In my family, summertime was always meant for working. Whether we were serving up food for hungry customers or waking up early for SPRA Swim Team practice, there was always something to do. Summers were always fun but seemed to come to an end rather quickly. It always came with the expectation that you would work hard for the few weeks you had, find time to relax when you could, and return to your regularly scheduled life in late August.
However, this past summer presented a new and exciting challenge. I was asked to work as the assistant director of Harrisburg Academy’s Adventure Seekers division of Summer Expeditions Day Camp. Not knowing what to expect from the experience, I approached the summer with cautious optimism. There were so many variables that were unknown. What would the kids be like? Who would be my co-workers? What activities should I plan for? In my whirlwind of uncertainty, I was able to find my place in the daily lives of both my campers and counselors as a leader and a mentor.
Mentorship is made up of many pieces. It’s leadership, communication, and empathy. However, one of the greatest pieces I have found in both my mentors and mentoring others is character development. Teaching someone to complete a task or learn a term is almost always followed by some piece of character building. When someone first learns to ride a bicycle, he or she often struggles to keep the bike upright and falls constantly. You eventually learn how to balance yourself and continue to ride without falling. The most difficult part about falling off of a bike is getting back up and trying again. Your brain knows that you might fall and your body knows it will hurt, but your determination to continue to ride is what drives you to get back on the bike and try again.
Summer Camp allowed me to share some of my wisdom with both the campers and the counselors. One of the greatest lessons I ever learned from my father was also one that I put on the campers and counselors time and time again. We have all had days where things are simply not going our way. Maybe we fail an exam, misplace an important item, or have a fight with a close friend. These instances would always weigh heavily on me and my father could see how upset and angry I would become. He would pull me aside and ask me, “How is this making your day any better? You are carrying around all of this anger and ruining the remainder of your day. Why not start your day over?”
To me, his idea seemed impossible. A day starts when you wake up in the morning. How could I start my day over again? After years of hearing the same lesson over and over, it finally made sense. I can make a conscious choice to leave the anger and frustration of an event behind me and start my day with a fresh and new perspective. Holding onto the anger and frustration of yesterday won’t help me today. Starting my day over means leaving all of that behind me to find a new reason to continue on and have an amazing day. This lesson is one that can be applied in all stages of life, and it continues to help me find a new perspective on every day.
However, it took me years to learn this valuable lesson. How can I expect my students to learn this lesson in one summer? This question was answered almost immediately when a parent stopped me while she was picking up her son. She began to explain how she lost something while she was in her car and her son was in the back seat. She was becoming more upset by the minute and her son could see that. He asked her, “Mom, why can’t you just start your day over?” When the mother asked what he meant, he explained my lesson perfectly. This drop of wisdom was something a 1st grader was able to maintain, appreciate, and explain to his parent.
Mentorship is challenging because you can rarely see if you are actually making a difference. Compare mentorship to constructing a puzzle. You can slowly see the puzzle come together as it’s made. As a mentor, it’s more difficult to see that growth every single day. It is a lifelong process that is rarely seen so quickly. However, seeing one student pick up that lesson so quickly showed me that I did have an impact on the camp — I didn’t ask my campers to do anything that they were incapable of doing. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.”
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