The 7 Life Skills You Learn at Camp - An Adult's Perspective

The 7 Life Skills You Learn at Camp - An Adult's Perspective

Photo by:   Brodie Vissers

Photo by: Brodie Vissers

I can’t remember at what exact age I went to summer camp, but I do recall collapsing into a torrent of tears on the first night because I was a cosseted child and I missed my mother. Things swiftly got better after that, naturally.

Some details of the adventure are absent from my memory, and others are likely weathered and warped by the buffeting winds of time, but I do know that it played a prominent role in turning me into the functional adult I am today.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m going to pick out the 7 most meaningful skills you pick up from camping in your youth (whether through school or outside of it), and give you my personal thoughts on them as a semi-proper grown-up. And pay attention, because there will be a test at the end (OK, that’s not true).

1. Getting Past First Impressions

When we start to approach the standard age of entry into the working world, we begin to hear it drilled into our heads over and over again that first impressions are critical. ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression’, we’re reminded, as though that itself were meaningful.

A spell at camp with a smattering of near-strangers will soon throw a spanner in those works, because the boy you deemed a sour ruffian from afar will turn out to be a kind soul with some unfortunate allergies, and the girl who seemed so smiley and friendly will reveal herself as a monster in human disguise.

You need time to get to know people in all their complexity. If you stay away from strangers because of first impressions, you’ll miss out on some great relationships. Those snap judgments are very far from accurate.

For instance, I’ve a friend who’s brusque, and belligerent, and altogether grouchy— and I’d never have learned that he’s actually a very kind police officer if I’d avoided him. Give people a chance and you’ll be surprised by what you discover.

2. Working With People You Dislike

Bad news! You’ve been put on a team exercise with the monstrous girl from a couple of paragraphs back. But also good news! It’s something you need to get used to. You’re never going to get on with everyone, no matter how congenial you are.

In your working life (assuming all goes well), you’ll have dealings with hundreds and hundreds of people, including colleagues, employers, clients… employees, too, if you ever start a business. And the chance that you’ll have a smooth and comfortable rapport with every single one of them is absurdly slim.

But that’s alright, because professionals who dislike each other can still work together. They can put their feelings aside and pool their resources to get the job done. And in a lot of cases, they unknowingly draw on camping experiences to do so.

I’ve thankfully never had to work closely with someone I didn’t like, but I have had some friction with a few colleagues, and we’ve left it where it belongs: outside of the workplace.

3. Communicating Efficiently

You get underway on the team exercise, and find that it was pointedly designed to require careful cooperation and a specific distribution of effort. Maybe half of you are blindfolded, and the other half aren’t allowed to talk, yet you’re still required to exchange information.

This is where you discover something you’ll later see confirmed in business meetings time and time again: without accurate and effective communication, teamwork doesn’t work at all.

You need to be able to let others know what you need from them, and understand what they’re asking of you. The sullen silence of awkward childhood only breeds isolation, which is why we must learn when to cast it aside— even when our instincts would have us stay quiet.

I tend towards introversion, and I’m not good with crowds, so I often want to clam up when I’m in a group, but I’ve learned to make my voice heard, asking questions and telling people what I want. It’s an essential skill to develop.

4. Trusting Your Capacity for Learning

As you’re getting stuck into the tasks, something occurs to you that may never have occurred to you so strongly before: the human brain is an incredible tool. You’re given a knot to tie, and you don’t have the first clue how you’re going to follow the instructions—where to move your hands, how to position your fingers—until all of a sudden it clicks.

It’s different in a conventional scholastic setting, because everything is of a certain type. The knowledge can feel empty, identikit, learned by rote. But outside, working on practical skills, the learning process takes on a significance that it never did before.

Which is all quite handy, because every new job you take on throughout your life will bring fresh challenges, and you need to know that you can overcome them even if they’re a world away from your wheelhouse. You can install extensions to your wheelhouse as you go.

