In my final few weeks of college, I spent a lot of time working on resumes. Or, more specifically, I spent a lot of time working on one resume — over and over again. A resume shouldn’t be too complicated; it’s basically just a short, professional autobiography.
At the same time, however, a resume is nothing like an autobiography. There are no charming tales of childhood innocence or embarrassing adolescent anecdotes. No profound realizations or haunting moments of regret. Instead, there are simply bullet points and margins, typefaces and italics. One’s entire life is distilled down into only the ‘relevant’ experience. Of course this makes sense on a practical level — it’s not as if every restaurateur has the time to read the bildungsroman of their future busboy — but on a personal level, it’s deeply unfulfilling.
The necessary brevity of any resume has resulted in the document developing its own deplorable idiom, a style of language that runs entirely counter to the idea of the resume as an accurate snapshot of an individual. Pretentious titles and ambiguous phrases emphasize things like “managerial oversight” and “intrapersonal dynamics,” clouding the true nature of any past accomplishment. Consequently, crafting a resume is not so much a practice of earnest self-portrayal as it is an exercise in misdirection and deception. Resume entries are kind of like balloons, you try to pump them up and up, distorting and distending them with technical jargon and adjectives, but careful to stop just short of popping them — lest you expose the hot air within.
For years now I’ve suffered occasional pangs of anxiety or doubt when questioned about my summer job. In the face of prestigious internships and good-paying summer jobs, it’s become increasingly difficult to not only explain to others, but to justify to myself, my continued return to camp. Something about “camp counselor” or “lifeguard” just sounds so flat and juvenile — shouldn’t I be learning “real” skills by now, ones that will prepare me for the “real” world? My peers at school have been wearing suits and ties all summer for years, and I’m still in swim trunks and flips-flops. I try to reassure myself that I’ll have plenty of time to sit in an office soon, but when everyone around you is so fixated on the future, it becomes easy to fear that you’re stuck in the past.
And as far as the resume goes, they are more prepared, but a resume only goes so far. Where on my resume can I put down the hours spent on a bench sympathizing with a homesick camper? The revelation that respecting the ref is more important than scoring the goal? The meticulous planning and teamwork that goes into moving fifty-six kids up and down a mountain? How about the constant problem solving, critical thinking, and communication skills integral to being an effective leader? Or the sheer amount of prioritizing, organizing, and empathizing necessary for any camp leader? Where can I put all of that down?
A recent study on entrants into the modern workforce identified certain “21st Century Skills” that deeply correlate to an individual’s success. And while one might suspect that these modern skills are rooted in technology — social media, digital editing, Web literacy — there are in fact far more fundamental things. According to the study, the four “Most Important Skills” are Professionalism, Teamwork, Oral Communication, and Ethics and Social Responsibility. There are few times professionalism and oral communication matter more than in a situation where you have hardly ten minutes to meet and reassure an individual that they are wise for entrusting you with their most valuable possession. Ethics and social responsibility cannot exist in a vacuum, and are a natural part of living in an environment with others. Respecting others and resolving petty conflict are a matter of social necessity in tight quarters, and they are a daily occurrence in typical cabin life. As for teamwork, it goes without saying — the entire summer itself is one large team effort. Not to mention the fact that camp athletics remain one of the last remaining bastions of sportsmanship and fair play.
We’re all familiar with some of the great schools and programs for things like medicine, engineering, and law; but traditional summer camps are elite institutions in their own right. Where else does one go to learn responsibility, independence, and kindness? While these traits may not be visible on a piece of paper like a resume, they can’t be missed in real life.
And while I’ve come to find my peers mistaken about many things — the meaning of summer, the marketable value of a camp experience, the urgent need to sit in a cubicle — I am forced to concede they are right about one thing: Summer doesn’t last forever. Eventually, the leaves fall, the lake cools, and the autumn does come. As the days grow shorter, I can feel myself beginning to shift gears, and doing so without fear or regret, but with gratitude for what came before and anxiety about what comes next. I hope to assure camper and counselor alike that they have not “wasted” their summers; that, in fact, they’ve done just the opposite. And when the time does come to leave — be it in a week, a year, or a decade — they’ll realize that they’re more prepared for the world than they could have possibly imagined.
Greg Berman has attended Camp Belknap in New Hampshire for fourteen years. He graduated from Brown University last year and is currently employed as a journalist in Rhode Island.
Originally published in the 2012 May/June Camping Magazine.