It was second semester my senior year of college. My friends started to secure their full-time jobs, complete with a 401k, benefits and, of course, a salary. It was time to say goodbye to my minimum wage job at the campus gym and prepare to join the “real world”.
Fast forward a few weeks, I was back and forth in my own mind about what I wanted to do after graduation. I filled out grad school applications, searched for summer housing, applied to year-long volunteer fellowship programs, researched opportunities abroad, and yet nothing seemed to click; I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Weeks turned into days and the worry in my mind grew more prominent.
As I began to lose confidence in myself, my friend threw out the idea of me working at the overnight resident summer camp in Pittsburgh as a counselor with her. “Ha!” I thought at first, “I wish!” and dismissed it. I’ve always loved kids but spending weeks at a time living in a cabin with them wasn’t the post-grad opportunity I had in mind. She brought it up again and this time was more serious, and I was even closer to being a jobless college graduate. She proceeded to tell me stories about the people at camp and showed me this video and said “this could be you.” That did me in. Two emails and an interview later, I was accepted to be a camp counselor and had no idea what to expect.
My summer at camp was one out of a movie; I slid down a slip-and-slide covered in paint, ate breakfast pizza, tie-dyed shirts, dressed up for theme nights, and taught yoga. I slept in the damp woods overnight in a hammock, cooked dinner over an open fire, participated in “muddy counselor”, and sang camp songs at the top of my lungs. I stayed up too late, woke up too early, and had just one hour during the course of the day to myself. And yet, I loved every minute of it.
Most importantly, I acted as a role model for the campers and helped push them out of their comfort zones to discover more about themselves. To my surprise, they did the same for me. For instance, I hate frogs, but when my campers discovered this, they were determined to change that. They came up with the idea to slowly “increase my frog interaction” throughout the week. Day 1: Look at the frog. Day 2: Tap the frog. Day 3: Pet the frog. Day 4: Hold the frog for 1 second. By the last day of camp: Hold the frog for 10 seconds. After much fuss and “that doesn’t count” attempts, I succeeded. I mainly did it because I didn’t want to let my campers down, but I also wanted them to understand that I had a fear in which they helped me overcome. I could have stopped this experiment in its tracks from the beginning and refused to participate but what kind of leader would that have made me? How would that have looked to an impressionable group of young girls?
I quickly learned that camp creates an environment of limitless possibility and encourages self-exploration. With every day beginning with an enthusiastic and loud “GOOD MORNING,” it’s hard not to go about your day with a smile on your face. The best days were the ones when I helped a camper pass their swim test or when a thunderstorm was coming because that could only mean one thing – Disney song dance party! With the good days also came some not so good; starting off a morning with a bed-wetting incident or ending the night with a group discussion of why bullying is unacceptable or that one camper that just wouldn’t sit still. Those days tested my patience but taught me how to come up with a solution under pressure and stand by it confidently.
About nine months have passed since the end of camp and the start of my job at a public relations firm. The leadership skills I nurtured as a camp counselor are directly transferable to the work place and positioned me for success. While there are no impromptu dance parties, there is a need to lead by example and not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. The office, like camp, can also be an environment of limitless possibility and self-exploration if you make it one. Take each opportunity to learn from your mentors, ask questions, volunteer yourself for tasks outside your job description, attend networking events, and develop relationships with others around you. Begin each day with a “GOOD MORNING” or maybe a more office-appropriate “hello” and your positive attitude will be contagious. When the difficult days make their appearance and nothing seems to be going your way, find a solution and power your way through it – you will be better for it.
So, to the recent graduates that aren’t sure what they want to do and don’t have a job lined up, it’s okay. I can say from experience, when I began interviewing for “real” jobs once camp ended, not a single interviewer asked me what I did all summer or why I was applying for a job in September rather than in May. More often than not, companies are hiring. With that, enjoy this time, discover your passions, and cross off that bucket list item you’ve always wanted to do. Travel, visit friends, and explore the open doors ahead of you. Whatever you do, cherish every experience for all that it’s worth to make you a better person than you were yesterday. After all, this could be your “last summer of freedom” then approximately 40 more years in the “real world”.