Don’t Tell Me to Get a Real Job: A Camp Kid’s Path to Bay St.

If you’ve worked at camp, you’ve heard it before: “isn’t it time to get a real job”? The first time this question was posed to me, I got defensive. But as time went on, I began to feel sorry for the person asking it because clearly the person had no idea what it’s like to work at camp.

That person hadn’t had the experiences or opportunities that only camp can provide – and as a result, all I can do is feel sorry for them. But this post isn’t for the people who don’t understand. Sure – if someone who has never been to camp can read this and gain a greater appreciation for what it means to be a camp counselor, then that would be great – but the intended audience here is you: the camp kid.

The one who, at 17-years-old, stayed up with a homesick camper or facilitated cabin clean-up with a group of 10-year-olds; or the 19-year-old who was responsible for teaching a new skill and driving children around the lake on a ski-boat; or the 21-year-old who managed a group of staff not more than three years younger and provided evaluations, feedback and guidance. Camp is a wild place – not simply because of how much fun it is (which it is), but because of what it offers young adults like us.

Pisher (2007)

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a camp guy. My first summer at Camp Kadimah was in 2007 as a 12-year-old pisher with chubby cheeks and braces (as you can see). 12 short summers later, in 2018, I ended off my camp career after 6 years on staff, as Assistant Director.

This summer at Cassels Brock is my first full summer spent in Toronto since I was 12. In other words, this job is my first full-time summer job that isn’t camp. Yeah. It’s a bit different. But don’t you dare read ‘different’ as ‘harder’ – cause honestly – it isn’t.

Regardless of your position at camp, if you want to be a good staff, there are a few base-level skills that you need to demonstrate: initiative, effective communication, critical thinking, and the ability to work as part of a team. If you are able to refine these skills, I promise you, you will make a fantastic camp counselor. But not just that – I also promise you that you will be well on your way to becoming successful beyond your years at camp.

The truth is, the value of the work experience you get at camp cannot be recreated in any city job, at least not at the same age. In what “office” job would you be given managerial responsibilities before you can legally rent a car? In what “city” job would a teenager be tasked with the business’ most integral operations? The answer: none.

Now that you’re nearing or are at the end of your camp career, the question is: what’s next? You need to figure out how to qualify and quantify the totality of your camp experiences, consolidate them, and tie them up in a nice bow with the end product being your resume and cover letter. While this may sound hard to do, it’s not. It just takes the right kind of guidance. Which is where I can come in. If you, like me, spent the better part of your childhood at camp and continued onto become a staff, I think I can help. And even if you didn’t spend that many years at camp but worked on staff for even just one or two summers, those experiences are nonetheless valuable.

Leadership, management, loyalty, intuition, initiative, critical thinking, teamwork, communication…

These are the buzz words that, whether or not they want to admit it, your future employers love to see. What can separate you from the rest is that you have a tangible, real-world experience under your belt where you have not just practiced these skills, but have refined and re-refined them.

While it’s always sad to move on from camp (trust me, I’m still trying to get over it), it should be a small reassurance to know that not only do your memories of the summers-past stay with you, but also the skills and experiences that you inevitably gained will stay with you too. It is these skills and experiences that have prepared you for this moment, and provided you with a uniquely strong base for you to begin your professional career.

Working on Bay St. is no more a “real job” than working in Barss Corner, Nova Scotia at Camp Kadimah was, and I find myself lucky to have wound up at a firm that gets that. And trust me, Cassels does get it. But it’s up to you to make sure your future employer, no matter who they may be, knows that just as well as we do. And I should mention – even if camp isn’t your thing, the moral of the story here still stands: be yourself, and don’t let anyone, not even those Bay St. recruiters, tell you that your experiences aren’t good enough. If it’s something you’re passionate about and you know that it has made you a better you, then that’s what matters and that’s what the right firm will care about.

Pisher in a suit (2019)

(p.s. my offer to help still stands – shoot me an email, find me on Facebook, drop into my DMs.. I really am happy to help. The more camp kids here the better!)

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