9 Life Lessons I Learned From Sitting By A Campfire

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved sitting by a fire. I think there is something primal about it. I always found it relaxing and comforting, as I am sure many of you do, too.

My first experiences with a fire were at the cabin that my grandfather built in the Adirondacks (a mountainous area of upstate New York). He had built the cabin back in the 50s and my family went there frequently ever since.

My mom would take us up there usually around the end of summer. The lake was warmest then and there weren’t as many bugs.

The cabin didn’t have electricity so once the sun went down, we entertained ourselves by playing cards or reading by the light of propane lamps, or toasting marshmallows in the fireplace.

As would happen fairly frequently in the late afternoons, my sister and I would come up shivering from the lake and warm ourselves by the crackling fire. My mother would already have cooked up the fish we caught earlier in the day. After dinner, we would return to the fire with pillows, blankets, and cups of tea and relax until it was time for bed.

Years later, a fireplace would be one of the non-negotiables when my wife and I were looking for a house to buy. Happily, our house not only has a great fireplace, but an area outside where my wife built a fire-pit.

One day this past winter, I was relaxing by an outdoor fire while my wife was out grocery shopping with the boys. It struck me that building, tending, and sitting by a fire are kind of powerful metaphors for life.

In no particular order, here are the nine life lessons I learned from sitting by thousands of campfires.

#1 – The fire ultimately won’t look the same as when you first built it.

You might have an idea for how the fire is going to look when you first start building it. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s important to have a vision and plan out the fire the best way you know how. But as the fire gets going it’s going to start look a little different than you originally intended.

It might be slow to burn on one side but not the other. Maybe a couple of your logs weren’t quite dry yet so that part of the fire is hissing and bubbling and doing poorly in general. Perhaps the kindling shifted causing another part of the fire to rage intensely.

These are all things we sometimes can’t foresee. Does the fact that your fire doesn’t look exactly the way you intended mean the fire isn’t “good”? The fire is still burning which, by all measures, is the mark of a successful fire.

Life is just like that. It’s important to plan and have a vision for how you want your life to go. But there will be things you won’t be able to plan for. If your life starts to look a little different from your plan, it doesn’t mean your life isn’t successful or that you can’t be happy with it.

#2 – Adapt.

As you build a fire, especially outside without starters, you need to build it on its own terms. Sometimes it won’t light perfectly and you need to adjust and readjust your wood. Don’t force the fire to burn where YOU want it to. Feed the fire where it goes and soon the whole thing will be going strong!

In life, you need to adapt to your circumstances and roll with them. Do the best you can with the hands you are dealt along the way. Stubbornly sticking with one strategy or complaining that things aren’t going your way aren’t going to help you succeed.

#3 – Tend to it.

Once you get your fire going, you need to KEEP it going! Sure, it will burn perfectly for a little while, but after a few minutes you’re going to need to add more wood or shift the existing wood around so the fire burns most efficiently.

If you achieve anything worthwhile in life you can’t just sit by and expect those good things to remain or grow. You need to put in the work to keep them! Your marriage, your relationship with your kids, your career, your health, and your hobbies all need you to be an active participant.

#4 – Don’t get greedy.

While you need to tend to your fire, don’t get greedy! Sometimes once you get the fire going you say to yourself, “Hmm… it’s burning well, but not well ENOUGH!”

So, you open the grate and mess around with the arrangement of the wood hoping to make an even more perfect fire. What happens then?! Something shifts around or falls and your once-awesome fire goes out. Back to square one.

Sometimes in life we need to recognize when things are going well and just leave them be.

 #5 – Endure

Sometimes the smoke will blow right in your face. There is nothing you can do about it but shut your eyes, hold your breath, and wait it out.

We all have times like that where we just need to endure. Hang in there. It never lasts forever.

#6 – You’ll smell like woodsmoke.

Through life, you’ll bear the scars, scrapes, and bruises of adversity. This is inevitable but not something to shy away from. When you’re by a fire, you are going to smell like smoke. Your coat, sweater, and hat will smell like smoke for days afterwards. That’s ok.

The lingering effects from our experiences (both good and bad) are what make us unique.

#7 – A spark is all it takes. 

A fire has to start somewhere and every fire starts from one tiny spark. Even a huge, glorious bonfire starts its life as nothing more than a flicker in the tinder.

The great things we do in life all start the same way: with one little step forward.

Eric Clapton didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to play the guitar. He had to pick up it up, strum awkwardly for a while and complain about callouses on his fingertips. That was the flicker.

This site didn’t just spring out of no where fully formed. It started as an idea and blossomed over many years of hard work and dedication.

Similarly, a big fire that has burned down or gone mostly out can spring BACK to life as long as one little spark remains.

#8 – It will surprise you.

There have been times when I thought the fire had gone out. I had stopped paying much attention to it and thought it was done only to have it bounce back to life! It turned out there was that one spark left just waiting underneath the ash for the right moment.

Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes moments, some big and some small, come along and give you a little burst of optimism. You never know when those moments will strike.

#9 – Enjoy it!

Sometimes we get so worked up over making the perfect fire or maintaining the perfect fire, that we forget to sit back and enjoy it!

That’s one of the primary purposes of the fire! It’s meant to be savored and appreciated. If you don’t take the time to sit back and enjoy it then what’s the point of making it in the first place.

Do the same with your life. Even if things aren’t perfect (and I suspect they aren’t because are they ever?) you should take some time to slow down, count your blessings, take a deep breath, and smile.

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