The Person I Was Intended To Be

I know, I know. My posting is just all sorts of messed up this week. I couldn’t leave you all in the dark about camp, though, so bear with me. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming, more or less, next week.

Last week was my fourth summer at camp. My fourth summer. Granted, it obviously was not a full summer, but that’s still a lot of summers. Add on the three winter camps I’ve worked as well, and I’ve put in a whole lotta hours at camp.

I think it’s difficult to understand how much of an impact working at summer camp can have on your life unless you’ve done it yourself. Honestly, even if you have worked at camp, you still might not be able to understand it. Case in point: when I went back to camp this summer, there were about 15 staff members there that worked there my first summer (16 including me). Considering that the summer staff each year is somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 or 70 people, that’s not a very high percentage. I’d guess close to half the staff returns for a second summer, but after that the dropoff is pretty steep. Most people find other jobs, choose to do something else (…are able to move on with their lives *significant look at self*), but there are a few people–people like me–who find themselves continually coming back.

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When I got a phone call during dinner on the Tuesday before Good Friday of my sophomore year of college asking me for an interview at camp that weekend, I never ever dreamed it would lead to this. I remember sitting in the lobby of the main building at camp three days later, feverishly trying to memorize these four principles they had on the wall–principles that I could now recite in my sleep. Principles that have become such a part of who I am, such a part of how I try to live particularly in relationship to other people, that I have a difficult time comprehending how I struggled to remember them in the first place.

Honesty
Caring
Respect
Responsibility

HCRR (pronounced: HIK-ker). True blue, red like your heart, the golden rule, green like the trees. Every single morning for two full summers, plus two weeks, plus three winter camps, those principles rolled off my tongue as easily as the Pledge of Allegiance when we would recite (or read, if you so desired) the Character Creed at camp:

“I pledge my commitment to the four principles of honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility, and to reflect them in my thoughts, words and actions, to be the person I was intended to be.”

It’s a pretty simple sentence. Nothing wildly challenging to memorize (especially when you say it no less than 50 times per summer), and really nothing super groundbreaking here. You’re basically saying, “I pledge to be a good person.” But it’s that last phrase that always gets me: “the person I was intended to be.”

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Every time I’m at camp, I feel like I’m being the person I was intended to be. I think that’s part of what keeps me coming back again and again, even though I’m no longer in college, even though I wasn’t an education major, never had any desire to be an education major, and still have absolutely zero desire to be a teacher, even though my skill set lies in writing and editing. I feel so authentically me at camp.

It’s so tricky, that “person I was intended to be” business. I like my job in Chicago. I like what I’m doing. I like that my job relates exactly to my degree. I like living in Chicago. I truly feel like I am exactly where I need to be right now, but then I go to camp and I can’t help but question everything. Because even though I’m perfectly happy in Chicago, even though my real job doesn’t leave me unfulfilled or dissatisfied, I feel like the work I do at camp is so much more important than the work I do in the real world. I have never once left my desk job feeling like the work I’m doing has helped anyone grow and develop as a person. I have never once been at camp and not been acutely aware of the fact that every single thing I do influences the children that were entrusted to my care.

I realize I have a pretty cushy setup here, and maybe that’s part of why I’m able to look at camp and the work I do there through such rosy lenses. I do have a real job, with a real salary and actual benefits that allows me to be financially independent from my parents. I can pop into camp for a week and not bat an eye at the fact that I’m putting in 50 hours of volunteer work, because I have paid time off and don’t need the laughably low weekly wage of your average camp counselor. I’m able to live into that one week as much as possible without worrying about getting burnt out, without growing too weary of 5:45 a.m. alarms and 12+ hour work days on Thursdays, without getting so incredibly sick of my fellow counselors that I have seen far too much of. I’m a camper disguised as a counselor.

I guess the most frustrating part for me is that I feel like camp is such a better environment for me than an office–from a health standpoint (moving vs. sitting), from a social standpoint (real interaction with human beings vs. e-mail and gchat), from a personal fulfillment standpoint (having a six-year-old give you a big hug and say, “I love you, Bethany” vs. exploring the width, breadth, and depth of BuzzFeed on a neverending quest to discern whether or not I am a 90s baby, extrovert, from the Midwest, female, alive, etc.). In all the columns on my metaphorical pro/con list, camp wins every single time…except in the “making a living” category. Cause folks, “financial independence” and “$200/50-hour work week” do not go hand in hand. And I hate that that “making a living” category has to be the trump card. I think there’s so much more to life than what you earn, but unless the American economy switches over to a barter system sometime in the near future, money, unfortunately, has to be important if I want to do things like eat and not be evicted.

I’ve never been particularly good at accepting that I can’t have my cake and eat it too, and I think that’s part of my struggle with camp and real life. I want to live in Chicago, but I want to work at camp. I want to keep my current job, but I want to be a camp counselor at the same time. I want to have one whole life, not a segmented “camp life over here” and “Chicago life over there.” But life doesn’t work that way.

Even though all this existential crisis business is hardly my idea of a good time, I’m still so grateful that I had the chance to go back to camp for a week. Camp may not be my only happy place, but it is certainly one of them, and being able to spend a week doing something you love in a place you love with people you love — well, I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.

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12 thoughts on “The Person I Was Intended To Be

  1. Amen. Jobs are a really funny thing. We need to work to survive and unfortunately most jobs that provide enough income to survive involve sitting at a desk and little face-to-face communication. Sometimes when I think of what I do at work it almost makes me laugh. I mean, my job is helping people (indirectly through health policy) but on a day-to-day basis I respond to e-mails, write science-y stuff, run stats, etc. How is this a job when most days I feel like I hardly accomplish anything? In contrast, when you’re a camp counselor, you get an almost immediate feeling of accomplishment because everything you do impacts the kids. It’s 100% more rewarding.

