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Stu-Pendous Blog - Learning and Growing

These are the thoughts of speaker, author and camp director Stu Saunders.
For Stu’s original blog, you may still access his archives here.

  • What if this is it

    Feb 16, 2014

    I am not trying to be a pessimistic person. I don’t want to be controversial. I certainly do not want to offend you or anyone.

    But, here goes..

    What if this is it? What if, after we pass there is nothing more and your life is simply a collage of the choices, actions and interactions that you have had while you were on this planet. What if you have only one shot. Your life here on the Planet Earth. It’s not a fun thought I know. But I believe it should be a motivating one. We all need to embrace two things; one, YOU are responsible for you. Two, we are judged by our actions here and now. With every single person we meet each day. I mean every single person. Not just the ones that you deem important, likeable or helpful. The annoying child running in the store, the slow check out person at the grocery store, the tedious bank teller, the monotone school teacher, the co-worker that frustrates us, the boss that sometimes seems unreasonable. Everyone. What if you took those opportunities to make the world a better place by treating everyone and everything with love, kindness and respect? Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? I have only a few BIG goals in life. At camp we call them FLAG’s; Fearless Life Altering Goals.

    1. Leave the planet a better place for my children and their children.
    2. Be ridiculously kind
    3. Create a ripple
    4. Celebrate the beauty around me.

    If I do this I think that I will have lived a good life. I will confidently know that when someone mentions my name there is a smile that radiates from those that hear “Do you know Stu?”.
    If I do this then if there is some Universal greater power, God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha or whomever you believe in, he/she/it will judge me by my work, my actions and interactions. Not by the symbol on a chain around my neck or the idle wishes and demands that I have made upon a higher power. In the end you are a mirror image of your choices.

    Today, pretend that you can change the world. Not for a backstage pass to the ever-after. Because you know that it’s the right here and now that matters. You can be a positive impact on that.

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Leadership Family Life Learning and Growing Motivation on Feb 16, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permanent Link | Comments (0)

  • Because you made me smile

    Apr 21, 2013

    So here I am, sitting in the Denver Airport enjoying a nice Thai lunch. This morning came early, much earlier than most. I was up at 2:30 am for an early morning flight out of Detroit. My final destination is North Dakota for their annual State Students’ Council Conference and State National Honor Society Conference. I am not the biggest fan of traveling. Mind you, it’s probably because I used to do it a lot. I used to be on the road 4 months of the year. Living in hotels, eating at restaurants and sitting in big metal tubes (airplanes if you are confused by the reference). I used to get grumpy after being on the road for a week or more. I would miss my kids, the comfort of my own bed, home cooked meals and the familiarity of my local haunts.

    One things I did to battle the down times was to try and bring people up. I made it my goal to make as many people as I could laugh, feel good or simply smile. I would shoot for the prize in every meeting. What was the “prize”? Simply someone someone saying, “You made my day!”. I would take any variance of that statement.

    Today, while waiting in line to check into my United Airlines flight, I asked the agent if I could tell her a joke. She looked kind of semi-interested. So I proceeded…

    “Why do I Easter Eggs hide?” I asked.

    “Why?” she replied.

    “Because they’re a little chicken.” I answered.

    She laughed out loud and said, “Helen! Come hear this! This is your type of pun!”

    I then rhymed off four more jokes. By the end of my “set”, I had 4 employees around laughing and sharing their equally cheesy jokes.

    As Dorothy (the gate agent) handed me my tickets, she smiled and said “I upgraded you sweetie, no charge.”

    When I asked why? She simply replied. “Because you made me smile! Far too many grumpy people on the planet these days.”.

    It doesn’t take much to change someone’s day. Yet the VAST majority of people don’t do it! We keep to ourselves, judge others without hearing a word spoken from their mouths. We look down, avoid eye contact. I have a simple rule…

    “If you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.”

    I challenge you to be kind today! Why? We gotta start changing things. Each of us, every day in small ways.

    If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.
    - Mother Teresa

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Leadership Learning and Growing on Apr 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permanent Link | Comments (2)

  • Gone but not forgotten

    Mar 7, 2013

    I turned the corner to the entrance, the same road that I would ride that big yellow school bus as a camp counsellor. When you made that turn, if you were good, you knew exactly when to start. You would time it so when Bus 3 rounded the corner and entered the main camp you would be in full voice. All 40 kids screaming the camp song. It became a battle between buses. Kids would talk about that days winner around the flagpole.

