Preparing for Happiness in Career and Life

Tom Rosenberg, President/CEO
September 2018

Some of the best times of my life have been my carefree summers swimming, exploring, sharing, and making friends as a child at camp. But many of my life’s greatest lessons were learned over six summers working on camp staff. As a newly minted staff member recently graduated from high school, I strived to become part of the model community I found in our camp’s staff culture. Selflessness, servant leadership, and teamwork were encouraged and celebrated. I learned the more you gave of yourself to camp, the more you received in return. I listened to hundreds of personal stories from fellow staff members from around the world and gained valuable perspective of diverse individual lifestyles, personalities, and cultures. These interactions kindled a growing sense of my own self-awareness and future directions in life. As a young, newly independent, emerging adult, belonging to this staff community became addictive, intrinsically rewarding, and transformational.

Camp is a nurturing social and emotional learning environment for young adults. These summer employment opportunities are robust, everyday learning ecosystems that cultivate curiosity, autonomy, self-direction, altruism, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, contribution, and belonging. The progressive leadership and management opportunities I earned over six summers taught me to communicate well and think creatively to solve problems collaboratively with my teammates. I was encouraged to take positive risks, learn from my mistakes, support others, and step up to lead when opportunities arose. I felt supported in a caring, participative community where I learned to set high goals and expectations for myself and felt a great sense of purpose in my work and responsibilities.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social and emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (2018). For me, this academic definition frames so much of the multiyear transformational outcomes that resulted from my camp staff experiences. In camp, our model community created an environment to meet our needs, which inspired healthy growth mindsets through experiential learning every day. In fact, we also cultivated a benefit mindset by believing that we could make a meaningful difference in the world, building on our growth mindsets, by asking why we do what we do and striving to bring out the best in each other while improving the world. Through all of this I not only became an everyday learner, but also an everyday leader.

In the physically and emotionally safe confines of the camp work community, I was offered respect, belonging, and opportunities for mastery. I felt powerful, challenged, and purposeful. I learned resiliency, perseverance, flexibility, empathy, and openness. I became skillful at reflection and self-awareness, critical inquiry, problem-solving, cross-cultural agility, and leadership. These practices provide a solid foundation of readiness for work, life, and all of its possibilities. For me, this was the magical impact of camp and why I believe every emerging adult should have the benefit of progressive seasons of working at camp to acquire these core developmental benefits. It will set them on a deeply inspiring and aspirational path for life.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2018). What is SEL? CASEL. Retrieved from