What Girl Scouts Could Teach You

Life lessons learned in a weekend.

I was a ten-year-old Junior Girl Scout. It was one of my first trips away from home without my parents or siblings, and we had arrived at our campsite.

For weeks we had been preparing for the trip learning about fire safety, the buddy system, layering clothing, and how to pack using your sleeping bag. We’d planned out meals and learned about leaving no trace. The months leading up to the big event had us earning badges by sewing dunk bags and sit upons, and we raised money selling Girl Scout Cookies to purchase our very own mess kits which I have to tell you — to this day I think they are one of the coolest things ever.

There were perhaps a dozen of us with three leaders and this was a weekend of firsts. My first Girl Scout overnight camping adventure, my first tenting experience, my first time canoeing, and my first time using a dunk bag to wash my dishes. Toasting marshmallows on a stick over a roaring fire and singing campfire songs was the bonus.

Upon arrival, we all had tasks to do and paired off with a buddy.

It was all for one and one for all. While some girls set up the tents, others prepared our “kitchen and pantry,” and most of us were sent to gather wood. It was important to have the right combination to start the fire and keep feeding it, so off we went to gather tinder: tiny, thin, dry sticks and twigs, kindling: slightly larger dry sticks, branches, and twigs up to one or two inches in diameter and larger fuel from cut, fallen or split logs — as dry as possible.

That afternoon we went canoeing. This was a superb lesson in teamwork. We learned it didn’t matter how strong you were, if your partner couldn’t keep up you would always be off course. Moving forward meant learning the strengths of each other and finding a balance to get us headed where we wanted to go. Having three people in the canoe meant careful maneuvering as we changed positions, and taking turns was essential to keeping us all fresh and enjoying our adventure.

We ended up by a golf course. I can still remember the thousands of golf balls sitting on the floor of the sandy stream that we thought, if we fished them out, and dried them off, we could make millions. We came back with full canoes not knowing once a golf ball sits underwater it is no good to the golfer.

Children have possibilities flooding their minds all the time. Their imagination is the greatest tool. Ideas come at warp speed and they find a way to get it done, taking immediate action — never asking if it can be done or should be done, or caring what someone else might think of them. It is a lesson we should all take to heart.

We also learned that sometimes, no matter how hard you paddle you can’t paddle upstream. As dusk was making itself known we turned to go back to our campsite. The current was pulling so strong our best paddling efforts kept us in place, rather than moving forward. Sometimes you have to change course and attack a problem from a different angle.

It was then we learned about courage and risk-taking and who would panic and who would come up with a solution to something they had never done before.

I found out I was brave that day, as I hopped out and stepped into the muck, tall grass, and frigid chest-high water. As some of the girls and one of the leaders panicked thinking we were headed toward a waterfall and would be swept over it, I looked overboard and saw I could see the bottom.

I had no fear of swimming as some of the girls did. I had been doing it since I was a toddler. Along with one of the leaders, I began to pull two canoes upstream until the current lessened enough that each team could paddle the rest of the way.

I had seen the look of panic and tears and took steps to ensure the safety of my troop. From then on I was seen as a leader by my peers.

That night we had campfire stew and bug juice for dinner followed by s’mores. I loved sleeping in a tent, listening to the breeze blow in the tall pine trees, and hearing the night critters in the forest. Over the weekend we had foil packet dinners, scrambled eggs and bacon, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We learned silly campfire songs that I still sing to this day. (Barges, the Bug Juice song, Taps, the Billboard song, Something in my Pocket, Make New Friends, and Pink Pajamas.) Singing makes me happy.

As we broke down our tents and rolled up our sleeping bags to go home we were given two last duties. Litter patrol and Firewood patrol. “Go back to the woods and bring back firewood.” We looked at our leader in askance. We were leaving. We didn’t need any more firewood.

Some of the girls grumbled. Understandably we were all tired, maybe sore from scratching our mosquito bites, and were ready for our comfortable beds at home but we did what we were told to do.

When we had the wood stacked, and the campsite clear the leader asked us, “Remember when we arrived? There was no wood. Now when the next campers arrive, they will have a good start because of you. Always leave your campsite better than when you arrived.”

I’ve used that lesson the most. In every bit of life, I always try to leave the situation much better than when I arrived.

I’d love to hear your scouting lessons.

Raising the light quotient of humanity, one story at a time.

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