STEP Leadership Reflection

This past summer I had the opportunity to serve as a camp counselor for Sanborn Western Camps in Florissant, Colorado. As a counselor, I had two groups of campers that I was directly responsible for over the course of two different month long camps sessions, one in July and one in August. This job required counselors to lead a variety of outdoor trips focused on outdoor skills and outdoor leadership such as fishing, mountain biking, hiking, or backpacking trips.

I’ve always thought of myself as reliable and as someone who can make decisions with discernment. These traits though had really only helped me to strengthen relationships with people around me but had not manifested itself in legitimate leadership roles. Because of this, I never really thought of myself as a leader because the definition of a leader to me involved being in charge and commanding a group of people with authority and respect. And while that is definitely a part of being a leader, I hadn’t placed a lot of thought into how to go about developing that type of respect. I thought that I had to do something large and monumental to be noticed and for people to look up to me. Something that really changed in me this summer was my realization that leadership can be cultivated with a single thought or sentence. When you try to think of life in different ways, people listen and are interested in what you have to say. I found out that I didn’t have to make some huge discovery or accomplish some great task, but mutual respect, kindness, and introspective thought goes a long way in making people listen to what you have to say.

Going into this job, I didn’t know what to expect really. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time outdoors but I had no frame of reference of what to expect in terms of potential coworkers or campers. In all honestly, I didn’t really love my job for the first week. However, on the second week of the first session of campers, I led a trip that was focused on outdoor leadership for older campers around the ages of 13-15. Before that, I didn’t feel like I had any chance of making an impact on any of my campers. During this five day backpacking trip, we climbed multiple 14,000ft mountains which required constant encouragement from me in order to have all of my campers make it up together. At night we would do leadership activities where we discussed how our experiences in nature can translate over to developing leadership skills in our regular lives. For the first two days of the trip, I was pretty discouraged by the feedback I was getting. This was a huge lesson for me in patience because the next day I had a wonderful conversation with a few of the boys on the trip about how thankful they were for the opportunity to experience a place that not many people, least of all people their age, were able to experience and how they didn’t take that for granted. This opened up many other conversations and incredible bonding experiences over the next few days. At the end of the trip, we had a ‘debrief’ where we talked as a group about things we learned that week. To my surprise, many of the kids talked about things that I had done or the example I was to them that they wanted to get better at emulating. And here I was thinking that I was being completely ineffective. This was incredibly humbling and made me realize how I had completely underestimated my campers, but it was also quite an amazing feeling to know that I could make a difference.

Another experience that I had during the summer that reaffirmed by belief that making a difference in someone’s life can constitute a simple sentence happened towards the end of the summer with my second group of campers. On Sunday nights, the camp as a whole would hike up a small mountain on the camp’s property and we would sit and reflect on the week we had just had, or the upcoming week and all of the adventures that we would partake in. On the last Sunday of the month, during this time of reflection, everyone was allowed to write down a quote from anyone that they appreciated or helped them process life in general. These quotes were then read for everyone’s benefit. I had become fairly close with my campers throughout the camp session, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much they had taken away from the summer. Most of the quotes that were read were by important historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, or John F. Kennedy. To my surprise though, quote after quote was read that was accredited to me and were things that I had said to my campers during serious talks that we’d had throughout the session at camp. I had no idea that the little things I said were making that large of an impact. Obviously I’m not saying I’m on the level of JFK or MLK, but knowing that I was able to make a positive impression on these children at this level was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

Finally, being a leader amongst my peers has always been hard for me. I think that this experience has equipped with the ability to communicate much better and have more patience with my peers. I don’t have any exact examples of how this came about, but the whole summer was one big learning process that was beneficial for leadership growth on all levels. Usually when people my age get together, it can turn very immature very fast. I think something that helped me develop leadership skills in this setting was putting myself apart from that culture. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun with them, it just means that I didn’t get sucked to that level, and people noticed. This allowed me to gain more respect from my peers because they realized that I was someone who they could look up to and someone who set a good example to follow. Of course I’m not saying I’m perfect in any way, but it’s cool to have another way that the small things in life can help establish you as a good leader.

I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. I met some amazing people and was introduced to some very unique personalities. I went into this job quite skeptical about what I was walking into, but there are very few settings in my life where I’ve been welcomed so eagerly by complete strangers who in a few months turned into some of my best friends. During my time at Ohio State, it’s been hard for me to cultivate my leadership skills because any leadership positions are incredibly competitive to obtain. Never would I have thought that I would engage that side of myself so quickly and competently in one summer. I now know that I can go into any new setting with confidence because I believe that I am qualified to lead others as long as I work hard on developing strong relationships with those around me.

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