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5 Leadership Lessons from 5 Months Living in a Camper

  • John UpChurch
  • 2015 10 Feb
5 Leadership Lessons from 5 Months Living in a Camper

When my wife and I decided to let our lease expire, we really had no idea that we'd spend the next five months crammed into a camper. But there we were—two vivacious little redheads, two parents, and one Shih-Tzu in less than 500 square feet. Some gracious friends opened the doors of their fifth-wheel RV and welcomed us to their farm. We accepted while we searched for our next adventure.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. After you've gotten used to a giant water heater and spacious shower, hurrying to wash before the last drop of propane-heated goodness slips away takes some adjustment. Learning to walk without shaking the whole camper and waking up your sleeping children does, too.

But we made it... and we’ve grown more as a family in that five months than perhaps at any other time in our lives. Really, we had to.

What I’ve realized most is that being forced into very unique and challenging conditions either makes you grow or takes you down.

We chose growth, and here’s what we learned:

1. Give it up.

Honestly, my pride got in the way well before we made the transition. Rather than just accepting when we first got the offer, I extended our lease a month and made the whole thing drag out longer than it should have because I didn’t want to be a guy living in a camper. The whole extra month at our old house ended up being stressful on all of us.

Sometimes, you have to let go of your “comfortable” things because they’re no longer working. Pride and fear will tell you to keep at it, but doing so will cause more damage in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to kill something that’s no longer working. You’ll do more damage by hanging on.

2. Make more from less.

We had to be very picky about what we took with us into the camper life. All the things you take for granted in a house won’t work when you’ve got a closet that holds no more than 15 shirts... if you cram them in. Deciding what would make the cut and what wouldn’t was tough, but we had to. And honestly, we got it wrong and reshuffled a few times.

In projects you’ve got tons of choices about what to make fit, but not everything works. Be fearless in cutting and clearing out the clutter, and be just as fearless about admitting mistakes and reshuffling.

“No” and “I was wrong” are your friends.

3. Lean in.

If my wife and I hadn’t been equally committed to making a camper work, there’s no way it would have. Without much space or privacy, any resentment would have quickly exploded. We both leaned into this experiment as a necessary step toward our goals.

On a team, you don’t need tight spaces to cause friction. You just need people. As a leader, you must sell the vision first so that your team knows why they’re struggling together to make something great. Otherwise, they’ll be struggling against each other.

4. Trust those around you.

My two girls have grown up right in front of my eyes the last five months. They’ve come to realize that life is much more than the house we live in and that our family has to work together to thrive. And I’ve been learning to trust them with new responsibilities. It’s hard (mostly because I don’t want to believe they’re growing up), but letting them take on more has helped us all.

As a leader, letting others take off on their own can be tough—especially if you’ve been guiding them for a long time. But if you’ve surrounded yourself with those smarter than you (and you should have), then a challenging situation may be the very thing that helps them reach a new level.

5. Enjoy where you are.

I never thought I would miss a camper. But, to be honest, I’ve got some great memories of snuggling (very close) as a family on the couch to watch a movie and making a tent out of the dining table/bed. We made the most of our time there, and we’ll definitely laugh about it later.

You aren’t always going to like where you are in the process of leading. Some parts just don’t have that creative sizzle. But you can make the most of what’s happening if you commit yourself to enjoying the people you work with and learning from every experience.