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5 Things I Learned at Camp Grounded

15 Jul


In June I spent three weeks working as a camp counselor at Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults in the redwoods of northern California, where we don’t use digital technology, we don’t talk about work, and we call people by camp nicknames instead of their real names. As someone who spends a lot of time on his digital devices and a lot of time using social media for work, the experience was profound and I learned a lot more from watching 700 adults with names like Popcorn, Bubbles, Big Spoon, Shtetl Fabulous, Sea Monkey, and Ladybug, become their best selves, than I could have ever learned from checking my Facebook feed twenty times a day. Here are a few life lessons I learned at camp that I’m trying to incorporate back into my technology-prone daily life in San Francisco.

1. Take time

We’re always moving, we’re always going somewhere, we’re always doing something, we’re always busy. We’re busy being busy but we’re rarely busy just being. At camp I spent a lot of time taking time. I spent a lot of time doing well, nothing, and in turn, saw everything. The tall redwoods towering above me, swaying in the wind. The late afternoon sunlight pouring through the redwoods making my eyes squint and my heart expand. The luminous moon (Oh luminous moon!) smiling down from her throne. The birds chirping love songs to each other. The ice-cold river passing over my feet, leaving me invigorated. The ding a typewriter makes when you finish typing a line, as if to say, “FUCK YOU INNER-CRITIC! Keep writing you incredible warrior, keep writing!” The sound of the piano playing and the guitar being strummed and the beautiful voices singing. The taste of food when you’re considering every bite and how blessed you are to be eating it. The crackling of the fire giving you warmth.

Take time—especially in the moments when you are alone—to breathe. To look at the world around you instead of your phone. It’s these moments when you have nothing to do—when you’re waiting for the bus or waiting in line to buy a coffee—when time sort of stops and says, “Well, you’re alone now, this is kind of awkward, I guess you should check Instagram,”—that make up much of our lives. When you take time to take time you remember why you’re here.

2. Get weird first 

There are people in this life who always do what they are told and there are people who question what they are told and do whatever the fuck they want. I want to be around people who do whatever the fuck they want—who decide not to wear a shirt, who wear a tutu for underwear, who paint their face, who shave lines into their hair, who jump butt-naked into an ice cold frozen river in the morning, who wear onesies to breakfast (and to dinner), who scream when they feel like it, who blow bubbles in the morning, who throw chairs in the sky for no reason, who sing songs even though they don’t know a single word of the song—these people make me feel alive. They make me feel like I belong. When you get weird you inspire others to get weird too—and when everyone is weird, everyone is themselves—and when everyone is themselves, everyone is perfect.

3. Make eye contact

The default way of talking to someone is to look past them and scan the room for someone more interesting or more attractive. This is rude. It’s also unwise since each person we meet may share wisdom that inspires us or changes our perspective on life. When you make eye contact you are actually listening to someone—you are validating their reason for being and they in turn will value yours. When you look down at your phone when you meet someone, you are communicating that the Gmail notification you just received (alerting you that your Bank of America statement is now available online) is more important than a human being’s heart. Treat every person like they’re a beautiful person that has something precious to teach you—because they most definitely are.

4. Your job (however cool or shitty) does not define you

Society likes to box people by their name or ethnicity or where they live or what they do or how much money they make. A person is not a box to be checked off in an annual census. A person cannot be defined by labels or prejudices or guesses or judgements. At camp we don’t call people by their real names, we also don’t talk about what they do for work. So when you meet Uncle Freckles, you are not thinking “Oh, they work at Google, they must be like so and so,” or “They run a startup non-profit, they must be like so and so,” or “They’re unemployed and broke, they must be like so and so.” Starting a conversation with “What do you do?” is a good way to ensure the conversation will be as boring as every other conversation you normally have at happy hour. At camp we ask things like “What’s a fear you’ve overcome recently?” or “If I were to go traveling with you where would we go?” Beyond just asking questions, you have to listen and watch and play with and realize that getting to know someone has nothing to do with their job title.