I write a lot about ecommerce (selling things online), and I see entrepreneurs puzzling past daunting challenges all the time (finances, social balance, etc.). In short spans of time, they go from novices with big dreams to seasoned professionals, and from there to full-blown experts. It keeps me motivated to push myself and avoid feeling that I’ve already reached my limits.

5. Accepting Your Limitations

Out of nowhere comes a task that you just can’t figure out, no matter how hard you try. Maybe it involves something acrobatic, or mental arithmetic, or keeping a balloon in the air. Whatever it is, the problem-solving part of your setup just can’t gain any traction.

And that’s alright; really, it is. Your mind is a marvel, but its powers aren’t unlimited, and we all have quirks and foibles and shortcomings that present themselves at odd times and hold us back from becoming masters of all we behold.

We’re told that we can do anything we set our minds to, but the truth is somewhat less than that, though still inspirational: we can almost always improve at something when we set our minds to it. You don’t get to choose where you start, or where you end up— just how much progress you make along the way.

One example: I can’t sing. I just don’t have the range. I’ll never be an opera sensation, or a vocal coach, or a musical lead, but… I’ve improved throughout my life, and I’ve no doubt that I could get significantly better given proper tuition. So I appreciate what I have.

6. Preparing Effectively

‘Be prepared’, scouts are told. Arm yourself with the knowledge, resources and support you need to have the best chance at success. Now sure, you prepare for tests at school, but (as with the skills you pick up there) it’s a comfortable, communal sort of preparation. It has safety lanes.

At camp, you have a set of structured opportunities to plan practical things. You get destinations to venture towards and the freedom to plot courses to victory, failure, or something more creative— or to shrug your shoulders and wing everything. And you’re steered towards the discovery that the teams that plan ahead generally get the results.

It doesn’t make preparation any easier or more enjoyable in the long run, of course. It just firms up that sensible inner voice that tells you to get some sleep before an important day, or get that travel insurance just in case you slip and break an ankle in Peru. It’s the voice of an adult.

And I thank my time at camp for that voice every time I venture into the all-important world of research for a project I’m working on, looking past all the distractions and focussing on the things that I know will benefit me in the long run.

7. Leaving Your Comfort Zone

When I was a kid, I was terrified of heights, or rather the prospect of falls. I wouldn’t feel dizzy near a ledge, or get the strange urge to jump; I’d just retreat to safety at the first opportunity. You can imagine my reaction when I was told that one of the camping activities was ziplining.

And it only intensified when I learned that a girl had fallen off into nettles just the previous year. I’d like to say that I swallowed my fear and stepped up to the plate, but I didn’t. I stood back, shook my head, and watched as all my peers enjoyed themselves.

Looking back, I wish terribly that I’d done otherwise, because the intensity of my fear has long since abated. I don’t welcome heights now, but I’m alright with them. They don’t hold me back from trying new things. And I missed a chance to overcome my fear much earlier. But I appreciate what that near-miss taught me, which is that you have to make an effort to expand your horizons.

As an adult, I know how easy it is to get stuck in a rut. I can unintentionally build a narrative about what sort of person I am and what sort of things I do, and find myself clinging to it like a shield, but it isn’t a shield— it’s a jail cell. If I open my mind, I find that my world expands with it.

So I take on work that I’m not fully confident about. I make social efforts I’d innately prefer to miss. I try foods that I always assumed I’d hate. And in a vast majority of cases, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results

Camp is like a practical microcosm of adult life that teaches you the fundamentals of getting by without always having your hand held and the right direction pointed out. It gives you the opportunity to learn about who you are, what you can do, and how you will fit into the world. The skills you learn there set you in good stead for your entire life, so don’t overlook or undervalue them. I certainly never will!

Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who was a very peculiar child indeed. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.

[Travis' Note: From time to time guest writers reach out to GCP to ask if they can post to our blog.  It's an interesting Search Engine Optimization tactic - often for their own company but it could be for a website that has contracted with them to create content.   If the content will be beneficial to camp mavericks we enjoy sharing other's perspectives!]

Travis Allison