Why I'm A Twentysomething Who Still Goes To Summer Camp

Need a summer job? Being a camp counselor may teach you more about the real world than sitting in a cubicle.

People think I'm joking when I tell them what I do for a living. Or they just seem confused. I'm 23 years old and I work for a summer camp.

I've worked as a counselor at a camp in Minnesota for the past five summers, and I have a new role as its marketing and leadership development coordinator -- but I will still be living up at camp; it'll be a year-round job to prepare for a seven-week period. And no, it's NOT like the camp staff experience you're familiar with from "Wet Hot American Summer."

Rewind a few months. My friends were signing contracts to work for Fortune 500 companies, but -- as the reality set in that I would soon be leaving the carefree confines of my college campus -- I knew that I didn’t want to become just another number in the corporate world, competing in the all-too-predictable hustle. I wanted to make a difference and give back to the one place that made me who I am today, a place I've gone for the past 13 years of my life (some may say I’m addicted).

So I traded in my business casual attire for mosquito bites and overpacked luggage. A lot of people my age want to "do good" in the workforce, and this felt like a way of accomplishing that, despite the social pressure in regard to what a “real” job consists of.

I’ve found that many people consider summer camp a place where only teenagers would consider working. I hear a lot of dismissive comments about s’mores and trust falls. But the truth is that camp teaches crucial life lessons and skills that cannot be learned in any other environment ... and it’s not just the kids who are learning.

  • Camp has taught me to leave my phone behind

    Spending weeks or months at a time in an atmosphere with no cell reception, you have to find other means of communication and entertainment. You hold conversations without electronic distractions, you get to know strangers by asking questions (not looking at their social media profiles) and you actually explore the Great Outdoors instead of a video game's version of it.

  • Camp has taught me to be creative

    ...and I don't just mean with campfire ghost stories. As a camp counselor, you need to help create 13 hours of programming a day for 700 campers (for two months). Oh, and remember, no internet! That’s going to demand some serious creativity and some quick thinking.

    Being able to come up with an hour-long interactive program on the spot for 75 hungry, screaming kids is one skill that I will forever be thankful for. These are the transferable skills that are so unique to working at a summer camp -- hey, it'll make giving a presentation for 10 executives in a boardroom seem that much more manageable.

  • Camp has taught me to work with others

    While most jobs insist that you spend eight or so hours per day with your fellow employees, summer camp forces you to learn how to live with them. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, but it does encourage you to fine-tune those conflict resolution and management skills. It’s not just about keeping your head down to avoid office politics; it’s about understanding how people come together as a team. And OK, maybe trust falls help with that.

  • Camp has taught me to put others first

    I mean really put others first. When parents’ most prized possessions are in your care day and night, there's little time to think about yourself. The less time you spend in your head worrying about whether you're a real adult, the more adult responsibility you're actually able to handle.

  • Camp has taught me to leave my comfort zone

    We are most often our own biggest roadblocks, but camp transforms discomfort to confidence, whether it's climbing a rock wall or embarking on a two-day canoe trip, whether you're a kid away from their parents for the first extended period of time or a counselor trying to make that time a rewarding experience.

    I don’t work at camp because I never want to grow up. Quite the opposite -- I want to keep growing. My advice to fellow grads is find your own happy place. Find your own "camp." I sure have.