Greatness is rarely found on a resume; greatness is experienced when we allow people to share their gifts. Gifts can be anything from the way someone hugs to the way they write a poem to the way they dance to the way they listen. Gifts let us see how infinite someone is, which makes us feel infinite too.

5. Validation is power

The role of a camp counselor—similar to that of a good teacher, coach, mentor or friend—is largely undervalued in our society. The role of a camp counselor is to validate their campers. To tell their camper: “you belong and you are awesome.” We don’t get told that enough as kids, and we certainly don’t get told that enough as adults. Rather, we get told things like, “You’re not smart enough, you need to get better at math, you need to dress differently, you need to lose weight, you need to stop being so weird, you need to stop playing, you need to stop making so much noise, you need to pay better attention, you need to buy more of what I’m selling, you need to change your life, you need to change your life NOW!”

The truth is people just don’t need to change as much as they need to be validated for who they really are. You can have a profound impact on the world simply by turning whatever environment you spend your days in—be it an office, a school, a business, or a camp in the woods—into a place where everyone feels validated. When we create this kind of community, people are empowered to fully express themselves and anything is possible.

A version of this post also appeared in Medium

-Smiley Poswolsky

Life Is A Typo

1 Jun

It was the day before the launch of my first book. It was a warm day in San Francisco—over 80 degrees—and even warmer in the East Bay. I had taken a 45-minute BART ride to Berkeley and rode my bike up the seemingly endless hill to the Haas Business School.

I was supposed to speak to an undergraduate class about millennials and meaningful work, and when I arrived, I was sweating balls. Two minutes later, I was told by the professor that there had been a mix-up with the schedule and I couldn’t speak.

I was pissed that I had wasted about an hour and a half each way on the day before my launch.

Then my sister called me and said, “Sorry, Adam, I just wanted to let you know I caught a typo in your book.”

I started freaking out since my launch was the next day and people were already buying the paperback on Amazon.

My sister said matter-of-factly, “Adam: nobody cares.”


She replied, “I mean, nobody cares about the typo. They just want to read your book. They’re not reading it to judge your grammar, they’re reading it because they want to know what you have to say. They’re reading it because they want to be inspired.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I knew she was right.

We get so caught up in our own heads about the smallest details. We become obsessed with perfection in our work. I sometimes get so obsessed I’ll stare at an email for 45 minutes, tweaking each sentence, bolding some words, italicizing others, making sure the tone is perfect.

But sometimes you just need to press send. If you spend a year on a project and it’s ready for the world to see, it’s time to get it out there, even if it’s not 100% perfect.

Press send. Ship it.

I’m not saying you should release something you haven’t worked hard on. Don’t ship something that’s crap. But if it’s a product that you’ve spent many months or years on; something that will make peoples’ lives better, then get it out there.

Nothing about writing is perfect. Nothing about self-publishing is even close to perfect. I could have spent months, shit, YEARS, getting my book to be just right, and you know what? Inevitably, someone somewhere would catch a typo. Inevitably, the printer will make the gray text box too dark. Inevitably, the formatting will look slightly different on each of the 18 Kindle-friendly devices people can read it on. Inevitably, when someone sets the font to 42-Comic Sans, the book will look weird. Inevitably, I’ll think of a word I wish I had used or the perfect anecdote, two months after the book is published.

Inevitably, your final product won’t be perfect. Inevitably, on the day before your launch, you’ll waste three hours of your day and get really sweaty and feel hopeless.

Making something is embracing its imperfection. If Apple can release a new iOS update every couple of months, then you can make a few revisions too.

Life is a typo. Press send anyway. Press it now.

A version of this post also appeared in Medium.

-Smiley Poswolsky

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Launch Day Highlights

9 Apr

QLB_launch day photo_Smiley Poswolsky

Yesterday was a very special day. Posts, tweets, texts, phone calls, and emails came pouring in from friends all around the world and from all parts of my life, dating back to elementary school. I truly could not be more grateful for your support. Launching a book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but all of you made it FUN.


