Why Being A Camp Counselor ISN'T A 'Real' Job...


Summer is quickly approaching and all over the world University students are deciding what to do with their vacation. For many, the only acceptable option is to get a 'real' job.

We're only young once, yet our entire youth is spent being told what to do to set ourselves up for a secure adulthood. Before we know it, our youth is gone and we are lost under a mountain of paperwork and debt wondering how the hell did I get here?! The struggle is real.

Surely, if we are only young once we should get to choose how we spend that time rather than being repeatedly told to be little adults, to get internships that could lead to careers, to take summer classes to further cram our overloaded brains.

Many young people, myself included, choose to spend their summers working at American summer camps. However, this doesn't count as a 'real' job so most 'grown ups' consider it to be a total waste of time and resources.

The first time I told people I was going to spend the summer working at camp, they were excited for me. I was constantly being told "that's amazing", "I wish I could do something like that!", "you're going to have the best time" and "good for you!"

When I chose to return for a second summer, the responses were more surprised. I got "Oh really? You liked it that much?" and "Oh, that's cool. You're lucky you're able to go more than once" and "Make the most of it, the real world will be waiting for you when you get back!".

Now, on summer number 5, my announcements are greeted with eye rolls and sighs and exclamations of "Again?! When are you going to actually get a real job?"

So it got me thinking. Why isn't working at camp considered to be a real job? Thousands of people do it every year, yet somehow it doesn't count as 'real'? Why is that? What is the difference between a 'real' job and a 'fake' one?

The 9-5

Apparently, a real job means working Monday-Friday from 9am to 5pm. Some really dedicated 'real' workers might work 8am-6pm or even work on Saturdays from time to time, but generally speaking, a 'real' job consists of a 40 hour week with 2 days off.

Camp doesn't work like that. Which I guess means it can't be considered a 'real' job. At camp, employees are expected to work from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. And even then they might still have to work in the middle of the night. Camp staff work 6 days a week, sometimes 7. Weekends don't exist at camp. On average, a camp counselor is on shift 18 hours a day, 6 days a week. Thats 108 hours a week - more than double the number required to be considered 'real'. So by this criteria, being a camp counselor isn't a 'real' job.

The Commute

'Real' jobs involve a commute of some kind, whether that be a 10 minute walk, a 45 minute drive or a 2 hour train ride. It gives those in 'real' jobs something to talk about when they get into the office, a reason to be late every so often, a chance to complain about the state of public transportation and a bit of downtime at the end of the working day before they get home to their families.

Camp counselors rarely have a commute. They live on site. They have no excuse if they are late to breakfast or to their activity period because they literally live right there. If the kids don't make it to breakfast on time because they couldn't find their left flip flop, that's the counselor's fault - not public transportation. Camp counselors can't unwind on their way home at the end of the day because their commute usually consists of giving piggy-back rides to the kids they have spent the whole day with and will spend the rest of the evening with. Day in, day out. All summer. Camp counselors can't oversleep and blame it on the traffic, if they oversleep, their boss can go and get them and drag them out of bed in less than 2 minutes. 'Real' bosses wouldn't be able to do that, it would take too long and be a 'waste of company resources'. So no. Camp counselors don't have a 'real' commute because they are always at work, therefore working at camp cannot be a 'real' job.

The Dress Code

People in 'real' jobs have certain standards they have to live up to. They have to look smart and presentable at all times while at work. They have to have freshly ironed shirts, neat ties, clean jackets, a stylish haircut, sensible shoes. A lot goes into the expected image of those in a 'real' job.

Being a camp counselor can't be a 'real' job because it doesn't adhere to these dress code guidelines set by the 'real' world. Sure, some camps have a uniform for staff and kids and everyone has to wear the same thing in order to teach the children that there is more to life than what you wear, but shorts and tshirts can hardly count as a 'real' uniform, can it? And then there are the camps that don't impose a uniform and counselors can wear whatever they like (within reason) to teach the kids about freedom of expression and being yourself. That certainly doesn't fit the 'real' dress code. And then there are all the days at camp that require an element of fancy dress - shows, events, parties - that involve staff having to dress up in crazy costumes, paint their faces and just generally look ridiculous in order to teach kids that there is more to you than what you look like. And all this time, counselors are expected to be role models to the kids, to show them what being a mature, responsible member of society looks like. But they aren't wearing a suit which would certainly be unacceptable in a 'real' job, so I guess camp counselors again don't qualify.

The Personality

In 'real' jobs, employees are expected to maintain composure. To be sensible and efficient at all times. To have fun, but not too much fun because work comes first. 'Real' job workers have a good relationship with their co-workers and 90% of the time they don't hang out outside work except for on a Friday night when they grab a drink before starting their commute. They keep things strictly professional because that is how it should be. People in 'real' jobs shouldn't get too attached to their colleagues and certainly not to their clients.

In the camp world, it is the total opposite. Staff are encouraged to be fun and vibrant and exciting and encouraging and motivating all the time. They are told to make bonds and connections with their co-workers and kids and these relationships carry on when the summer is over meaning that kids and staff alike have been educated in cultures around the globe and now have friendships that are virtually unbreakable. Camp counselors rarely complain of being tired or sad because they know they need to find the positives in everything. They get extremely close to their peers in a short period of time because they live in such close proximity for so long they have no choice but to become one another's family. This is not the kind of personality that is seen in workers of the 'real' world, so camp counselor must not count as a 'real' job.

The Skills

In the 'real world, employees are hired for their skillset and they are expected to use that skillset and that skillset alone in order to succeed in their job. They are occasionally offered training to further develop those skills or skills related to the field but generally speaking, what they are hired to do is what they do.

At camp, you are hired for your skill in an activity with the expectation that you will do so much more. Camp counselors are teachers, life coaches, nutritionists, parents, motivational speakers, judges, nurses, hair stylists, manicurists, problem solvers, mediators, mentors and one hundred other things over the course of the summer. They receive a crash course in training, usually in no more than a week, and are expected to learn on the job for the rest of it. What they were originally hired for usually becomes the lowest priority and they take on all these other roles at the same time. Not only do camp counselors work within their field, they work in a bunch of other fields as well and this simply doesn't count as a 'real' job.

The Hate

There is a general consensus in the 'real' world, a sort of unwritten rule of sorts, that staff must complain about their jobs. People with 'real' jobs often complain about the hours/ commute/ workload/ coworkers/ training/ bosses/ clients etc. It seems you are not fully immersed in having a 'real' job unless you hate it on some level.

Camp counselors LOVE their jobs. Love isn't even a strong enough word for how camp counselors feel about what they do. They work 100+ hour weeks that don't feel like work, they are on call 24 hours a day with a smile, they are constantly having to adapt and learn new things and they do it without complaint because they really enjoy what they do and find value in it. It is very rare that you will find a camp counselor that complains about their job. Sure, there are moments where it seems tough and they need to vent a little, but unlike with 'real' jobs, camp counselors see the bigger picture, They see that it's always worth it. They see that they are making a difference in the lives of the next generation of young people and nothing could make them hate that on any level.

So no. Based on all these things I have found to be core elements of a 'real' job, working at a summer camp just doesn't fit. It is not a real job. But if having a real job means giving up all the incredible opportunities camp gives me, the friendships I make every summer, the lives I change, the experiences I have and the sheer love and joy I feel each and every day I am at work, I'm not sure I want a 'real' job anyway.


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