Each summer, millions of kids go to sleepaway camp; thousands return to be counselors. Yet, with all those people passing through camp gates, only a few make camp their career. I am one of those lucky few.
Let’s go back to where it started: In 4th grade my parents sent me off to camp, hoping that I’d love and appreciate what was to come. And so it was: For the next six summers I was tucked away in the Berkshires in a bubble so full of life it was hard to imagine that anything else existed.
My camper summers were pure bliss; I have friends who, 17 years later, are more like sisters; counselors I still look to as role-models; and an invaluable experience that will last beyond a lifetime. But as formative as my camper summers were, it’s the next chapter that opened my eyes to camp beyond summer.
While my friends spent their college summers interning at Fortune 500 companies, dressing biz-casual, and living in NYU dorms, I found myself right back in that beloved bubble for summer #7, #8, and so on.
Why? Because I wanted to be back in the place that molded my childhood; I wanted to be back at my heart’s home, and of course, I needed to see what the sacred Staff Lounge was all about.
So, what was it that made my counselor summers so unforgettable? Was it the late-night campfires, the new, unexpected friendships, the (earmuffs, Dad) steamy romance with an Australian on Boy’s Head Staff, or seeing my own campers begin the journey that so profoundly shaped me? It was all of that.
But, strangely and contrary to what you might expect, those summers were not perfect because life did not get put on hold while we played at camp. A lot went on: my mom got sick, my best friend got fired, the neighbor’s dog died, and my friend’s “camp boyfriend” had a midnight fling with the counselor next door. So, yes, the drama, heartache, and heartbreak of my late teen years continued, as it does. Again I asked myself, what, then, made those summers so unforgettable? And again, I found, it was more than one thing; it was the independence, being a mentor, unplugging from the outside, gaining confidence, being my true self, and giving back the love I once felt. I simply turned into the best version of myself there.
As a counselor it certainly wasn’t easy living with a dozen teenagers and two other counselors under one roof, with just two showers, and no A/C, but we made it work, because what we were doing was special, and we all knew that. We counselors all came to camp for the same reason: to give campers an irreplaceable experience.
My campers were my little minions, looking up to me the way I once looked up to my counselors, for guidance, friendship, and wisdom. The relationships built in that short time span were unique, real, and unfiltered (#ButSeriously, we were so present. Instagram wasn’t even born…).
It’s scary how close you become when you’re all in one place for one purpose, and scary how quickly the experience — which feels like everything — ends. The last day of my final counselor summer brought what felt like endless tears, (as always); though this time it seemed earth-shattering as I knew it was time to move on, camp was about to become a mere memory. But all those tears, those ends, that noise: it didn’t signal the end at all. It marked the beginning, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Life kept moving. I came to love summer share-houses, exploring NYC, and all the fun activities my post-grad years held. I was working in Manhattan for an Advertising Agency (wishing Don Draper was my boss) and I was on a track with great perks. Though, everything just seemed to be fine, I constantly had the feeling there was something missing. Camp was always with me in memories, in character and in friendships kept. I would visit every summer, and walk away with the feeling that there was a larger purpose for me, but returned to my cubicle, ignored my subconscious, and stayed on track.
Flash forward to 2015, my annual camp visit. This time, the directors had asked me to play counselor for their Rookie overnight. That weekend changed everything. I was once again the best version of myself, but this time I let camp come full circle. I was back in the bunks, my campers were counselors, and my old co-counselor was now on Head Staff. I quickly realized I yearned to be part of something bigger. The feeling I had leaving, I knew it was time for a change, and to be in a field that was meaningful and bigger than just myself. But where to start? Should I get my Masters in Education? “But it’s so expensive, loans loans!” I would say. Maybe I’ll work for a Business School? “Eh, I don’t see myself in higher-ed.” I would say. Should I work full time for sleep-away camp? “My camp offices are in FL / I still love my city summers!” I would say. Nothing seemed to feel right, or align with what I wanted. I was feeling discouraged, defeated, and stuck.
One night, as I dwelled on the options that led to windy mental roads, BOOM. I got an e-mail from a friend with the subject, “STOP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING. This job was created for you…” Campowerment, the grown-up sleepaway-camp-inspired retreat, which had an opening in Business Ops, out of their NY office. Wait a minute, WHAT?! A camp for adults?! This is so perfect! Who doesn’t love Color War, Cabin Karaoke, and a campfire sing down?! There’s more though: Each day is filled with daily Workshops led by Experts, these Experts provide women with tangible lessons to help re-ignite their life?! It’s time to re-ignite my life; this is the mothership.
On January 4, 2016 I joined Campowerment and never looked back. Did I ever think I would work for a camp for adults? Honestly, not really, but when I found myself in endless tears the last day of my first Campowerment retreat, totally exhausted, totally full with my multi-tab excel sheet in hand, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Camp is not just for kids; it is certainly for adults too, and it is totally for me…always has been.
But it’s bigger than that; it’s bigger than the nostalgia and fulfillment of childhood dreams: Seeing what these women (my new campers) get out of Campowerment leaves me speechless. Knowing that I helped build this platform for them leaves me with the feeling I’ve longed for all these years. It filled the gap, and the best part, besides the powerful, meaningful, and profound impact of working on what I love, is that for me and my Campowerment Crew, there is no last day of camp.