The Quarter-Life Breakthrough had a strong showing opening day on Amazon: 

#1 on Amazon Kindle for Job Hunting/Internships

#3 on Amazon Kindle for Job Hunting

#5 on Amazon Books for Job Hunting

Top 3,000 of Amazon Books overall, and was in the top 7,300 on Amazon Kindle. 

QLB_am_#1 internships

QLB_am 1-3-5

Amazon category rankings’ significance are definitely up for debate, and fluctuate by the hour (this morning the book is at #1, #4, and #8 in those categories, and dropped down to 11,000 in Kindle) and a lot of industry blogs seem to say the category rankings don’t matter (unless it’s the Amazon Top 100 or the New York Times/Wall St. Journal list– and even those lists are sometimes rigged by marketing companies who sell bulk pre-orders to corporate clients), but for a self-published author with a minuscule marketing budget who lives in a tiny bedroom in a apartment with five roommates and a mouse problem, this is definitely a reason to celebrate. I feel very proud of the Quarter-Life Breakthrough movement we’re building together, and I enjoyed a delicious pint of beer last night. Check out what else is happening during book launch week:


RSVP for a free Virtual Conference today (Wednesday, April 9, at 6pm Pacific) to learn how to have your own breakthrough.


Remember: if you buy the book during launch week, I’ll give you a FREE copy of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Visual Workbook, featuring fun exercises from the book (see below for a sneak peak!). Designed by visual storyteller Whitney Flight, this colorful exercise book is the perfect companion to reading The Quarter-Life Breakthrough.

To get your FREE Workbook: Email me your Amazon receipt (or a screenshot of it) before Saturday, April 12 (, subject line: WORKBOOK). You can buy either the Paperback or Kindle; the Workbook is yours either way!

QLB Workbook screenshot for launch_Smiley Poswolsky


1. SHARE this post with friends, family, co-workers who need to read The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

2. SPREAD the word on Facebook and Twitter. Join our Thunderclap (only takes 5 seconds!) which will automatically send a post for you during launch week.

SAMPLE TWEET: The #QuarterLife Breakthrough! A must-read book about #millennials following their dreams.
3. RSVP for a free Virtual Conference (WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, at 6pm Pacific) to learn how to have your own breakthrough.

4. ATTEND speaking event or launch party near you. 

With gratitude,

-Smiley Poswolsky


Check out the Advance AcclaimPress, and Amazon Reviews

The Quarter-Life Breakthrough is LIVE!

8 Apr

A Guide for Millennials to Find Meaningful Work 

Now Available on Amazon 

Cover Kindle_The Quarter-Life Breakthrough_April 2014

Today is a day for dreamers. Today is day for hustlers.  

Today is a day two years (actually, more like 30 years) in the making. 

Today is launch day for The Quarter-Life BreakthroughThe Quarter-Life Breakthrough is an inspiring career guide for twentysomethings to get unstuck, pursue work that matters, and change the world. With practical exercises and helpful resources, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to get paid for who they are and what they believe in. This is the book I wish I had during my own quarter-life crisis. 


Pre-ordered in 38 countries! Available in Paperback and Kindle.
Check out the Advance Acclaim, Press, and reviews on Amazon


Check out these great posts about the book that came out today:

Thought Catalog: 3 Cures For a Quarter-Life Crisis 

Under30CEO:  Most Important Lessons Learned From The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

75 to Go: Millennials: What Does it Mean to Find “Meaningful Work”?


If you buy the book during launch week, I’ll give you a FREE copy of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Visual Workbook, featuring fun exercises from the book (see below for a sneak peak!). Designed by visual storyteller Whitney Flight, this colorful exercise book is the perfect companion to reading The Quarter-Life Breakthrough.

To get your FREE Workbook: Email me your Amazon receipt (or a screenshot of it) before Saturday, April 12 (, subject line: WORKBOOK). You can buy either the Paperback or Kindle; the Workbook is yours either way!

