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I’ve just finished working at four summer camps, three of which are through a nonprofit organization called YEA Camp. YEA Camp stands for Youth Empowered Action and the camps are designed to help aspiring activists make a bigger difference on causes they care about.

I’ve learned so much from my time at YEA Camp that will be shared in a future blog post, but for right now, I want to talk about one very important concept YEA Camp taught me: Guardian.

How many times a day do we put ourselves down? How many times a day do we say something to ourselves that we would never say to someone else?

And it isn’t always a huge dramatic put down. Sometimes it’s something you might overlook like:

  • Ugh my hair is such a mess!

  • I can’t believe I forgot to send that email; I’m such an idiot!

  • Oh, you know I’m not good at math!

At camp, all of those would be met with a single word response: “Guardian.”

As legend has it: One year, the campers noticed a lot of negative self-talk amongst their peers and they came up with a solution: meowing. Anytime someone would say something negative about themselves, the other campers would start meowing. It’s hard to argue against a chorus of meowing teenagers.

Nevertheless, a tradition was born and each session, campers would pick a word to draw attention to or call out the negative self-talk. Finally, in an effort to synthesize this concept, the camp staff decided they needed to pick one word.

That year, one of the campers was a member of a suicide awareness and peer support group at their school called the “Guardian Club.” Guardian was born.

The idea of Guardian is that you aren’t arguing back. For example, take a typical conversation:

“I feel like such a failure. I can’t believe I messed that up!”

“You’re not a failure!”

“Yes, I am!”

End scene. Not a lot is accomplished by this, yes? And yet it’s our natural reaction to refute what our friends and family say if it comes from a place of negativity.

That’s the magic of Guardian. You can’t argue a Guardian.

“I feel like such a failure. I can’t believe I messed that up!”


“Okay, but like…”

Okay, so it isn’t pure magic. But after working at three sessions of camp, I’ve seen its super power. I’ve had my fellow staff and even campers “Guardian” me for things I didn’t realize I was saying. It makes you take a step back and think about what you just said. There are the obvious things but then there are smaller things like the self-deprecating jokes that, when called out in a quiet “Guardian” manner, make you think about things a little differently.

In between two of the camp sessions, I was sitting with a dear friend who was going through some emotional stuff. They were feeling pretty down on themselves and as they said things about themselves that they would never say to someone else, I found myself biting my tongue on Guardian.

At the next session of camp, I was relaying that to another counselor and saying how all I wanted to do was say “Guardian” but they wouldn’t know what I was talking about. That’s when my counselor friend looked at me and said, “why don’t you bring ‘Guardian’ into life outside of camp?”

Duh! That was stupid of me! Why hadn’t I thought of that?!


This is my challenge to you: The next time you hear someone talking poorly of themselves, say Guardian. They’ll be confused and that’s okay. Send them this blog post. Explain. Tell them they can’t argue a Guardian. And leave it at that.

The world is tough sometimes. So is life. And the simple fact is there will always be people or systems or just plain “stuff” in your way that is making everything more difficult for you. Don’t be one of those things. We need you on your own side. We’re on your side. And when you catch yourself wanting to say something bad about yourself, picture us saying “Guardian.”

Love always,


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