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Life Lessons I Learned From Being a Camp Counselor

Life Lessons I Learned From Being a Camp Counselor

I consider myself incredibly lucky, because for the last 2 years I have had the best job in the entire world. I spend my summers as a camp counselor, and it is by far the most rewarding experience I could choose to be a part of in my time away from school. Not only do I get to relive the days when I was a camper myself and create many of the same memories for the kids that are there now, but also I get to take on a leadership role that has taught me an awful lot about myself. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

You don’t need to check your smartphone.

Trust me, the world goes on. At the camp I work, campers are not even allowed to have cellphones, and staff members are expected not to use theirs except for emergencies and off-hours. And there’s nothing quite like summer camp to convince you to leave technology behind and be in the moment. You’d be amazed at the things you experience when you’re not looking at a screen.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

Be confident, and don’t be afraid to take charge. If you’re expected to lead, do it. You may not think you’re the right person for the job, but if you’re willing to take that leap of faith, people will follow. Before you know it, you’ll be doing more than you thought possible.


Communication is key.

You have to be able to communicate with the people you work with, the people above you, and the people you’re in charge of. Nobody likes being kept in the dark. If things go wrong, and they always do, people have to be able to know you can be reached, and you have to be able to work things out. Lack of clear, honest, communication makes that impossible.

Teamwork is essential to success.

Rely on your team, and be someone your team can rely upon. Work together, because 2 minds are greater than 1. Don’t leave anyone hanging, and don’t be the weak link in the chain. Things go smoother when everyone contributes. Learn when to take charge, and when to follow someone’s lead. Don’t be afraid to compromise.

Never underestimate the power of music.

I’ve been lucky to work at a camp that values music, and it’s a huge part of what keeps me coming back.. We sing first thing in the morning, after every meal, during programs, at campfires, and in services. It seems that the singing never ends. And because of that, we have a tighter community, more engaging programs, a sense of spirit, and more confident campers. Music is empowering. It is engaging. It is fun. It builds community. And you don’t have to be a good singer to enjoy a good song session. So never ever underestimate the power of music, and don’t be afraid to harness that, and use it as a tool.


Don’t be afraid to get dirty.

Nearly everything can be washed off. Cabin paint fight? No worries. Fall in the mud? Maybe you lose a pair of shorts, but it’s really just a pair of shorts. But this goes beyond getting a little messy, which at a summer camp usually just means you have a good time. The point is that you shouldn’t avoid doing anything just because there might be some harmless consequences. Join in the fun. Throw some paint at your friends, sling a mudball or two, and then wash it all off in the shower.

Wear Sunscreen.

I am going to sound like your mother for a moment, and I’m okay with that. I’ll even admit that I tried my best to avoid putting on sunscreen as a camper. But if you’re going to be outside in the sun all day, you don’t want to have a nasty sunburn when you’re done. Trust me when I say that it’s not fun trying to sleep when every part of your body aches and stings. And even if you don’t burn as easily, you’re still doing damage to your skin every time you go outside without sunscreen. It’s just not worth it.

If it isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right.

You should enjoy what you do, whatever that may be. And the chances are, if you don’t at some level enjoy whatever it is that you do, you need to find a way to make it interesting. Camp taught me that everything requires a unique approach, particularly if it doesn’t seem interesting. Maybe educational programs aren’t your thing, but you can certainly incorporate games, music, or really anything that you can connect back to the lesson to make it engaging.


It’s really not about you.

If nothing else, camp teaches you how to take a step back. Humility is essential when you’re spending a summer in an overheated cabin making very little money trying to give campers a summer they won’t forget. It teaches you the importance of focusing on the work, when the temptation to selfishly focus on simply having a good time can be strong. But what you learn is that it benefits you most to focus on others, because when the people you care about are happy, you are too.

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There’s rarely a reason to raise your voice.

I cannot stress this enough. I can deal with 15 adolescent boys for a month long, semi-unstructured summer camp session with no parents and never have to yell at them once. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear expectations that are enforced strictly, but there are rarely situations where yelling at someone is necessary. It’s just not. You can enforce rules, set expectations, and reprimand infractions without anger. Unless there is immediate danger, or it’s the day of color war, there’s no reason to yell.


Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

This one is actually some solid advice that I got from a great Unit Head. The idea is that if you have a great idea that may not necessarily get approved, don’t be afraid to run with it. Sometimes you have to prove that you can be successful with a crazy plan, and waiting for permission that may not come isn’t worth it. Never be afraid to try anything. As long as you can make things work out, you’ll be able to point to your success in defending your actions after the fact. That’s not to say that you should work around your supervisors, but it does mean that you should take initiative.

Fair does not always mean equal.

Fair means that everybody gets what they need, it does not mean everybody gets the same thing. We talk often about equality, but really what we’re after is equity. Equality fails to recognize the effects of privilege, and simply grants everybody the exact same thing without recognizing each person’s unique circumstances. Equity means that everybody is treated according to their need so that the playing field is fair, and that’s how we are taught to treat our campers, and how we ought to treat all the people in our lives.


Self care is essential.

Take the time you need to be at your best, whatever that means for you. In the world of summer camp, just like in the real world, it is easy to burn out fast. There are so many things to be done, and it often feels like there’s not enough time to accomplish all of them. The only way to make sure that you stay sane is to plan in time for the essential soul-filling activities that replenish you. That could be working out, it could be meditating, it could be creating music, it could even be watching Netflix during your off hour. The point is that planning in that time will keep you sane so that you can be at your best, because you deserve to give 100% of what you can offer all the time.


Take advantage of each moment.

This is one that I learned from my campers. I had a cabin full of guys in their final year on camp, and they spent every moment like it was the best damn moment they’d ever experienced. They lived it to the fullest, and they went home knowing they’d had the best summer of their lives. We should all strive to live like that. We should all be ready to embrace our experiences with enthusiasm and energy. It may be cliché, but it’s true. Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Make your life extraordinary, and don’t let a moment go to waste.
Did you learn anything from being a camp counselor you would like to share? Comment below and share this article with a friend!
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