This past summer I had the immense pleasure of working as a counselor at a summer camp for girls where I gained many valuable experiences. Some of these lessons were personal revelations about myself and abilities while others were more general truths about the working world and creating a productive environment. While I won't bore you with stories about my self discovery, some of the lessons that fall into the latter category could be beneficial if you are looking to start a job. So here's a list of my top take-aways from this summer:
Always respect your boss, even if you are getting conflicting messages
Develop employable qualities so you don't end up like this guy
I don't usually have a hard time respecting authority figures, partly because of the way I was raised and partly because I generally don't think I could do their job any better. Sometimes though, it can be frustrating when one member of senior staff is telling you to never let the campers mix paint while another is telling you that mixing their own paint is part of the campers' learning experience (metaphorically speaking). When this happens try to remember that your bosses have a hard job too and are probably dealing with a lot more than you realize. That's not to say that your boss is always right and you're always wrong, but it is always best to communicate your confusions and problems to your superiors rather then be a disgruntled employee. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself but remember that your boss has the final say and since they're the ones signing your paycheck you might as well treat them with respect.
Develop friendships with your co-workers
I love my camp friends! My fondest memories involve the times I spent talking in the lounge or counselor rooms with my fellow counselors and helping each other cope with crazy weeks. The campers could tell that we loved each other and they had more fun when they knew we were enjoying ourselves as well. Even some of the counselors that I didn't like as much at first ended up being very helpful and nice once I bothered to converse with them. Sometimes the person who you think is a jerk is really just feeling left out or having a hard time dealing with a problem; being there for them can make a world of a difference and contribute to a more positive experience for everyone.
You're not always going to be able to do whatever you want to do. I taught a difference type of class every week, from ceramics to volleyball to cheer dance, many of which I had never even done before. Improvise, you'll be fine and part of the experience is learning how to get things done that you might not be fully confident doing. Also when things don't go as planned, like for example a water pipe breaks and your toilets don't work for a day, being adaptive and reacting calmly allows you to realize you are not in a Korean prison camp and that it's all going to be alright. Just roll with the punches and don't let things stress you out, it's just a job.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
This one was hard for me to grasp because I'm pretty independent and I like to give an air of confidence. My feigned certainty was short lived, however, as I soon realized there are some things I just didn't know how to do as well as some of my coworkers or superiors. Like mixing brown paint; I got really good at it by the end of the summer but for a while I would let other counselors tackle that problem. Also behavioral problems in the cabin; I always tried to take care of the situation myself but there were times I had to bring in the big guns (senior staff) because I didn't know how to best handle the situation. I quickly realized that it's perfectly okay to ask for help; what's not okay is completely screwing up the campers' game of kickball because you're pretending to know the rules but really you should have asked the other counselor leading the activity how to play the game (once again, metaphorically speaking).
The customer is always right. Always.
In my case the "customer" was usually a 9-13 year old girl, but this rule still applies. This was another one that I had to keep reminding myself of because there were many times that I felt like telling a camper to stop being melodramatically dumb and get over it. I couldn't do that though, because the campers were who we were there for and I was being paid to help them have an enjoyable experience. Even though I knew that the camper was faking an injury or waking me up for no real reason, I still had to listen and be sympathetic. It was frustrating but I had to humor them; calling an 11 year old girl a liar could scar her for life, especially since she's probably only faking a sprained ankle to get attention and she doesn't know how else to do it. Be patient and remember: you're there to serve the customer, therefore the customer is always right.
The list goes on and on of course but these are the main highlights. I hope they help you in your endeavors as much as they have helped me. Becoming a good employee is often a product of experience and becoming a good employee is usually the first step in becoming a good leader. Just remember to be yourself, set pride aside and try to maintain as positive of an environment as you can possibly muster; it will be much more enjoyable for you and for everyone you come in contact with.