focus on identifying realizable steps toward achieving your goals, and then take one. Stop talking. Stop thinking. Step. Then, step again. Even if you have to redirect, you’ll get there faster than you would standing still. I promise.

“Something that made me really excited at Action Camp, was seeing people well into their careers who are killing it and still acting like children. It just reaffirmed to me that you don’t ever have to grow up. People my age always tell me that one day I will realize the world doesn’t work the way I think it does, but now I am 100% sure they are wrong.” — Action Camper | Photo: Dave Cole

5) This is real life.

I’m tired of hearing that trying to embrace experiential learning, idea realization, creative engagement, and human connection is foolish or naïve. Real and authentic conversations do happen. People who seek out stuff of substance are real. The ones who not only dream, but also do, are really doing. Finding passion, or being you, at work is not unheard of. Communities and conversations like the ones I’ve described here do exist, and not only in a vacuum.

If you don’t gravitate toward these spaces naturally, or you have trouble identifying the people and ideas worth pursuing, you may need to hone your “sixth sense” the one required to see untapped potential and seize energizing opportunities. Does it come easily for some people? Sure. Does that matter? No.

Even small steps out of your comfort zone — however you define it — can inspire growth in unprecedented ways. Uncomfortable as it may be, admit that the potential exists for your reality to reflect who you really are and all you envision it can be. Assume ownership of your ideas and responsibility for your actions.

This kind of life is real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Photo: Nate Mook

6) Rule Number 6.

Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.

To learn more about Action Camp — or try scoring an invitation to an Action Camp experience — visit

To learn how the Action Surge Framework can help you take your ideas to action now, head to

Rachel Dungan

Written by

Background in biobehavioral health, social justice advocacy & civic/community engagement. Making ground in social impact strategy & health research/policy.