QLB Workbook screenshot for launch_Smiley Poswolsky

A sneak peak at The Quarter-Life Breakthrough Visual Workbook



1. SHARE this post with friends, family, co-workers who need to read The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

2. SPREAD the word on Facebook and Twitter. Join our Thunderclap (only takes 5 seconds!) which will automatically send a post for you during launch week.

SAMPLE TWEET: The #QuarterLife Breakthrough! A must-read book about #millennials following their dreams.
3. RSVP for a free Virtual Conference to learn how to have your own breakthrough.

4. ATTEND speaking event or launch party near you. 

This book would not have been possible without your support. I cannot express how grateful I am for all of your love and encouragement during this journey. Two years ago, I didn’t even have a blog and now I have a book, and together we’re building a community of millennials that refuse to settle.  

Thank you,

-Smiley Poswolsky

qlb bookshelf


Daily Smiley: Opening Day

5 Apr

Greetings people, greetings.  Greetings and salutations!  What a beautiful day for a ballgame, LET’S PLAY TWO!

Today is Opening Day, the first day of the 162-game Major League Baseball season.  For die-hard baseball fans, this is reason to rejoice.  For casual baseball fans, this is reason to be content; you don’t have to start paying attention to your team for at least four months.  For those who find baseball boring or dislike sports in general, this is still a good day, because it represents a new start for everyone.  If you think of the last year of your life as last season, what would you change going into this season?  How would you play your life differently?  What decisions would you make?  Would you steal second more often, would you take more risks?

It’s 72-degrees and sunny with a cool breeze.  The freshly-cut grass is perfectly green; so green grown adults and little kids alike want to run all over it.  Every stadium around the nation is full of smiling faces.  Every team still has a chance.  Nobody sucks yet (except the Yankees, who always suck). The Fenway Franks are sizzling on the grill.   You’re cracking open the first peanut shell of the season.  The dog days of summer are far, far off in the distance, and the rawness of late October is more a memory than something on the horizon.  It’s spring. It’s the beginning of a new season, a blank standings, a clean scorecard, new line-ups, new pitchers, new rookies; any player could have the season of their life, any team could win it this year, anything is possible, you never know.  It’s baseball.  It’s life.  It’s Opening Day.

Fenway. America's Most Beloved Ballpark.

Daily Smiley: Dancing On My Own

31 Mar

Smiley:  You forgot to send out the Daily Smiley yesterday.  “I was out dancing!  What happened to your mental alarm?  I guess I hit the snooze!!!”

Today’s Daily Smiley reminds us that dancing is a positive force.  Dancing encourages love of others and love of self.  Studies show that dancing increases one’s capacity to do good for others by 12.8%.  I just made that up.  But it might be true. Why?  Because when you dance you maximize the energy you send out to rest of the world.  Now, I love dancing with other people.   There’s nothing like a whole room of people bouncing up and down to Michael Jackson or Rihanna or M83.   But, my favorite time to dance is solo.  I like to dance by myself.  In my room, on a run (seriously- try this next time you’re running), or just out and about in the sunshine.  When you dance by yourself it’s like the world shakes and anything is possibile!

So, enjoy your weekend, and no matter what your favorite music is or where you are or what you are doing, JUST DANCE.


The Daily Smiley: Dream Big, Dream Beautiful

28 Mar

This is the first “Daily Smiley”!  MAMACITA!  There’s no telling what might happen now.  Every day I will blog a tiny snippet of passion, inspiration, or reflection through which to begin (or end) the day.  Inspired by the Daily Om, the Daily Smiley.  Sometimes it will be a quote, sometimes a statistic or an idea to ponder, sometimes words of joy, sometimes things that will make us pause and meditate.  The Daily Smiley is something to have with your morning coffee.  It says WAKE UP, you are ALIVE!  Here is the inaugural:


“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”  

