Work is everywhere, and that might seem intimidating.
This is the case at Stanford Sierra Camp, a place where I have worked for three summers in a row. Sierra Camp taught me a new kind of work, a kind that does not have to be a place you go to at 9 a.m., look at a computer screen, interact cordially with colleagues and then leave at 5 p.m. At the Sierra Camp, work is all encompassing. Work is leading a “Disco Bingo” night for guests every Monday. It is helping a kid clean up a scraped knee after a shift. It is taking a boat of guests out at night on an “Astrocruise.” It is joining guests for meals and teaching kids how to waterski. Work is waking up before the sun and preparing the dining room for breakfast. Work is everywhere, and that is a good thing. The friendships, the energy and the attitude that meaning can be found in any task is what makes Sierra Camp feel different from work. I have come to realize that the most productive kind of work combines enjoyment and a spirited community.
Shifts at camp are spent with a supportive and vibrant community. The energy is contagious. Cleaning 60 cabins? That’s daunting. But the half hour leading up to housekeeping is spent in a Braveheart-style pep rally screaming “HOUSE KEEPING MEETING” and listening to Morgan, the head of housekeeping, recite William Wallace’s pump-up speech. Staffers sprint out of the meeting with a will to make every toilet at camp sparkle. Bussing 40 tables? That sounds like work. A lot of work. But when bussing becomes a Civil War-themed contest complete with costumes and prizes, it does not feel like work. The people I worked with brought an energy and mindset that any work can be fun. We made our job fulfilling, and we worked quicker because we found joy in what we were doing.
I often forgot that Sierra Camp was a job — the fun I had socializing was indistinguishable from the fun I had working. I loved my work at camp because the community was supportive and brought energy to everything. I looked forward to every Saturday, our most rigorous day of housekeeping, because I knew I got to work with the people I loved. The encouragement I received from these people made me a more confident person. I had never felt so comfortable letting the weird side of my personality run free as I did at camp. I feel this confidence at Stanford too. I made mistakes, and I had bad days at Sierra Camp, but I always knew the community would support me through those times. At Sierra Camp, work is pleasure because it is spent with people that are more like friends than colleagues. Personal growth is another aspect of camp that makes it feel different from work. The camp community pushed me through my most difficult work tasks.
Learning the value of community changed the way I tackle projects. I learned that people are my best resource in all my pursuits. I search for support and collaboration on projects, and the sense of community is empowering. I do not think that the blending of work, entertainment and community is unique to Stanford Sierra Camp. The blending begins with an attitude — a mindset that embraces all tasks. One that makes these tasks something to care about. This attitude is one that students are capable of finding and applying to academics and to the professional world. Dirty work and menial tasks can have meaning at Stanford.
When I clean my dorm room, I turn on Sandstorm and jump around to amp myself up. I do not see small talk, email and other “menial” tasks as duties. Instead, I find a way to make them my own — to invest energy in them and to use them as a means for self-expression. Giving attention to tasks at hand has made me more present. I am engaged with life, and I focus. In hindsight, too much of my youth — including my high school experience — was spent sacrificing the present to advance my future. I dragged myself through many responsibilities to open up future opportunities. I am not saying students should sacrifice future opportunities in order to enjoy the present. Rather, I advocate engaging in these responsibilities.
Finding a work community and initiating energy and positivity within that work community is essential to finding happiness and productivity in the work place. The energy you put into a community is contagious, and the support you receive in return is fulfilling. Ideally, a career should not feel like an obligation. It should foster friendships, support, energy and a love for what you are doing. A job does not have to feel like work — it can be something you look forward to.
Contact Wyatt Bunce ’14 at firstname.lastname@example.org