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Summer Jobs: What You Can Learn About a Lifetime in Just 2 Months

Have you been feeling a little more restless than usual lately? Starting to lose motivation in school as we quickly approach the end of the semester? Impatient and want to finally be done with papers and exams so that you can finally enjoy a day at the beach? Fortunately, summer is right around the corner. When most of us think of the three-month vacation that is upon us, pool parties, barbeques, bonfires, and lake trips immediately come to mind. Many people look forward to the summer break because it allows them to wind down a little bit and take more time for family, friends, and some hard-earned self-care.

    However, summer is also a great opportunity for people, especially students, to take advantage of new work experiences outside of school. While having fun and recuperating are essential during the summer, it is also important to maintain some sense of structure and productivity during your time off. This will help you enhance your personal and professional skills so that you will be even more equipped to return to school next semester, while also being able to work at your own pace and do something of your choice. Whether you are just trying to make some extra money, learn how to succeed in a work environment, or take the next step towards your future career, a summer job or internship can be extremely rewarding and worth your time. 

    During my high school and college years so far, I have had several jobs and internships that have all contributed to my growth both as an employee and an individual. The one that impacted me the most, however, was my job at Spring Lake Day Camp (SLDC), a summer camp near my hometown in New Jersey for younger kids. My time at SLDC as an adventure challenge specialist, (yes, you read that right) taught me three fundamental things that are necessary to succeed in the real world.  [bf_image id="9fc5q8jb5b48grbjs9khv28"]

  1. It encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone.

    At the time, I was a senior in high school, about to graduate. I was mainly looking for something to fill my time with over the summer and to make some extra cash in order to increase my sense of independence while starting college in the fall. After sending out several resumes and applications to local restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores without receiving an email or call back, I eventually felt frustrated and ready to give up on this seemingly hopeless job search. Then, one day after school, I saw an ad on Facebook for a position at SLDC and immediately called the number at the bottom of the screen. I told the woman on the other line that I’ve always loved working with kids and asked if any counselor positions were available. She told me that unfortunately, they were all filled up already, but that they were still looking for an employee in the adventure challenge department. When I asked her what that entailed, she explained that I would be required to assist children when they wanted to do an activity such as ziplining or rock climbing by adjusting their harnesses and properly sending them off the platform. 

    At first I was shocked and immediately tempted to decline the offer. The job description sounded so dangerous and I didn’t think I could trust myself to have someone else’s life in my hands. I kept thinking to myself, if someone else’s child leaves the camp grounds in an ambulance with a sprained ankle or a broken bone, it will be all my fault, and there was no way I would be able to live with that. However, before making an executive decision to say no, I told the woman I would reconsider and hung up. Within three weeks after that phone call, I had submitted an application, went in for an interview, and signed myself up for my first training session. By the end of June, I officially started working at SLDC as an adventure challenge specialist. 

    The point is, this job that seemed so random and had absolutely nothing to do with the career that I want to pursue, was incredibly rewarding for me because it showed me the importance of taking risks and doing something out of my comfort zone. Before that, I mostly stuck to jobs working as a cashier, tutor, and barista because they were safer bets and I knew I would be good at them. But my job at SLDC by far challenged me the most. It forced me to develop skills that I didn’t even know I had, and to work on some of my weaknesses as well. It taught me to have more confidence in my abilities and to not steer away from an opportunity simply because I do not know exactly what to expect from it. I know that after I graduate from college and look for a career, nothing is going to be completely predictable, which is why it is important to seize any offer that comes my way.  [bf_image id="kvcmhtvmhwtp3bjx587n4fqz"]

  1. It taught me to be comfortable with constructive criticism.

    Growing up, I have always been the type of person who was sensitive to criticism, especially any having to do with my performance, talents, or qualities as a person. It has always felt like an attack on my character, and the idea that I could be disappointing people who were counting on me to succeed was completely humiliating and terrifying for me. From a young age, I developed the habit of purposely choosing activities, both inside and outside of school, that I knew I was good at so that I would only receive positive feedback from others. 