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”  -Eleanor Roosevelt

Photo by Smiley 3/23/12

Free Minds: Empowering Young Writers in Prison

25 Mar

Recently, I volunteered with the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, a DC-based nonprofit organization that introduces teenage boys at the DC Jail and in federal prison to the life-changing power of books and creative writing.  Free Minds inspires these young people to see their potential by organizing book clubs at the DC Jail where 16 and 17 year-olds discuss literature and express themselves through creative writing, pairing youth with a volunteer writing mentor from the community.  Free Minds mentors these 16 and 17 year-olds (who have been tried and incarcerated as adults) throughout their incarceration and beyond release, providing reentry support, life skills workshops, and education referrals for life after prison.

At the Free Minds “Write Night” we provided comments and positive feedback on poems that these youth had written.  Free Minds then takes the volunteers’ comments and gives them to the authors behind bars– the positive feedback is meant to help the authors find their voices as writers and to continue writing.  We all know it’s gratifying to have someone commend your writing (or like your Facebook status), but can you imagine the transformative power in having someone comment on your words when you are in prison?  Knowing that someone out there is actually listening, that someone is listening to you, must be truly validating and empowering.

One talented young poet had written this line in his poem, which particularly grabbed me:  “In what adult mind frame is it justified to send juveniles to an adult prison? That’s what I’m trying to see.”  We should all ask ourselves the same question.  Lawyer and equal justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, in an inspiring TED talk about injustice in America, notes that the United States is the only country in the world where we sentence 13 year-olds to die in prison, and have life imprisonment without parole for kids.  How can we even begin to talk about justice when over 2200 juveniles have been sentenced to life without parole?

Many of the poems I read at Write Night featured poignant reflections on the history of racial injustice in America, and the devastating impact of prison on the black community.  In a recent New Yorker article on mass incarceration in AmericaAdam Gopnik notes that blacks are now incarcerated seven times as often as whites, and that there are more black men under the control of the criminal justice system that were in slavery in 1850. “The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage,” the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes. “Young black men pass quickly from a period of police harassment into a period of “formal control” (i.e., actual imprisonment) and then are doomed for life to a system of “invisible control.”

As their readers on the outside, we need to not only listen to the voices of incarcerated youth, but take action so that young people are not tried and incarcerated as adults.   Our for-profit prison system, supported by racially biased stop-and-frisk policing and sentencing disparities, locks up too many young people of color (often for minor offenses like marijuana possession), inhibiting their ability to get a job or education or vote or receive social services upon release, thus perpetuating a system of racial control that Alexander likens to slavery.  I’ll close with one of the poems published in the Free Minds anthology; to read inspiring poems by incarcerated youth, post comments that will be given to the authors in jail, or learn more about volunteer opportunities, check out the Free Minds blog.

Confined as a Youth

by Antwon

When you think about childhood

You ‘posed to be able to smile

But never in my life was I taught how

I was always around anger that led to pain

I was always confined

At least that’s how it felt to my brain

The streets not only took me,  but they took my mother too

Confined as a youth, so tell me what I ‘posed to do?

Some people say they love the streets because the game is all they know

I will never label myself until I give myself time to grow

And sometimes I wonder why do it always have to be me?

Then I hear my great grandma’s voice saying

“You wasn’t the only one that wasn’t free”

It’s crazy how people put lies in our heads

Trying to get to believe this is who we are

When, for real, every living thing was meant to be a star

I hope one day we will see there’s no limit to what we all can do

But until that day comes, I’m here on earth, “confined as a youth”

The Year of Love

24 Mar

Welcome to my blog!  2012 is officially The Year of Love, deemed as such by my dear friend Andreas on New Year’s Eve.  He actually consecrated 2011 as the Year of Love back on 12/31/10 over pints of Six Point Sweet Action at The Brooklyn Inn.  But 2011 was filled with its share of complications, so we’re going with 2012 as THE ACTUAL YEAR OF LOVE.  So there’s hope for us all yet!

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