I only ever went on one school camp, that I can remember. It was when I was about 15 years old and in year 10. Our grade of about 300 students traveled up from Adelaide to stay in cabin accommodation in the South Australian Flinders Ranges. The highlight of our week was to be a climb to the top of the highest point in the Ranges, St. Mary's Peak.
I was worried leading up to the day we were to make the climb. I was very skinny back then, and not particularly strong. I was afraid that I might embarrass myself in front of all the other students by being too weak to make it to the top. The teachers took us to a hill near our camp on the day before the climb, as a kind of practice. I remember making it only part of the way up before I sat down, puffing, feeling exhausted, and quite hopeless about my prospects for the next day.
The climb up St. Mary's began with a gentle walk for the first few kilometres. We were in single file, and I wasn't doing well from the first. I was about two thirds of the way back in the line of students and teachers, and failing fast. It didn't look as if I would get very far. So - I put on a big burst of strength in order to pass all of the people in front of me, until I reached the front of the line. Eventually, I was one of only nine people to reach the top of the mountain, and was the only girl or woman to get there.
It was good to stand on the peak and spend some moments enjoying the view. It was wonderful to know that I had achieved the goal, and had not dropped out along the way. Surprising that so many had. More than that though, I learned a lesson that has helped me out many times since.
I have no doubt that had I stayed back in the line, I would have failed to get very far. By getting out in front of the crowd, the rest of the line seemed to propel me forward, actually bolstering me with the strength I needed to get to the top. I realize that everyone is different - that perhaps line position would not have been so pivotal in importance to others. But it was for me. Why? It just seemed easier when I could see the goal ahead clearly, and did not feel that I was being held back by anyone, or that I had to travel at someone else's pace. It was easier to be succeeding than it would have been to be failing.
I was reminded of my experience with this some years later, when I read the story of 'The Five Dollar Lawn', as retold by Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone in Conference, 1973. If you would like to read it the story is here.
I really love that story! It seems to echo my own experience, and now my belief, that we have to aim for the highest and the best if we hope to succeed with the best of what we have in ourselves; that failure comes more often from setting our sights too low rather than from aiming too high.
A good brother in a Sunday School class questioned whether aiming for perfection is just too daunting for some. I think that not aiming for perfection is much more so! I believe that we are children of God, and that eventual perfection is our true and natural endowment.
To achieve that end, I believe in my heart that we need generally to ask more of ourselves, not less.
(This is a reprint)