For those of you who’ve worked at a summer camp, you understand- after weeks of this routine- you get used to it. For those of you who never had the privilege of working at a summer camp, this probably sounds terrible. The whole Sunday afternoon- Friday evening, pouring yourself out in just about every way possible, only to have Saturday “off” (meaning go climb a high peak or two with friends at 6am because why not?) and do it all over the next day. But it’s really not. Intact, I love it.
Its a Wednesday- camp ended about a month ago and I’m finally recovered on my sleep (I think..). Now I’m sitting at my desk, drinking my 2nd cup of mango-chillie trader-jose tea (because why not?), listening to my bluegrass spotify playlist, and procrastinating working on homework.
I remember going to Beaver Camp as a kid and dreaming of being on staff one day. Camp was something I literally looked forward to year-round. As you can imagine, staying there all summer long, living the life of my super cool camp counselor was a dream. When I was 11, I had a counselor who I stayed in touch with- via letter writing for almost 6 years. The impact she made on my life is bigger than she probably realizes- or even I realize.
I don’t remember our letters being super spiritual or anything like that. I remember talking about school and sports. Sometimes we talked about our friends and families. Normal stuff- just in the form of hand-written letters (which also says a lot because, believe it or not, my hand writing wasn’t really legible until high school). I looked up to her a lot. She was a number of years older than me and when she got accepted to a prestigious college to study piano, I remember adding an extra half-hour to my violin practice time every day. It was little things like this about her that “inspired” me to be different.
Looking back now, I appreciate everything she invested in me on a different level. I’m not the super high energy 16-year old junior counselor that I was years ago. Midnight is my bed time and I need periodic hours of time to introvert daily. There were times that one week that I counseled this summer, after coming back from Colorado that, as much as I loved my campers, I did not feel like being surrounded by kids who wanted to prank other cabins and puddle jump all day. I live a busy life- as any of you who’ve lived the college life understand- I don’t have "time, and when I do have time I don’t want to be around high-energy people.
But the memory of this counselor that I had all those years back kind of changed the way I went into that week at camp, and now how I’m going into a new semester. She was a college student. She had her down days. She was busy and probably often exhausted. Yet, she made time for me. I realize now that I’ve had the opportunity to make that same impact no others. I’ve had it all those years working at camp. When I was tired after a long day full of the crazy camp routine and drama in my own life, to choose to sit out on the porch with that homesick camper and put her needs above my own. Or to choose to puddle jump (even though I hate puddle jumping and didn’t have rain-boots) when my campers gaze outside longingly at the big brown spots scattered across camp. Its not easy to choose to invest in people like this but ( I know this because of what someone else did for me) that is worth it 150%.
So I chose to do camp that way this summer. It was worth it. The other night I had a Skype date with one of my campers. Nothing spectacular was discussed, but I promise you- that hour long conversation about soccer and homemade spaghetti sauce meant more to her than an extra hour of staring at a computer screen doing homework would for me.
Now I’m back at school. I’m an RA. I have a floor full of girls who rely on me. I don’t always know what to do for them- sometimes they have emotional needs and they need a shoulder to cry on. Other times they just need to re-stock their toilet paper. Regardless, my job is to meet them where they’re at. Second. I’m on the Student Association Leadership Team (SALT- or a fancy way of saying “the larger body of the class councils”). My job there is to promote events through my “design skills”- and set an example to the rest of the student body. I’m a senior. I’m supposed to know where places are. I’m the president of the art club. I’m supposed to be friends with all the art people and create community there.
So whats this all mean? Well, what I came up with is that, just like camp, I need to CHOOSE to invest. I listened to a podcast once where the host said something along the lines of “people love to talk about themselves, so if you ask good questions and just listen, they will naturally be drawn to you and want to be your friend. They will come back to you when they have troubles because they know that you care.”- just from being a good listener. The impact I could make on somebody’s life from an hour long conversation is way better than the A I could get on my Western Civ test. As the person I am at school, in all the roles I am in, I have this great opportunity to do great things- I just need to prioritize my investments.
The other day (I promise- this is the last story, but it is so great, so hang with me) I was in Target. (Background here… There is a Starbucks in the Target down the street from school. People have a thing for giving me Starbucks gift cards. So through my use of those, I finagled myself into a “Starbucks Gold Card”. Now with this fancy card I can get free re-fills on coffee while I’m there…. So naturally I stay there as long as my computer stays charged and drink 3-8 cups of coffee, and take more for the road. Its nice to get in a different environment for homework efficiency as well.) Anyways, its about 7-8pm on a Friday night. I’m sitting at the little counter in the Target Starbucks. Drinking coffee and working on my art project. Mostly taking notes as thoughts came to me, and doing rough sketches. A guy sits down a few stools away from me and starts playing on his phone. The sounds were annoying and I didn’t have my headphones to listen to music. Anyways, after him sitting there a while, he looked over at me and asked what I was working on. I told him I was working on my senior capstone project for my art major- a children’s book, written in poetry, dealing with the effects of adoption and foster care on children.
He told me he was a writer and asked if he could read it. I told him of course (I love constructive criticism). So he read it and stared at the screen a moment. He told me it was good and asked about the inspiration behind it. After some conversation he told me that he was adopted and what I wrote really resonated with him. I half wondered that night, after coming back to school, if I hadn’t been open to conversation with this person, in the midst of my own homework- if he would have opened up to me like he did and given such a genuine response to my work.
Food for thought. Where are you investing?