  2. Even though I don’t quite have a real job yet, I feel like I get where you’re coming from. I live for my summers here at the beach, living on the boat. I like the real world and can’t wait for a real job, but there’s something about this place that just keeps me coming back. I don’t know if its the relationships I’ve formed, the lifestyle I’m accustomed to, or the relaxed island atmosphere, but I honestly dread leaving every August. It’s why I didn’t try harder for an internship this summer even though everyone kept telling me it was important, it’s why I am questioning the job application process for next summer so I can have one more here, and it’s why the idea of going back to school pains me. I feel like I’m the person I’m meant to be here. I’m relaxed, fun, independent, all of the best qualities in me. Unfortunately real life is waiting for both of us, but at least we get to experience this for a short time! For that, I’d consider ourselves lucky.

    • I really, really, really like the last two things you have to say here. I appreciate that perspective — I have been quite lucky to experience what I’ve had, and I’m lucky to enjoy what I’m doing in the mean time even if it’s not as great as camp.

  3. And herein lies a big problem that I also have these days. I love my job. I loved my old job. But the pay of a preschool teacher is horrendous. I was a wreck half the time because of money. Now, things are a lot better pay-wise, but because there are two of us and one of us is still trying to find a job, money is still tight. I knew I would never make a ton but I didn’t realize how hard things would be until I actually entered the real world and suddenly had to pay for everything on my own. It’s taught me a lot about myself and made me very appreciative for what I have been able to do and buy since I really worked hard for it, but I also can’t wait till things are a little easier. I’m glad that you can have some of each right now, hun. Better than nothing, right?

    • Better than nothing for sure. It all seems to really boil down to money, doesn’t it? I sincerely doubt I’ll ever work at a job that has me in a high tax bracket (helloooooo English major. Haha), and while I’m honestly quite fine with the fact that I’m not making serious bank at my real job, it is very frustrating to deal with the stress that comes along with money. The only thing that ever helps me in regards to all of that is remembering that even if I did make more money, I still wouldn’t be stress free — there’s always something, you know? Guess that’s life for you! As long as you can be content in your circumstances, though, I think is the key to making it work, stress and all (that, and making enough money to survive of course!)

  4. Just found your blog, and I like it already! I definitely get what you’re saying. Right now, I’m working in a job that I LOVE doing almost exactly what I want to do, but I live really far away from my friends and family, and it gets pretty lonely here. In the job I had before this one, I had a great social setup and a good amount of support, but I hated my job with a passion. I think you just have to take the good with the bad and keep striving for what you want. I try to work on appreciating the things that I DO have instead of thinking of what I don’t. That’s much, much easier said than done though, at least for me.

    • Hi Amy! Glad you stopped by! I really like what you have to say here — nothing’s perfect in life, for sure, and focusing on the good is a much better outlook than focusing on the bad. Thanks for what you had to say, and again, I’m glad you found my blog!

  5. I think this is exactly why people look for things to do outside of the office. Because many times our jobs are not fulfilling so we volunteer, do things with friends, learn new skills, etc. I know, at least, that’s why I do a lot of the things I do.

    In an ideal world we’d be able to earn a living doing those things that fulfill us. It’s just, there are so many people and only so many jobs that are both fulfilling and can support a cost of living. Although, I suppose it depends on a person’s priorities. If someone knows they want to do something that they feel is fulfilling, brings out the best in themselves, and makes them feel amazing YET it doesn’t pay their current bills, well, they need to decide if they can change their lifestyle so that they can afford to do that job.

    • That’s a good point about finding things to do outside the office. It’s tricky because I think for a lot of people, being in the office takes up so much of your “awake time,” if you will, that I think it can be easy to still feel somewhat unfulfilled if the majority of your time is spent doing something that doesn’t fulfill you (sitting at a desk vs. being at camp, to go along with my post here). But it’s definitely true that we can find fulfillment outside of our jobs, and I appreciate you reminding me of that 🙂

  6. I’ve been away myself at a Y Camp! Camp Warren in Minnesota. My 12 summer, though I took 7 years off to “grow up and get a real job.” I wrote my own blog post about a very similar topic actually. Such a fun coincidence. I got super excited when I was reading this and saw your reference to the core values and all that! I couldn’t have found a better thing to do with my summer than to go back to camp and realize what a satisfying job means to me and how I can focus my path to either include it more into my life or make it part of my life (working with Y camps in some way that is more than just counseling). Or bringing what I do now to kids in Chicago and working with them more generally outside of my job. Making my life feel more fulfilling. I just keep thinking about what I’m gonna want to look back on and be happy that I did in my life when I’m laying in my deathbed. Even if it’s not being a camp counselor every summer I have now realized that it has to give back that much to myself and others and make that kind of an impact in order for mento feel like I lived the life that I am
    meant to live and be most authentically myself. Y camps are magical places. I’m so glad you get to play and work at one too!!

    • Ahhhhh no way! What a cool coincidence indeed! I’ll have to read your post. I’d always joke about camp magic with my campers (like if they want to know something not important…I don’t know, like how the “monster” at the top of the climbing tower got up there, my answer tended to be “Camp magic” haha), but the more time I spend at camp, the more I begin to think there really is something magical about it. HCRR for life!

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