Business owners learn to choose their own adventures every day

By JJ Rosen July 13, 2023
Business owners learn to choose their own adventures every day

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

“Gone to bed is the setting sun. Night is coming and day is done.

Whippoorwill. Whippoorwill…has just begun. “

Say it isn’t so. For generations of Nashvillians there’s something missing this summer.

For the first time in 50 years of summer fun, the beloved Whippoorwill Farm and Day Camp is quiet. Our traditional end-of-day song has been sung for the last time.

No more horseback riding, creek hikes, roof ball games, rappelling, water fights, cookouts, or swimming in the pond. The canoes and kayaks are packed away, and the arts-and-crafts shack is empty.

After five decades, the Gregory family who started the camp just outside of Nashville in Fernvale, Tenn., decided it was time to give the land back to the critters and plants that graciously shared the farm with thousands of kids for so many years.  It’s a well-deserved retirement for a family that’s done so much for so many.

My first summer going to Whippoorwill was in 1976 when I was barely 6 years old.  I remember being nervous as my mom dropped me off at the bus stop with dozens of other kids I didn’t know.

After a 30-minute ride where the counselors led us through a beautiful rendition of the classic camp song “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” (OK, it was the ’70s) we drove through the creek, unloaded and made our way to the “council ring” to start the day.

I was immediately struck by how a day at camp was so different than a day at school.

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At school, from kindergarten on there was always a lot of structure.  We were told when it was time to learn, when it was time to play, and when it was time to take a nap. School felt comfortable and predictable—I liked it.

But camp?  It was the exact opposite.

Every day started by signing up for anything you wanted to do. Every camper from the 6-year-olds to the seventh-graders could sign up for “interest groups” allowing us kids to choose our own adventures for the entire summer.

The first day I chose horseback riding, crawdad fishing, and zip-lining.  The next day I did some tree climbing, rock skipping, and playing in the mud.

Little did I know, Whippoorwill was not only fun, but it was preparing me for life as a business owner where choosing your own adventure is a skill in itself.

Unlike at school, which almost by necessity requires a degree of structure, life after graduation is more like life at camp.  The predictability of a set schedule gives way to a series of choices that we each make all on our own.

Just like at camp, in the work world, choosing your path starts early.

Go to college, or jump right into a career?  Major in something you’re interested in, or something practical?  Take a job at an established company, or get involved with a startup?

And then once you get settled into a job, no matter how much structure an organization has, the unpredictable nature of business can be more reminiscent of camp than school. At Whippoorwill I had to choose my interest groups each day. And at work, I must choose what I should focus on each day to help our company.

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So, like many generations of Nashvillians, I will miss Whippoorwill.  It taught me how to be comfortable with a bit of chaos, and it gave me the confidence to make my own decisions.   And it made those lessons fun.

Even with the camp winding down after so many years, I am grateful that every day at work feels like our camp song, “Whippoorwill has just begun.”

 JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville custom software development firm and IT support company. Visit Atiba.com for more info.

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