Dogged Optimism

By Kevin Cashman

This coming summer will be Apogee’s twentieth season running summer adventures for teens. We’ve been at this for a long time – and for the last twelve years, we’ve been working as a two-director team. But for Apogee’s first eight years, it was by and large just me. And I find that I am drawing on my experiences in those early, lonely years to propel me through the many challenges brought on by this pandemic. 

I’ve been a long time listener of the podcast, How I Built This, hosted by Guy Roz of NPR. If you haven’t heard it before, and are interested in business, it’s well worth checking out. In each podcast, Guy interviews the founder of a well known company and asks them to tell their story about what it took to build their business. It’s always a familiar storyline – an aspiring entrepreneur has an idea or dream, sets off to pursue it, encounters numerous setbacks and obstacles along the way, perseveres, and in the end, builds something they’re proud of.

Despite the predictability of the narrative, what I love most about these founder’s stories is their honesty about the struggles and doubts they had during their most challenging moments. I can relate to this sentiment because, boy, in Apogee’s early years I had plenty of doubt about whether or not my business was going to make it. Even though Apogee grew every single year from the start, I spent the first eight years doubting it was anything but a fluke. After each of those first seasons wrapped up, I just couldn’t fully trust that we could pull it off again. Frankly, I was always worried my luck would soon run out and I’d fall flat on my face.

In the fall of 2006, my wife, Gitta, and I had our first of two boys, Sam (who is somehow now 14 years old!) We had planned that Gitta would stop working as an interior decorator once Sam was born to be a full time mom. Apogee was five years old and miraculously growing every year, albeit slowly. I was still a one-man show at this point – (my esteemed co-director, Chad, joined me full time in 2009 – a development that truly was good fortune delivered to my door) – and Gitta and I felt we could probably sustain ourselves financially on my salary alone.

To make room for our baby, I moved my home office to a small downtown space here in Brunswick, Maine. Quickly I realized the mental challenges of coming into an office to work all day, every day, alone. The quiet of that office space was filled daily by the noisy racket of self-doubt clanging inside my own head. If you’ve ever been there in life, you know what I mean. 

I wish I could say that Apogee grew in that first decade because we hit a lot of home runs. We didn’t. We hit a lot of singles and doubles, and there were plenty of days where we just struck out completely. I have distinct memories of calling Gitta from my office in February of 2007, feeling so low because I hadn’t received a new phone call or email inquiry in days. And with the added pressure of now being our family’s sole provider, I struggled to stay optimistic. But I carried on. If nothing else I am dogged by nature and seem to have a certain capacity for endurance. I also simply didn’t know what else I’d do if not Apogee – I couldn’t imagine feeling as passionate about anything else. 

Now, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I can see clearly the benefits of slogging through those challenging times. Those hard days helped me build a sense of resilience and determined optimism that are proving crucial in this very moment in history. It was painful to cancel our 2020 season – very painful – and yet, despite continued uncertainty in the world, I feel hopeful and excited for Apogee 2021. 

That same hindsight has also allowed me to see that our success over the years hasn’t only been a string of good luck, but has also come from a lot of hard work and determination – my own, Chad’s, and our staff’s. If I can pinpoint one thing we’ve done exceedingly well over the years it’s been our ability to attract fantastic, competent, engaged and dynamic people. Every one of us here at Apogee is deeply committed to our mission: to build confidence, character, and community in our students through shared summer outdoor experiences. 

There are still many unknowns about what this coming summer will look like, but I do know that whatever lies ahead, our team of directors and trip leaders will embrace the challenges and rise to the occasion. We are collectively, sincerely and tenaciously optimistic. We can’t wait to spend the summer with your sons and daughters! Here’s to a brighter New Year!