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How Being a Camp Counselor Made me a Better Leader

Camp friends

Today, I am a woman who owns a business, leads a team, has a family, and generally kicks ass at life – at least most days. But it all started when being a camp counselor made me a better leader.

Back in the summers during college, I was a camp counselor. Those were the days – early mornings after too little sleep, sweaty afternoons filled with games and swimming, and late nights having meaningful conversations with those young campers I was charged with taking care of. 

For me, those summers were a big deal. I made life-long friends and met my husband while working at camp. Back then, dating other summer staff members was against the rules, but somehow many relationships and eventual marriages were started during those times. 

There is a grittiness in being a camp counselor – an ability to problem solve through the oddest challenges. Toilet clogged again – camp counselors can fix it; having a disagreement about whose turn it is for a kitchen party – camp counselors can fix it; need a boredom buster – camp counselors can fix that too. Being a problem-solver is a life skill that camp counselors learn quickly.

From Toilet Plunging to Conflict Resolution

There is an unspoken understanding amongst camp counselors – current and past. We are not afraid to navigate new and unique challenges. We love that those unique challenges also give us stories to tell in life. We quickly see problems as opportunities and lean into circumstances that others shy away from.

There are other life skills too. 

Leadership is learned through practice, and that doesn’t just start when you get the CEO gig. As a camp counselor, I started small and simple in my leadership skills – teaching kids to sing crazy songs, planning schedules and activities, and orchestrating the building of bonds around sharing and listening to stories. Those simple activities taught me how to engage on an emotional level. They also taught me that I, as a leader, am NOT the most important person in the campfire ring. I am just the one that gets to guide the really important people – the campers.  

I thought I was learning patience, crowd control, and various songs and games never to be used again in life. But, what I was really learning was listening, facilitation, authenticity, and communication. I was learning to see and honor those around me, lift others, and have a lot of fun. Being a camp counselor made me a better leader

I realize now just how much these experiences shaped me and how many of the skills I learned back then are why I am good at what I do now.


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So Why Not?

This summer has been a struggle for many summer camp organizations. In addition to coming off a year that virtually shut down operations, camps have had a tough time finding summer staff. It’s, of course, not unique to this industry alone. Hiring is brutal right now. And, college students have more options than ever before.

While camps are not known for their high summer salaries, they are known for their perks. In addition to all the s’mores you can eat and endless stories to tell for the rest of your lives, camp is the perfect place to learn and practice leadership skills.

For all the camp counselors out there this summer – keep at it! Whether you know it or not, your experience is setting you up for great success!

For all the leaders out there – watch for that summer camp experience on resumes. These are your future leaders!

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