    “Bus 3 was the loudest!” one young boy would announce. His statement met with jeers from the Bus 6 line! “Bus 6 can’t be beat!” , they would reply! The battle would go on all summer.

    I closed my eyes… I could hear the roar of the young campers as their excitement grew. This was my camp, their camp. It was a pride of exceptional levels!

    I opened my eyes to look down the camp entrance… gone. The trees and grass and wild flowers over grew the once well travelled path. I trekked down the road, hoping to see some of my past, where I grew up. As I turned the corner into main camp… nothing. The kitchen, brownie lodge, south lodge, the directors cabin, the flagpole… gone. There wasn’t a trace. Like nothing ever existed. Decades of childhood memories had become just that. Memories. I looked for anything to touch, to hold, to look at… all gone. It felt like I had dreamt all of those summer stories.

    I walked down to the waterfront, the path so overgrown I got a little lost through the forest, the same woods that I could navigate in the pitch black without hesitation. I had to hike along the lake to find the waterfront area. I did get there, but it was nothing anymore, just a few feet of sand. Drift wood covered the once large beach area, weeds filled in the holes.

    I closed my eyes again. I could hear splashing, laughing, people swimming, I could hear my counsellor telling us it was time to canoe, to learn a new stroke, the J, the C… quiet now, gone but not forgotten. As I walked up the old service road I finally found a piece of the past. A couple of old archery stands, fallen over now covered in Moss. There was the proof. I was there and so were thousands of other kids over those 40 or so years. I became a good person there. My mom made a choice so many years ago. Send Stuart to camp. I went. It made me in part who I am today.

    I heard the words of another camp director who retired earlier this year. He said, “I wanted to retire while I still loved what I did.”
    I still do love it. I was missing something though… I regained it back at that old waterfront. The innocence, the fun, the purity of it all. I truly hope that the thousands of campers that have been part of YLCC over the last 20 years will have such strong warm memories so that when they close their eyes they can remember the good, the laughter and the friendships.

    My old camp is gone, but it will never be forgotten. As I drove away, I thought of what it was, how it could all just disappear. Hard to understand. When I reached the top of the road I noticed an arrow nailed to a post. The arrow with the camps name on it was pointing to the direction of the camp… the camp that no longer exists. I stopped my car and got out. I looked up at the sign and jumped up to grab it. I pulled it off that pole and held it. I needed that sign more then the old camp did. The last physical proof that the camp ever existed is now gone. I will put it up at my camp. That way I can see it everyday, so I can remember why it is that I do what I do.

    Summer camp is one of the last true places a kid can be a kid. Please consider a real, authentic camp experience this summer. It will help make your child (or you) better. I know it did for me.

    By the way, I still think that Bus 3 was the loudest.

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Leadership Family Life Learning and Growing YLCC on Mar 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permanent Link | Comments (10)

  • Tribal Love

    Nov 27, 2012

    I am sitting in the Dusseldorf Airport and enjoying my last European Kaffee before I head home to Canada. I have had the most wonderful trip! In fact this, my fifth time in 14 months has been the best. I feel as if I have a new home away from home. You see here in Germany I get to spend time with Euro/Canadians. I work with the Canadian Military Families Service. I get to travel far from home and arrive at home. It’s interesting. I know that I am a person that has had the ability to thrive alone, as a single individual in the woods at camp through long, cold and bitter winters. Many days just spent inside with a tea and book or bundled up under blankets with a good movie. I know that I can survive. I have done it for 9 winters. Not always alone, but most. Recently I realized that I need people. Maybe it’s because I am getting older and wanting to be surrounded with conversation, laughter and friendship.

    While I was here in Europe for this last week I get to come back to friends. I went for dinner with a group of people the other day that are warm, fun and kind. I sat at the end of the table, where I like to. The head of the table. I don’t choose that spot because I want to be in charge or feel in a place of dominance. I sit there so I can see everyone. I don’t even need to be part of the conversation. I get to see, to watch the tribe of friends laugh and share together. I feel relaxed. It makes me like I am part of something.

