Career Lessons From Summer Camp

It’s the time of year when students go back to school and begin a new semester with a spring in their step. The classroom chatter often focuses on vacations and summer adventures. I met with a group of moms recently who spoke about the wonderful summer camp experiences their kids had and my “aha moment” came when I realized that the classic kid summer camp lessons were also applicable in the career world for adults.

Even if you’ve never been to camp, or if it’s been ages since you ate s’mores under the stars, you can apply these simple lessons to your career for better satisfaction and engagement.

Try Something New 
At summer camp you may have learned to shoot a bow and arrow or participated in a talent show for the very first time. Taking a chance to try something new at work will open up a wealth of opportunities in your career. Many professionals land terrific new roles because they expand their comfort zone and take a chance on something unique. You will never know if you don’t try and that is the biggest risk of all. You have the power to ask for new projects, so be seen and heard and ask to try something new that appeals to you. Give yourself a new challenge or a stretch goal and see what happens.

Have Fun 

Whether summer camp was at an overnight retreat in the woods or a fire hydrant-turned -sprinkler in the inner city, kids are given the liberty to have fun in the summer. That carefree attitude is infectious but sadly, most professionals have lost the joie de vivre to authentically enjoy their workday. Even if your work is intense, take some time to savor what you are doing. Laugh and delight in the accomplishments you achieve. Give yourself permission to have a good day or a great day and approach it with a positive attitude and kid-like enthusiasm. Your behavior will be infectious and might cause a positive attitude domino effect in your organization at large.

Make New Friends 
Sleepaway camp means unknown roommates and exposure to a new posse of people with whom you eat, play and coexist for an extended period of time. Take advantage of growing your personal and professional community with new people whenever you can and go beyond technology to meet with people in person. It can be really empowering to make new friends and enjoy their company beyond the networking frenzy of wanting information and job leads. Friends are to be cherished and appreciated. Call a dear friend you’ve lost touch with and reinstate your relationship — you’ll be glad you did.

Get Outside 
If your sunburn came from a fluorescent office bulb this summer, you need to get outside more. The beauty of camp is that kids enjoy the great outdoors, breathe the air and move their bodies. Adults need this too, and studies show that outdoor air and a little sunshine improves daily focus, memory and alertness. If your 3 p.m. slump usually sends you to the vending machine looking for a sugary snack, consider taking a brief walk outside to re-energize you for the rest of the day.

Mix Up Your Routine 
The beauty of camp is that it helps kids see life through a different lens. They can’t rely on the routines they have at home and have to acculturate to a new structure — like it or not. Think about how you can change your daily routine to get yourself out of a rut. Maybe you will work out at a different time of day or take a new route to work, eat something different for breakfast or meet with new colleagues for lunch. Variety is the spice of life and can infuse new energy into a tired routine that zaps your drive.

Take Time Off 
Kids recharge during summer vacation and they really appreciate the opportunity to just be kids. It’s not a badge of honor to not take your allotted vacation time. Leonardo da Vinci said, “To remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power or judgment…” Time off is provided so you can rejuvenate and come back to work rested and more productive. You deserve the time off — take it without regret and really try and unplug yourself from the tethers of technology that connect you to work.

The camp experience isn’t just for kids anymore. Indiana business mogul, Mickey Maurer created Mickey’s Camp in 2001, giving adults a chance to leave behind the daily pressure of work to explore new opportunities and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow grown-ups in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

Set in the idyllic Bradford Woods outdoor retreat center in Southern Indiana, women camp first, bunking in rustic cabins for three days and the men finish out the week in the same facility each August. The beauty of Mickey’s Camp, in addition to the myriad of great activities and camaraderie for adults, is the philanthropic focus. This year campers raised more than $200,000, which was contributed to local charities of their choice. With fresh air, engaging activities and a lot of fun, Mickey’s Camp adult campers got to unplug for a few days and pay-it-forward to those in need.

Never underestimate the power of a campfire and toasted marshmallows for kids and career- driven adults alike.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book “This Is Not the Career I Ordered” and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET. Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online.