For two consecutive summers during high school, I went to the C-Bar-T Trail Ranch in Colorado. We rode horseback and camped for six weeks in Colorado’s national forests, traversing the Rockies from the Front Range just outside Denver to Grand Junction on the western slope. Resupplied by a chuck-wagon only occasionally, we were riding trail the entire time in wilderness terrain.
What an adventure and learning opportunity for a teenage boy!
At the time, I appreciated the experience as I was able: stunning natural beauty that impressed itself upon the senses from every direction; long, and often quite challenging days riding and walking; sometimes entire days spent above the tree line; occasional frighteningly steep slopes that the sure-footed trail animals took in stride; trails at altitudes that made me strain for oxygen; nights under the awesome and majestic canopy of the Milky Way; and the pleasure and sometimes challenge of making new, summer-long friends.
We camped nightly in pristine areas, and wrangled the horses in lush meadows, their reward for a day’s labor, watering them in lakes, streams, and rivers.
Cooperation and teamwork among the 30 or so campers and staff developed naturally, often driven by necessity, and the demands of wilderness travel accelerated the realization of group cohesion. Self-confidence grew as we learned, practiced, and then shared with each other our emerging riding, camping, and wilderness travel skills. And each of us, in our own ways and at our own pace, would lead from time to time–sometimes just our own thoughts or emotions, sometimes the group–as the situation required. All under the guiding hand, of course, of the senior staff.
Lessons learned then, some only superficially, have continued to unfold for me and, in fact, inform this very moment with renewed presence and insight.
One lesson shared by the camp leader was this: “Bring a stick to the fire.”
Now, upon making camp, duties were divided, and one essential duty was gathering downfall for the fire that would cook our shared meal, provide light and warmth as night fell, dry wet clothing, and fuel the fellowship that only a campfire can elicit.
Gathering firewood was a rotating task assigned to several; to others were assigned other camp duties.
However, regardless of our specific jobs in making camp, we were all taught–by instruction and example–to bring a stick to the fire and so to contribute to that from which we were to derive benefit and pleasure.
Bring a stick to the fire. It seems so obvious. Give before getting. Serve before being served. Contribute before asking for benefit. Take care to have something of value to offer before joining the campfire circle.
This lesson, so simple and practical at the time, has served me well in the ensuing years. The power of its beguiling simplicity is clearer to me now, and so is the ubiquity of its application.
A modern-day, networking application: Bring a stick to the fire. Bring something of value to your next networking event, something to give from your own life and experience.
Here is a counter-intuitive aspect of this practice: you may not know exactly what you are bringing to give away, but if you are fully present with the intent to give, you will find just the right “stick” to give away and just the right the moment, and way, to give it. It will arise from within you when your focus in on others. And thus will leap up the flame of deeply authentic networking.
I can’t tell you the number of times something has come into my awareness just in time for me to give it away: a referral, a pointer to a book or web site, or a bit of business news. And if it’s not something quite so specific, I can always bring a keen ear for listening, a curious mind toward others, a thought-provoking question, and a willingness to share from my experience.
And what precedes all of that is the intent, the mindset, the orientation to “bring a stick to the fire.”
May your networking fires burn brightly.