    I work with lots of young amazing people. I think I feel younger than most people my age because of my surroundings. There is however a certain amount of comfort in being part of a Tribe of people closer to my stage in life. I miss that. I love it.

    Research shows that humans that surround themselves with people, good people, thrive and are happier. It is called the “Tribal Need”. You can debate me on it. That’s ok. But overwhelming research proves that most people need something to belong to. I know I do. So make an effort to surround yourself with good people. Ones that bring you up, challenge you, encourage you, love you. You will live a longer, fuller and more happy life.

    “You are who you have coffee with.” - Robin Sharma

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Leadership Family Life Learning and Growing Motivation on Nov 27, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permanent Link | Comments (4)

  • Hope

    Nov 23, 2012

    I have a friend, she has cancer. Stage 4. She is currently kicking the crap out of it. I have never met a more positive person. I try and spend a day or two a week with her. Not for her, for me. I mean yes, I go to be supportive, loving and show my friendship, but I get more from the visits than she does. I think.

    When she talks about her Chemo, she is excited. “It’s so good!” she says. “I am embracing it with love and joy!”

    When I look at her with a perplexed look as if to say, “Really? Love and Joy? Chemo?” She always replies, “Of course, I have to. What else is there to do?”

    This her third go-around with Cancer and she is always maintained her positivity. This is not new to her. Her Chemo is intense, every week for 14 weeks. She is always fashionable with the coolest and cutest hats to hide her hair loss. She puts on a warm smile and usually has a fun story to go with each hat of which she has dozens from the last Chemo 4 years ago. I love her attitude. It’s infectious.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. She would trade everything for being healthy, not having Cancer. She is however, hopeful.


    A doctor, while discussing her prognosis, told her he didn’t want to give her “false hope”. To which she replied, “Please do give me all the false hope you want. What else is there!”

    She’s not delusional, she’s not being ignorant. She is however clinging to those four letters, that one word. Hope.

    Isn’t amazing that the smallest things, the simplest ideas have sometimes the most amazing and powerful impact? Like 4 letter words. Even the bad ones, have four letters. Here’s my list of my favourite 4 letter words:


    and of course.. LOVE.

    If we lived each day with those words as a check list. An inventory of our our attitude, the world would be better because we would be better.

    Today I am hopeful and better because I know that each of us has the ability to be better. Everyday.

    Will you?

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Goal Setting Learning and Growing Motivation on Nov 23, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permanent Link | Comments (4)

  • Kindness is key

    Sep 24, 2012

    My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
    - Dalai Lama

    Years ago I wrote in my journal the following line. “Be the kindest person you can be and the world will come to you.”

    This was my way of trying to re-boot my attitude. It worked for awhile. I really was always kind. At least I tried. The world is full of negativity, jealousy and anger. It’s easy. It’s what we read about on the internet news sites and in papers. What we hear on television or the radio. It’s what sells. People are drawn to drama and drama tends to be negative. Kindness sadly isn’t sexy.

    It’s not easy. It’s never easy. I mean most of us want to be kind but think about it. How we react to people, how we speak to people. Our body language and what we say or snap at someone. I know I am not perfect. I try to be nice to all, but I am not. It’s a work in progress. Every day, all the time.

    This summer one of our awesome counsellors at camp made the comment, “Sarcasm is like swearing”. Brilliant. It’s true. When you throw a sarcastic comment back at someone you are saying, “I want to steal your light!” It’s a low form of self gratitude. The old “look at me” mentality.

    Now, please don’t get me wrong. I don’t like everyone I meet, I don’t agree with many people. I don’t chose to accept everyone’s choices. But and it’s a big but, I don’t have to ridicule or be hurtful.

    Now, if you choose to take on the kindness lifestyle remember this. People will start to watch you. Start to judge you. You can’t be a kind person with hopes of “getting” something. That’s not why you do it. At least it shouldn’t be. It should only be because like in camping you want to leave a place or a person better than you found them.

    I can imagine if more people chose kindness over sarcasm, pessimism, negativity and those hurtful jokes we would probably be a happier society. I know it’s idealistic and probably a little naive. But as my mom said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say… SHUT UP!”

    Be kind today. Try it, you may be surprised at what you get back.


