About LFM-SDM and Outward Bound

Mark Hagan, John McGrath, and Monica NakamineMonica NakamineBy Monica Nakamine
October 4, 2002

I never thought I would be literally jumping out of trees as part of my job as communications specialist for LFM-SDM. But there I was, standing on top of a 30-foot-tall log that was the diameter of a large frying pan, ready to take a leap of faith to hit a volleyball suspended from a wire nearly five feet away.

LFM ’04s Mark Hagan (left) and John McGrath help me, in the middle, up the beams.

What am I – crazy? These new LFM ’03s, who I barely knew, were at ground-level and all had a grip on the rope that was attached to me at the other end. But how was I to know that they wouldn’t let go of the rope and let me fall to my death? Even though I was completely safe in my harness, the fear of falling was nevertheless there. This was an exercise on trust, if ever there was one. But, with their encouragement (for I really felt like giving up and climbing down), I closed my eyes, bent my knees, and slapped that volleyball like there was no tomorrow! Yelling and cheering followed, as they lowered me to the ground.

That was last year, June 2001, at my very first Outward Bound experience with the then-new LFMs. Outward Bound is a program for organizations and companies that want to provide a team-building experience for their employees, or, in this case, students. It allows participants to stretch their minds to think on a different level, as individuals and as groups, in order to apply those learnings to the workplace. Every year, LFM-SDM staff members are invited to participate in Outward Bound with the incoming LFMs as a way to acquaint themselves with the new students.

That exercise that I described was, by far, one of the most physically and psychologically demanding ones of the day. I learned to trust my teammates. I also extended beyond my own boundaries into areas that I never thought I would cross. The feelings I had afterward were exhilaration and excitement – I not only overcame my fears, but I learned to trust my team wholeheartedly.

The following year, June 2002, the new LFM ’04s went through the same Outward Bound routine – jump on a ferry to Thompson Island, eat a light breakfast, divide into groups. I came along for the ride again, thinking I knew what to expect based on last year’s trip, but I ended up with an entirely different experience. This year, it was not so much about overcoming fears, or pushing physical boundaries. For me, this year’s Outward Bound was about reflection. Last year, the highlight of Outward Bound was based on physical and psychological endurance. This year, it was more about how I could contribute to a team situation and how I can internalize what I’ve learned to become a better team player. Having had the previous year’s experience to draw from, I was able to distinguish how much I had grown in terms of my thought patterns and how I could help others broaden their own minds.

One of the cool aspects of Outward Bound is that the facilitators allow us to reflect and think – about strategies used, about mistakes made, about accomplishments achieved – as we completed each exercise. What worked? What didn’t work? What could we have done to make the process better or faster? And then, more importantly, how can we apply what we’ve learned to our professional, or even our personal lives? On a high level, Outward Bound almost mirrors what LFM-SDM is all about – pushing envelopes to encourage change and creativity.

What is equally as cool, if not cooler, is that LFM-SDM encourages staff members to broaden our mindset alongside the LFM students. We also have the opportunity to do similar activities with the SDM students. I personally love to learn new things that I would otherwise have no exposure to. Being surrounded by students who, as individuals, have such broad backgrounds and interests, and being able to talk to them one-on-one, is a great way to do this.

Another great aspect of working at LFM-SDM is that there is a very concerted effort to integrate students with staff. I can only assume that this type of student-staff integration is rare in any other academic circle, maybe even within MIT. But for LFM-SDM, it’s the norm. This kind of collaboration also lays the groundwork for better communication and understanding between the two entities. Once we get to know the students — where they’re coming from and what their concerns are — we are able to better assist them. On the flip side, when the students get to know us as people, they might feel more comfortable when they need to approach us.

In the past two years, Outward Bound was consistent and did not deviate too much in actual activities (depending on the facilitator). You can do the same exercise from year to year to year, but it’s the people who you are collaborating with that make it unique. I learned a great deal about myself and how to deal with other people’s strengths and weaknesses. I learned how to communicate within a team in order to think outside my own boundaries, work effectively toward a single and specific goal, be open to learning new things, and ask for assistance when necessary.

These are reflections that I didn’t have the frame of mind to think of at my first Outward Bound. At that time, I was just proud of myself that I was able jump off that 30-foot tree and hit that volleyball! But I’ve come to understand that Outward Bound embodies what LFM-SDM represents — using creativity and leadership to achieve optimal results while establishing trust and camaraderie with fellow teammates.