Or, All You Really Need to Succeed Is Taught at Camp
At the risk of dating myself and sounding like an out-of-touch GenXer, but my last summer at Heart O’ the Hills Camp was 1995. I had been a camper, a Scribe, a Chief, a War Canoer, a Quadriller, Brave O’ the Week, a Heart LITe, a counselor, Head O’ Horseback, Kitty’s Korner recipient, and year-round Program Director. Camp taught me more than I realized.
With a 10-year diamond around my neck and a seven-year ring on my finger, I set out into the “real” world in search of a career.
A career, I found. I spent the next 25 years (here’s the part where I really date myself) climbing the corporate ladder in the television marketing and production business. I started off getting people coffee (literally) and working in a dark room logging tapes for a local news channel in Corpus Christi. I got a job as a kids’ show producer in Lubbock. Then I moved through the cable television creative ranks in Miami, DC, New York, and Los Angeles.
I worked with celebrities, rock stars, reality stars, animals, and famous politicians. I traveled all over the United States and to Africa, Romania, Alaska, and the Canadian Yukon. I swam with sharks and hung off the side of the Grand Canyon. All this on the job as I was rising from producer to Creative Director, Vice President to Executive Vice President… I won three Emmys and numerous other awards that I won’t bore you with…
I say all this not to brag, but to set up what Heart O’ the Hills helped me accomplish.
Then, this summer of 2020, after a 25-year gap, I came back to work at The Heart. Things around camp were very different–and yet they were exactly the same. Friendship bracelets, the Guadalupe River, braided hair, movie night, milk line, the Ark, the tennis hut, the blob… it was all still there and so were my memories. During the summers I was a camper and a counselor at The Heart, it did not occur to me that anything I learned or experienced would ever serve me in my career. Sure, Jane taught me some Life Skills (now that dates her!) which I knew I would use, but beyond that, it all just seemed like a good time where I met some life-long friends.
Wrong! Looking back, there are so many things, both large and small, I experienced at camp that helped me throughout my career.
All I really needed for career success, I learned at camp.
#1 Speak up on the TFTD, tribe hill or running for tribe office
Speaking up in the boardroom or any meeting was a big key to my success in the workforce. Not being afraid to share my thoughts and ideas with a group of people, I first learned when I was 11 years old, standing up at “church school” (that’s what it was called back then, I know, dating myself, “worship”), explaining what I thought about the Thought for the Day. Writing a speech and convincing my tribe to vote for me, I know aided in my job interviews and certainly helped me with many public speeches.
#2 Compete hard to win The Cup
At camp you have to work hard each day on H&H, Field Day, classes, etc. Your daily actions determine which tribe comes out the victor at the end of the term.
Everything one does on a daily basis in their work life, determines the outcome of their career. It’s the little things like turning in projects on time, working hard to achieve results, and fighting for your team. Just as you fight for your tribe.
#3 Use your table manners
Get your elbows off the table!! There are so many business lunches and dinners where I need to have good manners while carrying on a conversation, even when exhausted. Just like camp! Except, unfortunately, there’s not been any singing after those business meals! I once had to interview for a big job over a spaghetti dinner. I knew from Sundays at camp that I better not spill on my clean whites.
#4 Do War Canoe!!
I could go on and on about the benefits of rowing in sync with a bunch of other people in a tiny boat and having to be told when to paddle.
Even in corporate America, it’s vital to be moving forward with a team of people.
War Canoe taught me how to get along with the others and work together- skills crucial for one’s career.
Having laser focus to achieve a goal while getting a little banged and bruised along the journey is no different in the workplace than it was in the war canoe boat. There are setbacks and knock downs as you go along your career path for sure. However, continuing to paddle through and lean in always got me to the next goal in my career… and down the river with my fellow war canoers.
#5 Work as a counselor
I got my first kid’s TV show job because I had been a camp counselor. I’m not kidding. They were looking for a show coordinator and I had no prior experience, but they hired me based on working with kids at HOH.
When I moved up into more people management roles, I found myself relying on my counselor skills. Running a team of TV professionals is often like running a Teen division night! Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes there is crying. Leading a tepee or a team means looking out for everyone and being accountable. Understanding when others need your help and when they don’t, I learned being a counselor at camp. Being a manager or being a counselor is hard work but both are epicly rewarding. Teaching a camper is like teaching a co-worker or employee who eventually teaches you more than you taught them. Sound familiar, counselors?