    Posted by Stu Saunders in Leadership Learning and Growing Motivation on Sep 24, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permanent Link | Comments (3)

  • The Resolution Bug

    Sep 18, 2012

    So recently I was hit with a brutal flu bug. Knocked me down for about 12 days. In fact I am still recovering. During this time I was completely emptied of everything. My energy was zapped. I lied in bed for days. I even had my mom come and spend a few days with me to make sure I was not falling down the stairs! It was nice to have her and my dad here, it’s not fun being sick all alone. Everyday I would hope that, that was going to be the day I would feel better. I would start to feel “normal” again. But, I didn’t. As I lied in bed, unable to focus on reading or watching a movie because I had a splitting headache, I would think. I started to plan for all the things I would do if I wasn’t sick. How would I live that day differently if I was able to jump out of bed?

    I made myself a mental list of all of these resolutions that I would make. Getting back on track, making plans, working on my daily routine, eating better, wasting less time. When I finally got better I made my plan, I had been thinking of it for days and days. I decided that Monday would be my New Year’s day. That would be my start. I did it! I got up, I worked, I felt great. My routine was mine. I felt in control. At the end of the day, I went to bed satisfied and truly happy. Having that bug was like a chance to re-boot.

    So often we don’t make the changes in our life we need because we are waiting for some big event to start like a New Year. Why not make each Monday your New Year? You could start fresh each week, each month, each season. You can add something small or stop something you know you need to stop. Make fresh choices, make those small goals. Today could be the day that you celebrate the beginning of a New Year. Yours.

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Goal Setting Leadership Learning and Growing Motivation on Sep 18, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permanent Link | Comments (1)

  • The gloam

    Aug 31, 2012

    I am still trying to absorb the 20th summer of YLCC.

    I am sitting in my kitchen at my big island with a cup of coffee. It’s really good coffee, unlike camp coffee that is really bad. I miss it though. The camp coffee. I miss the rush to the coffee pot and the hustle around the tea station every morning. It’s the sign of a new day. New camp opportunities about to unfold for hundreds of amazing young campers and enthusiastic staff.

    Now, I leisurely stroll downstairs, brew my coffee and read the morning news. There is no one asking me any questions, no 7:55 staff meetings, no good mornings from campers, no tight bright outfits from Ash Baer and Larry. There is not theme for my day. No fun announcements and no house point updates. Sadly, there is less reflection.

    Yes as camp ended last Saturday after 12 weeks (8 in Orillia and 4 at Pigeon Lake) and I hung up my name tags for another year. I was full of mixed emotions. Full of pride, joy, sadness and a bit of relief. Yes, I was relieved. It has been a long twenty years. I am so proud of the accomplishment. The fact that truly YLCC could of ended SO many times in the past. There are at least 5 distinct times when it was close. Where I was faced with a hard choice. Sometimes, I was stubborn and just said no, I am not ready to give up. Other times, someone swooped and helped me in the form an ORNJ. I never thought I would be doing this two decades later. Never.

    Camp is a young persons game. I am now in my forties, the opposite of young. I am not saying I am old, just not young. As I looked out over my staff on the last day as we sat in a circle on the floor of the dining hall. I realized that that was me. I was that age when I started all of this. When I turned to my friend Andrew and said I want to run a summer camp for leaders. Luckily for me, there was Andrew who was organized, Ian who loved to make manuals and Dwayne who had more business sense then the three of us combined. So it happened. It was a little magic, set in to action 20 years ago.

    On the final night of camp, Larissa, our amazing Assistant Camp Director and Kaila, our equally amazing Pigeon Lake Summer Camp Director put together a video to honour the 20 years of YLCC. There were so many familiar faces from the past. One in particular hit me hard. Jen Martyniuk a former camper and amazing counsellor from way back at camp sylvan. She was in Australia and she had her little baby running around her. When she spoke I teared up. Jen was just a kid when I met her. Doing the famous “Pinecone Stomp”, running around with such camp spirit. Now, she is a mom. She said something that resonated with me. She said, “I hope camp is around in 10 years so I can send this one to camp!”

