Posted by: joha5 | July 16, 2010

Growing Responsibility: Crossing the Threshold into Adulthood

Laugh if you want – and I encourage it – but I teach a class called ‘Lego Architecture’ at a 6 week summer camp.  This is not my first time teaching at this summer camp.  I have taught many classes here during my high school and college summers.  I have taught Tennis, 3D Art, The Way Things Work, Computer Fun (not fun at all), Soccer, Guitar (NOTE: I don’t play guitar), Team Sports, Gameroom, and now Lego.  I don’t really know how this all started or the progression of said events.  I just know that this has been my life and that this summer is going to be my retirement tour.  I’m like the Cher or Celine Dion of summer camps. 

Summer camps are a lot more work than you would probably imagine...


It has been just over 6 years since I last worked at a summer camp and, to be honest, I never thought that I would ever work at one again after college.  It was just a way to have some fun, work with people my age, bolster my bank account, and do some fun and easy ‘work’.  Life, however, has had other plans and while my life is nowhere near where I need or want it to be,  I am not upset about it at all.  This is just something I am doing for 6 weeks this summer.  It doesn’t define me and I will be damned if I ever let it.  But what’s funny is the difference from when I was 22 and working here versus now when I am 28. 

Somewhere in those years I became a fully fledged card-carrying adult.  I don’t know when and I don’t know how.  All I know is that it happened.  I used to do fairly remedial jobs during the summer but they were never stressful and I was never entrusted with that much responsibility.  Walk this kid to his next class, help that camper with her project, run a couple of drills or exercises in tennis, so on and so forth.  I liked having lazy summers working with friends.  It was the perfect reprieve after a long and arduous school year and it was a great way to make a little extra pocket-money.  

Somewhere in the past 6 years things changed.  I don’t think it was the camp that changed.  I don’t even think it was my work ethic.  It was my sense of responsibility and feeling the need to do a job and to do it well.  I now have a teaching assistant who is 17, an intern who is 15, and two apprentices who are 13 and 14 respectively.  I know they are young and I know it isn’t like I’m some investment banker working in downtown Manhattan who has made it rich quick and now controls a team of people who are possibly older than me.  These guys are all just teenagers and for all of them this is their first job.  I am now not only responsible for 81 children during the day but I am also responsible for my teaching assistant, intern, and apprentices.  This may not be a law firm or downtown Manhattan but it is a lot of responsibility.  

When did I go from being somebody who assists to somebody who leads?  I guess the real world prepared me to some degree and I have put in my time to prove my mettle so I don’t feel like this responsibility – and the corresponding paycheck – in undeserved.  Yet I am fully aware of the irony of how strange it is to have to delegate, coerce, and sometimes even demand the guys that work for me to step up, be responsible, and complete the task at hand.  For me, it doesn’t seem all that long ago when I was the one being yelled at and told what to do.  Now the shoe is on the other foot.  

There are times when I need something done immediately or I need some support and they need to stop messing around and gossiping with each other.  But at the same time, I think as adults it is so easy to lose sight of what life was like back then.  We grow up and we lose empathy to our former selves.  We only see what we do now and we ignore the mistakes and the trials and tribulations we went through to end up the way we have.  They are all so young but at the same time they are here to do a job and I never let them lose sight of that.  It’s their summer too, though.  I want them to have fun.  I need them to have fun.  It is my job to make sure they are always on target and moving in the right direction. 

I will be upset if I don't get this as a present from my team at summer camp (not really).


To them I am ancient.  I am 28.  I have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they could never comprehend and that I couldn’t really understand when I was their age either.  Just a few years ago I was in their shoes and I remember it well..and that is where it is weird.  I know where they are and I know what it is like.  I know what their priorities are for the most part and I know what matters to them and what doesn’t.  For me, they have no idea.  They just probably see this older guy who disciplines kids – and sometimes them – and they probably have a riot talking about me on their breaks when I am not around.  I guess it is just part of the natural cycle of life.  In 10 or 15 years maybe one of them will have a hard time finding a job, maybe they will return to this old camp job they once did through high school and college, maybe they will be constantly asked how old they are and harassed.  They will still feel young but whether they are or not isn’t what matters.  What matters is that they will be responsible for the 81 kids and the people who work under them.  I guarantee you that they won’t think of me and they won’t attribute any of the lessons they have learned directly to me.  And that is okay with me.  Their first job was with me and I was their first boss.  If I could remember my first bosses in my teenage years I would pay homage to them now but it just wasn’t significant to me.  I probably didn’t listen to them at all and just ignore them as most teenagers are wont to do.  The irony is that in next to no time at all, the guys who work for me will be imploring their employees to listen to them and to do what they ask.  Maybe they will think of me and maybe they won’t.  But I certainly know that they will feel my quandary sooner than they think.



  1. As someone who has recently been tasked with being in charge of an intern, it is really weird to go from simply “being supervised” to the role of supervising. I want my intern to have a good experience, so that effort eats into the time I have to tackle my own projects and having the authority to lead. Ah, the struggles of emerging adults.

  2. I absolutely agree. I bet as we get older and as we have like a billion interns we will just stop caring and get on with it much more than we do the first few times we have them.

  3. I love the fact you arer teaching ‘Lego Architecture’ – there was a TV series on the BBC about some classic toys and one of the episodes was on lego and the project was to build a house out of lego with all the furniture and fitting out of lego as well –

    REally interesting from an architecure point of view as in the programme they had to work out how to build ‘lego’ beams to support a top floor which people would be able to walk on without falling through – a feat they achieved – similar issues when making furniture – beds, chairs etc

    Anyway this made me think of that at this ungodly hour of 9am on a Saturday morning

    • Mark! Thank you SO much for sharing! That is the best Lego thing that I have seen in forever and a day. Who knew that Lego is (and would eventually become) how big it is today. This is the first time I have had my hands on Lego in like 15 years or something…but I gotta admit that it is always fun.

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