#6 Strive for Jo-like traits
Those of you who know me, know that I was not a Jo Jones. I was an outstanding Junior though (don’t laugh – it’s true. Ask Jane). Even though I did not become a Jo, I certainly respected and admired those who were. Julie Jenkins, Eve Earthman, Meredith Secker, Jennie Kadjar, Jenny Moore, Angi Bettis, Kathryn Brown… influenced those around them. They naturally permeated the attributes that exemplified Jo Jones every day at camp.
The business world can be brutal. Co-workers can be unkind and harsh. However, those who approach their work and others with kindness and honesty, and work towards a greater good, always win! People want to work with people that make them feel good and appreciated. A kind heart goes a long way in the workplace.
#7 Be a good Little or Big Sister
A few years ago a fellow Heart girl reached out to me on Facebook. I vaguely remembered her because she was a Midget when I was a Teen. After accepting the friend request, I got the nicest note from her. She told me how much she looked up to me and that I was so sweet to her during her first year at camp. She never forgot me.
When you enter the workforce, no matter what field you go into, you will need a mentor. I have been lucky to have a few “big sisters” in the television business who have guided me, advised me and listened to me throughout my career. I have also managed quite a few people and had the privilege to watch them in their accomplishments and growth. As a boss, being able to champion the careers of others, especially other women, has been a highlight for me. Last year when I left a job after 14 years, the notes of appreciation I received from women who worked for me, that I considered my “little sisters,” I will treasure forever.
#8 Play fair
Rah, rah, rah-rah-rah…COMPETITORS!
Understanding how to take a loss and be gracious to whoever won, I learned at camp! I’ve always been highly competitive and hate to lose. Putting my arm around a girl from the other tribe that won, was such a strange thing to me at first. Camp is a place where you fight loyally for your people but praise the accomplishment of others.
Throughout my career I have lost many times. I’ve lost out on jobs I wanted, creative ideas I believed in, employees I liked and campaigns I worked hard on. Understanding how to take losses and be friendly, in spite of the frustration, is a skill that has served me well in the office. The line from the Camp Prayer came flooding back to my memory this summer
“… to work as hard and to play as fair in your sight alone, as if the whole world saw.”
That prayer needs to be plastered across office walls just like those “fly like an eagle” posters.
#9 Be yourself
Camp is one of the only places you can truly be yourself without the pressures of social media, school mates or even parents. You are free to be you. For one month out of the year, camp allowed me to drop whatever shell I had built around myself as a student, an athlete, or a daughter. I was able to come to the place that felt like a second home, know that I would be accepted for who I really was, and supported as I tried new things and met new people.
Being myself in corporate America wasn’t always easy but it helped me build a reputation for speaking up, being creative, and passionate. Many times I have walked out after a meeting and people would come up to me and say, “Thank you for saying what you said.” Uniqueness and ability to stand firm in your own skin will move you forward in your chosen work.
#10 Synchro & sign language
I took synchronized swimming at camp for at least three summers that I can remember. I could do the ballet leg, the dolphin, an eggbeater, all while sculling and smiling. Pretty sure I got at least an Award O’ Merit…maybe Most Outstanding… we will have to ask Jane. Anyway, it was always a fun trick at pool parties. I never imagined that 15 years later it would inspire an award-winning television campaign. The network I was working for at the time needed an idea to promote their summer shows. We needed something visually stunning and attention getting for the commercial. Synchronized swimmers I told them! That’s what we needed. I hired a professional synchro team from Miami and directed a commercial in Los Angeles with over 50 swimmers… they were impressed that I knew some of the lingo!
Camp allows you to experience and try things you might not otherwise get the chance to do. You never know when that knowledge will come in handy and even earn you some money.
(This is also a plug to get Jane to add synchro and sign language back into the camp activities. I’m pretty sure Carrie Griffith would come teach synchro.)
Camp Prepares You
There are at least another 200 ways my time at camp prepared me for my time at work.
I most certainly did not know when I was riding those horses, racing to sit down in those musical water buckets, or comforting that homesick S’Midget that these experiences were preparing me for my life’s work. Thank you, Heart O’ the Hills.
(And Jane, I’m serious about the synchro and sign language)!
Lara Richardson is a former camper, counselor and program director who came to us from Mobile, Corpus Christi, and Puerto Rico. This summer, she blessed us with her presence on staff. She has done production, creative development and marketing for 20 years for networks like Discovery, TLC, Oxygen and USA. And at Heart O’ the Hills (when she’s not at the Laundromat).