    I hope so too. The challenge is, finding that camp joy for me. Jen reminded me of a time when camp was, for me, fun. When I ran sessions, knew all the campers names and I played. These days, I find myself dealing with septic tank issues, building permits, leaky buildings, angry parents, budgets, two very old facilities and through all of this trying to be a dad to three amazing children. Not to mention the amount of amazing people that pass through my life, I get close to and then disappear. Plus I have lost some great friends too. Those parts of running a camp are hard. It’s like I stand still and watch a very long movie. Some say it’s no different than being a teacher. I disagree. Only because some of these campers and staff come to camp when they are 11 and leave when they are in their twenties. We don’t spend a class a day together, we spend 24 hours a day together, we live together, we eat together, we cheer, celebrate, learn and cry together. They become part of your family. Maybe, more accurately, in some ways they become your family.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I love my camp more than almost anything in the world. It reaches more children then I ever could of imagined. this year with school programs it’s over 10,000 people. That’s bigger than any other leadership development program in Canada. That’s awesome. I am truly grateful to the amazing staff that work so hard and have made YLCC their own. It actually makes me get emotional when I see these amazing young leaders have such passion for a camp that I started SO long ago.

    So as we are already being overwhelmed with registrations for 2013 and the new camp flyer will soon be in the works. I sit back and summarize my summer in 3 words. Proud, grateful and hopeful.

    Thanks to every camper, staff member and parent that has not only kept YLCC going but has helped it flourish beyond my wildest dreams. Here’s to 20 years!

    I actually want a camp coffee right now. wink

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Family Life Learning and Growing Motivation YLCC on Aug 31, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permanent Link | Comments (4)

  • The instant

    Aug 8, 2012

    People come and go in our lives. Experiences happen every single second. Within each hour of each day there are an unimaginable number of moments that can change not only the direction of our day, week, year but our entire life.

    Have you ever been stuck in a funk. Riding on the bitter bus, in the back, you know back there by yourself? I have. I have been there plenty. The challenge is getting off the bus. It’s not easy, it’s not for everyone. I believe that most of us ride that bus most days. Wishing. Wanting. Waiting. You get in that poisonous routine of living the same day, every day. Where the only excitement is getting out to a movie to see anything but our own lives unfold in front of us.

    Continuously hoping for something, someone or some perfect time for it all to change. Many of us never change or try so we get stuck in a rut, that life long bus pass on the public transit system called everyday life. The “right conditions” do present themselves to us.

    Then there are the select few that stop or more realistically re-focus their lens not on the past or present but the continuous opportunity that the future holds. The future doesn’t have to be 1 year from now or 5, it could be the next hour of your drive, the conversation over dinner, the call or letter you choose to write. The thank you haven’t given, the gratitude that makes someone else smile or in-turn give back.

    What if we judged our life not on number of years lived, degrees received, accolades given to us, bank balance or waist size. Instead, we chose to judge, no, celebrate our lives based on the day that we are living now. Are we the best or highest version of ourselves? Are we being the kindest and most giving person we could be? If not, why not?

    So I guess we (and I include myself in this idea), need to shift from wishing, wanting and waiting to living life fully right now. Do something right now. When you finish reading this. Post a comment and tell me what you will do. In then next 60 minutes. It’s a challenge and I from the bottom of my heart implore you to try.

    I believe that life, the direction, focus and feel of it can change in an instant. This one.

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Leadership Learning and Growing Motivation on Aug 8, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permanent Link | Comments (9)

  • Simply Now

    Mar 8, 2012

    Today, choose to marvel, bask, and celebrate the beautiful things and people around you. There will always be something in your life you’d rather avoid or escape. The place you’re trying to get to, though, lives and breathes right here, right now. Life is STUpendous. Live here and now not somewhere else and some other time.

    Sometimes we need a challenge to feel like we are doing something or moving somewhere. There needs to be a goal. We are always reaching for something else. The next step. We only see the palace over the hill. In the distance. We spend all of our lives dreaming of being in the castle. What the marble floors must look like, the gardens, the high ceilings, the gold chandeliers. We can picture it. Then we say we can’t. it’s not where we are now, it’s too hard. Not from where we are in life we are living. We must look all around us and celebrate the life here and now. Once you accept that the next step is always forward.

    So today marvel indeed, celebrate the true beauty around you. Start with the reflection that is looking back at you.

    Posted by Stu Saunders in Learning and Growing Motivation on Mar 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permanent Link | Comments (1)

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