I would like to think that my life and career thus far have been planned out in advance. But as I was having a conversation recently, I know that has not been the case.
My path so far could be summed up by two words: serendipitous, finding something you weren’t expecting to find; and pragmatic, conduct that emphasizes practicality — what works.
I wasn’t looking for a career at the YMCA or in the summer camp world when I got my job as a day camp counselor in the mid-1990s. A friend of mine had the job of working with middle schoolers at camp and hated it, but said I might like it, so I applied for the job and thus began my first summer at camp.
After the summer, they asked me to stay on as a part-time after school counselor. Then, in January, the director left and I left my other job to become the after school director and day camp director.
Fifteen years later, I have progressed further in my Y career than I ever thought possible and I have become an “expert” in the field of camping.
Finding what works has been the key to any progress I have made over my career with the YMCA. Some would call me lucky, but the fact is that I listened to the advice of my advisor in high school, who said, “Find out what you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid to do it.”
I love the interaction with people, and that is what worked for me. Listening, learning, engaging every day has gotten me further than I ever would have gotten on my own.
This summer, your camp is going to be filled with camp counselors who might not know what they are looking for when they begin their journey. For some, it will just click for them.
Be that mentor in their life who encourages their development to find the career that works for them instead of chasing after status or paychecks.
I believe in the end when we guide our counselors in what works for them, they will find a career that will bring long-term fulfillment.
It did for me.
Dave Bell has directed day and resident camp programs for more than 15 years. Currently, he is the Director of Association Programs for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. He is a former American Camp Association Southeast Section board member, a certified Y-USA Day Camp Director Trainer and a Y-USA partner YMCA camp consultant. Reach him via e-mail at Dave@CampLeadership.org.