“Good friends, good booze, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” -Mark Twain, Kind of. 

For five days in late August, I had the opportunity to attend Camp Runamok and meet and mingle with 120 of the best bartenders from around the globe. Now when I say ‘best bartenders from around the globe,’ I truly mean these people were some of the best you can find in the field; we’re talking about seasoned industry professionals, masters of our craft, and genuinely talented people. The opportunity alone was enough to make my heart swell with appreciation, excitement, love, and joy, but to be perfectly honest, you could have stuck me in an empty field for a week with these people and I still would have been overwhelmed with gratitude. However, we weren’t in a random field, we were in the heart of the South known as the great state of Kentucky where I found myself surrounded by beautiful rolling hills, and this little magical thing called the Bourbon Trail.

Along the Bourbon Trail, surrounded by people who also lived and breathed all things whiskey, I learned some of life’s most valuable lessons, and it is without doubt that I can say my trip up to bar camp forever changed my life. As such, it is with pleasure that I share with you my top three lessons from bar camp.

Lesson No. 1: 86 Your Fears.
It’s never easy walking into a room of 120 strangers, especially when you know that you will soon grow to admire and respect each and every one of them in less than a week. As I pulled up to Camp Crescendo on Sunday with fellow Chattanooga bartender John Carr by my side, I was overwhelmed with nervousness. I’ve never been the kind of girl to begin a conversation out of nowhere, even when I’m behind the bar. At camp though, it didn’t take me long to realize that not one of these bartenders considered me a stranger- they considered me family. As the Jim Beam slogan reads, “Come as friends, leave as family.” No other phrase could better describe the experience I had at Camp Runamok. I was family as soon as I arrived. And as I drove away Friday I knew that I was leaving with friends from all corners of the country, friends that I can call up whenever I’m in their town and know I’ll be welcomed with open arms and a shot of Fernet. And that is what makes the Bar & Service Industry so phenomenally powerful and connected. You should never be afraid to start a conversation with someone, especially if they’re a bartender. We love to tell stories. We love to talk food & drink & all other things.

Lesson No. 2. Flawless. (i.e. Confidence is Key).
In the words of the almighty Queen Bey, “you wake up, flawless.” Believe in yourself. Step out of your comfort zone, and do something that you think you might fail at (and smile while you’re doing it). If you do fail, that’s okay. You’re still flawless. If you trick yourself into believing that you’re not good enough, you will never flourish. The whole reason that Camp Runamok exists is to guide bartenders in better understanding their craft. One of the most important character traits for a bartender is to have the desire to learn. Constantly growing is the only way we improve ourselves, and being around others who are great at what they do is how we become inspired. That’s what makes Lush Life Productions (the amazing people who put on camp) such a spectacular company. They see the importance in helping bartenders better understand, not just bourbon, but the industry as a whole. Letting go of my self-doubt allowed me to get to know some amazing people with amazing ideas. We are all on great paths, and now we get to grow together.

Lesson No. 3. Don’t Pull Out.
Don’t forget what makes you special. It’s easy when you’re surrounded by a group of passionate and talented people to become envious of others. It happens to all of us. Everyone at camp (and in the industry) is devoted to their craft, that’s why we were all there. Same applies to life. If you don’t feel passion for what you’re doing, then it’s time to make a change. Passion is what drives us, and in a career you should always strive to be better, to know more, to learn more. That is what it’s all about. People think that bartending is just a ‘stepping stone,’ as something to just get us through school or on to the next phase of our life. But that is so far from the truth for the 120 bartenders that I spent Camp Runamok with. Bartending is our career. It drives us to be better professionally and in life, we constantly strive to learn and create, to travel and experience the world. Developing bonds with people and companies allows us to learn from each other, and that is what Camp, and the Spirits Industry is about. So when you start to feel that itchy, jealous sensation, don’t. Instead take that opportunity to learn from those around you. Listen to what they have to say, because those are the most invaluable lessons.

And that is how you do Camp Runamok right, ladies.

Photo credit: Ian Witlen, follow him on Instagram @thecameraclicks.