The one where we all get married
With this ring pop, I thee wed.
My very first company retreat took place at our leading executive’s home right outside of Washington, D.C., and it kicked off with a team game of croquet in the backyard. It was part of an annual gathering planned to promote further collaboration amongst the department outside of the office. I was a young employee new to the workforce, trying to make the most of what I assumed to be my dream organization.
That dream had a rude awakening when our COO told me, in short, to quit and leave. The context was not what you’d expect: we had worked together for almost a year, and through a game of telephone with coworkers I was close to, he had learned about my prior experiences working with public health and service oriented organizations; my research efforts in microbiology while in undergrad; and my future ambitions of being involved in the social impact community. Our conversation was meant to be a genuine piece of advice — I had the potential to create more impact and do more good in the world, just somewhere else. It was a flattering yet unsettling wake up call to say the least.
Good news though — I listened, and dedicated myself to chasing a career that lets me do good, be treated well, create social impact, and help empower people to realize their dreams. A tall idealistic order for sure, but fast forward a few years later and 3,000 miles west, I found enso: a creative company building mission-driven brands and Shared Mission to create positive impact at scale. Just a couple months into this job, I was asked to help plan and MC, you guessed it…our upcoming annual company retreat. The experience that followed was a stark contrast to my first — faces were painted, costumes and personalities were on full display, eternal vows were sworn, and in the midst of it all, a consistent feeling that I’ve found the place where I belong.
enso has a tradition of hosting annual all-staff retreats since our founding in 2012. While most company retreats focus on strategy and planning, enso has made a point to spend time stepping out of everyday roles and rooms, and getting to know different sides of each other through creativity and collaboration. From making a short film in a day based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, to a Humans of New York-esque portrait scavenger hunt in Joshua Tree, to Camp Fear — an exploration of our fears and how to overcome them — every year the enso team has identified one key insight that’s somehow holding back the broader group, and designed an experience to unlock it.
After interviewing multiple ensonians on the state of our culture and where we’re heading as an organization, one nugget really stood out: this place is at its best when employees feel encouraged to be their best selves — when nonlinear career paths that other companies may see as lack of focus are seen as super strengths, and when we make work to impact the world in a way that’s personally impactful as well. The retreat planning team wanted to design an experience that celebrated that quality, and made it clear that our leadership fully endorses people bringing their full selves into the office.
How to turn that into a retreat experience? The planning team shifted gears from last year’s Camp Fear which included an earnest, soul-stirring conversation around a quiet camp fire. We decided to celebrate each ensonian’s personal flair and specialness in a surrealist commitment ceremony — a wedding to oneself — at California’s gaudiest hotel, facilitated by none other than the hound dog of love himself, Elvis Presley. We called it Dearly Beloved in mysterious save the dates, and requested staff fill out a Mad Lib-style survey with personal questions that would later be incorporated into their personal vows.
Everyone was paired off and assigned costume themes to accent their whimsical room aesthetics at the Madonna Inn. From the matching romp-him suits that my partner and I rocked, to rainbow ponies and every costume in-between, it became clear that everyone took their fun just as seriously as their jobs. After a long day of matrimonial-hint filled activities, a bus ride up the coast to San Luis Obispo, and a chance to polish off costumes at local thrift stores, our main event would begin and take place over dinner.
Making promises to someone else is already hard enough, but making a serious commitment to yourself to be more authentic and better — that’s even harder. Our theory was rooted in the belief that a commitment to being your truest self results in a better company as a whole. RuPaul put it best though, “If you ain’t gonna love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love someone else?”
Elvis kicked off the ceremony with some hip gyrations and songs, and, one by one, each member of our tribe was asked to grab the mic and stand equally vulnerable in front of one another to profess our vows. All of us proclaimed out loud that we would continually commit to prioritizing our personal betterment and growth over all else, through thick and thin, through our dream projects and worst nightmares. Our ceremony was complete with ring pops handed out by yours truly, and a dance floor aptly decorated with Instagram-ready hearts and over-the-top wedding decor.
It’s been hard to explain what my new job is to my friends and family outside of California, but it’s easier to explain how I feel. I have found a creative agency where social impact is our bread and butter, which luckily is my jam. I feel happy and appreciated here. Some could view such a retreat as an expense and unnecessary use of time; but when you take into account the moments created, the connections strengthened, and space for a community to flourish, you get coworkers who can dynamically connect outside of a professional setting. This truly allows people to collaborate through connecting with the many dimensions of each individual person.
So far, I have made a commitment to be kinder to myself, to love myself first and to stay true to my own authenticity in and out of the workplace. I know I’ve only been at enso for a short number of months, but I have found a community where it feels like we belong with each other — and it has become a feeling I hope, wish, and challenge for everyone reading this to find.