On of the most defining periods of my life was the four summers I worked at a summer camp for the Boy Scouts.
It was a great time. I'd get done with school, spend a couple of weeks at home decompressing from my third "dead week" of the year, then pack everything into my car and head to the mountains for the next couple of months. I lived in a tent - for one summer out of a hammock - working exhausting days teaching outdoors skills to kids.
It was hard work with little pay, and probably the most rewarding I've ever done.
Camp was where I learned my work ethic. I was up every morning at about 6am to shower, prep lesson plans, and otherwise get ready for the day to begin. I taught five 1-hour classes on anything from archery to knot tying to wilderness survival to the history of space exploration. I supervised an archery range and a tomahawk throwing range.
After dinner, our "open program" consisted of further classes in backcountry cooking and fire building. Later into the evening I'd visit individual campsites to visit with other leaders, check up on the boys' progress, and build relationships.
Our nightly 10pm staff meeting helped us unpack the day's program. Then I'd take a bit of time to pull my things together for the next day, often finding my way to bed after 11pm.
Seventeen hour days, 6 days per week. This kind of work was tiring, but I wouldn't give it up for the world. Reflecting back on those days makes it hard to complain about 10-hour days working on client projects and definitely gives me some perspective about the level of effort I put into everything I do.
One of the mantras I picked up at camp defines how I do my work - both physical and mental - and has proven invaluable to becoming the man I am today:
Work on it until you think you can't. Then keep working on it until someone tells you to stop.
Some of our tasks were monotonous. Clearing trails. Washing down the showerhouse. Digging outhouse pits. Driving fence posts.
These tasks would take hours - or days - and weren't necessarily the things we wanted to do in the first place. But they were often more necessary than the tasks we wanted to do. Learning how to grin and take on a less fulfilling but necessary task in order to get to the "fun stuff" was an important lesson - almost more so than any I learned in camping's off-season (that is, college).
The camp still organizes regular work weekends for current staff and alumni. I can't always make it, but I try to at least once each year. The camp is a large part of my history and had a significant influence in shaping who I am today.
I owe that camp - and the people who run it - a debt that can never be repaid. So rather than trying to repay it, I instead commit some of my time to helping it shine.
A day or two once or twice a year is an insignificant investment compared to that which the camp and its staff invested in my life. But it's an investment reflected in the camp's continuing ability to further invest in others. I may never be able to give back to the camp or this organization everything it's given me, but I can give enough to help keep it going.
With enough volunteers, Camp Cooper will continue thriving long into the future.
Be sure to take time - any time - to give back to the organizations and communities that have helped define you.