The weekend I met myself in a field in West Sussex.
Hello, my name is Sarah. It’s really great to meet you.
I should probably start with an apology to anyone reading this, as I’m not really saying hello to you. I’m saying hello to me. I feel like something’s changed over the past few days and I’m kind of meeting myself properly for the first time. And I’m starting to realise that Sarah is a person I want to get to know. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m the best version of myself that there is! (*thanks to whoever said that this weekend).
This weekend I spent three days in a field with 150 strangers and it literally changed my life. I’ve done this sort of thing before because I love it … the self-development, the challenge, meeting new people … whether it’s a weekend Escaping to the Woods, or camping and marathon running in Uganda. It’s always been great. But nothing quite like this. Somehow this was different. The people, the place, the conversations, the timing — it all just worked for me on a different level. It was a challenge to even get to the Happy Startup Summercamp with crutches and a broken ankle, so I had to ask for help to even make it. I should have seen the rest coming really!
Almost straight away I was sharing my hopes and fears about the weekend with the kind stranger who’d offered to drive hours out of his way just to pick me up … and the scene was set. Only a couple of hours later I was in a tent staring into the same person’s eyes in a way that went from funny, to awkward, to creating an amazing connection in just 30 seconds.
But the first real ‘f*ck!’ moment (sorry, can’t think of any better way to describe it) came when we had to share our first heartbreak as part of the same storytelling workshop. I felt honoured and humbled to hear the stories shared with me and there was no going back from the level of openness and honesty instantly created between the three of us. When it was my turn, what hit me like a punch in the stomach was the realisation that my first real heartbreak was also the most recent. It was the most shattering and it was this year. As someone else put it so well, ‘shit was about to get real!’
However the looks of support and compassion that I got when I finally managed to make eye contact with my two sharing buddies made me realise it was OK. I felt safe, and even loved, by two complete strangers whose names I barely knew. Something changed at that moment as I started to open up to a vulnerability I’d always kept hidden, often defiantly so. The shutters were starting to lift.
That moment set the tone for the rest of the weekend, as we laughed, cried, sang, and danced like lunatics together at every possible opportunity. I have a strange schizophrenic relationship with karaoke as it’s one of my biggest fears that I love at the same time, but any event that starts each session with 150 people belting out David Bowie or the Frozen song together is a winner in my book! The whole experience was amazing — communal dining that made it feel like we were part of a giant family, camping under a full moon, a wood-fired hot tub, toasting marshmallows (along with the disco bunny) to more songs around the campfire, 7am mindful raves swinging in the sunshine — and all with a group of people who went from being strangers to friends and family overnight. I’d finally found my tribe!
The Happy Startup Summercamp is a place where it’s socially acceptable to hug strangers and cry in public … and in fact that’s actively encouraged. I love hugs. I need them. I crave both spiritual connections and physical closeness and hugs meet both of those needs, with the best kick of serotonin you could wish for. [I haven’t yet worked out how to keep this element of the weekend going, but I fully intend to and am always up for suggestions!]
The hugs and the tears turned out to be exactly what I needed right now. I’ve spent 40 years being fiercely strong and independent, whatever was chucked at me, and it turns out that’s hard. And that I actually don’t like it. Breaking my ankle has been the catalyst to make me slow down (although my doctors and I disagree on this one!), take stock and start to ask for help. You can’t avoid being slightly vulnerable when you’re unable to leave the house or make a cup of tea without someone else’s help. However it turns out that my ankle isn’t the only thing that needs healing right now, although it may have been the trigger that starts to turn things around. Maybe feeling that immense heartbreak also served to show me what I really want and I can use all this to get to know the real Sarah — the deep core that nobody, even myself, has really been allowed to explore until now.
At first I thought I was looking for clarity and direction this weekend, but in the words of my inner microbe (you had to be there!), my real need was to cry. As predicted, admitting to that in public made it immediately self-fulling. But the hands and souls that reached out when I did that made it seem OK. The crying I really need is the full, body-shaking, from the gut kind, not just the still-controlled tears in the tent, but that was a start. [Self-love note: you’ve had this nailed for 40 years, it’s going to take more than 72 hours to get to where you need and want to be!]
I don’t think “I haven’t stopped crying, it’s been amazing!” is the kind of testimonial Lawrence and Carlos were looking for, but it’s true :) The light has come on and the Happy Startup Summercamp has started to provide the clarity, direction and also physical and spiritual fixing my body and mind so desperately need right now.
The weekend was like an emotional washing machine but I would do it all again tomorrow. It was tough at times. Shit got real. I cried. I said “F*CK!” … a lot! But I’m also smiling, inside and outside, and I feel a new sense of peace and happiness as part of my new tribe.
Someone told me I had a big heart.
Someone told me I was beautiful.
Someone told me they wanted to be my friend.
And in response to each of those I did what every good HSSC-er does — I smiled, cried and hugged them! Take me back to the barn — it really did change my life!
So apologies, Sarah, for not having met you sooner, but hopefully this is just the start of a beautiful relationship. You are worth getting to know. You are fucking awesome!