When I got to SLDC, however, I was participating in tasks that were totally unfamiliar to me and that I would never expect to be learning. They taught me about the different types of harnesses, the specific purposes that they were used for, and the procedure for how to correctly put one on a child and adjust it accordingly. They taught me the code words and phrases to use when a child was ready to be sent onto a zipline and then taken off when they were done. It was a lot of information to absorb at once, but I was trying my best to keep up with everyone else, especially given the fact that most of my coworkers were older than me and had worked there before.

    Then, on the third day of work, my boss called me in for a meeting. I was confused; it seemed a little bit early in the session for a meeting, given that I had just started working there. When I arrived, my boss and two of my supervisors were there. They basically told me that from their first few observations of me working, they could see that I was putting in the effort, but that I was not doing a very good job. They were considerate about it and acknowledged that they knew it was my first time, but they also told me that I would need to improve more quickly if I wanted to keep my job. 

    I had trouble sitting through that meeting without crying. I politely agreed with what they were saying and thanked them for telling me, but I left feeling defeated and ashamed. I thought I was doing well for the first few days, so it completely took me by surprise to hear otherwise. And because I had not always been used to receiving criticism outside of my house, I didn’t know how to handle it in this situation. I cried the whole way home and even considered quitting entirely. However, after telling my parents what happened, they reminded me that it is completely normal to not succeed at something in the beginning, but that I should never use that as a reason to give up. So I went back to work the next day with a refreshed and more determined mindset, convincing myself that I was willing to work twice as hard and go the extra mile in order to do well. About a month later, when my boss and supervisors called me in for my midterm evaluation, they told me that they were impressed with my improvement since the beginning of the session. They told me that even though I still had some areas that I needed to work on, they admired me for my work ethic, drive, and enthusiasm about my job and that these were the qualities that made me a great employee.

    This experience has resonated with me because it showed me that there is nothing wrong with starting from scratch, as long as I am willing to do what it takes to work my way up. If I had given into my instincts to just quit on the first week after getting some constructive criticism, I never would have learned about some of my weak spots and most importantly, I would not have been able to fully appreciate my strengths. Even though I still frequently struggle with accepting criticism, my experience at SLDC has helped me to better understand that most people who give me criticism are not attacking me as a person or trying to make me feel bad about myself, but rather are trying to help me use my abilities to their full potential and to be the best version of myself. 

  1. It helped me develop leadership skills.  [bf_image id="s4svwmf9xnr5f4xpnrns3j"]

    Before my job at SLDC, I had a lot of experience working one-on-one with kids from tutoring and babysitting. This is how I grew to love them. Even though they can be undeniably frustrating and stubborn sometimes, I have always thought they were so cute and fun to be around. However, I underestimated the difficulty of having to deal with them in a group all at once. 

In the first few weeks, I tried to be as friendly and bubbly as possible when I was working with the kids. I wanted them to behave, but I also wanted them to like me, which is why I initially felt uncomfortable yelling at them in front of their friends, even when it was necessary. I had no trouble doing this in a setting where it was just me and another child, but I was worried that if they were around other kids their age, that they would not listen to me or take me seriously if I tried to act like an authority figure. A couple of my coworkers noticed this and told me that I should work on being a little more assertive when addressing the kids all at once. It was difficult in the beginning, but eventually I made progress, and my boss began putting me in charge of facilitating group activities and directing me to go help out in places where my coworkers were struggling to gain the attention of the kids. From my time at SLDC, I learned that one of the most important aspects of being a good leader is maintaining a balance of being approachable and tactful, yet also being tough and firm when necessary. 

The reason why my experience at SLDC was so fulfilling was not only because of the job itself, but more importantly, the impact that it had on me. I could not have worked there at a more perfect time in my life. All of these skills that I learned at my summer job there have shaped me into a more outgoing, ambitious, and determined person. The changes that I noticed in myself after working there were remarkable, and they made me feel much more confident about starting my freshman year of college in the fall. Even now, as I am pursuing my studies at Denison and working towards a job in communications, I still look back at that summer of 2019 in order to remind myself that I can do anything I set my mind to. This is why I highly recommend you to search for an opportunity to work over the summer. Even if you find something that you think will not live up to your expectations or is not directly related to your end goal, I strongly encourage you to take it as a sign. Do not pass up something that could potentially be the life-changing experience that you’ve been waiting for.

Callie is from New Jersey and is a currently a junior at Denison University. She is a Communications major with a double-minor in music and Spanish.
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