My First Jobs: Camp and Retail

You all know that I have worked in banking and finance, but I have not told you very much about my more humble beginnings. Long before my MBA, years before my BSBA, I worked at a Boy Scout camp and a Target Store.

Boy Scout Camp

I spent seven summers on staff at the local Denver area Boy Scout camp. I started when I was 15 as a Counselor in Training (CIT) getting paid a whopping $5 per week. The $50 I made over the entire summer was not enough to pay for the uniform. Over the following summers, I had a range of jobs. I was (in order) a Program Counselor, First Year Camper Director, Assistant Director of Dining and Equipment, Camp Store (we had 3) Director, Order of the Arrow Director, and Assistant Business Manager.

What I Learned

You don’t have to make a lot of money to love your job. My favorite summers were early on when I made far less than $100 per week. During those summers I made great friends and had wonderful experiences. I did not always like giving up summers in Denver to be away working, but living in a tent, sleeping under the stars, and helping thousands of scouts learn and play made it worth it.

The Real Benefit

Aside from the networking aspect, I was part of a scholarship program for camp management. My entire undergraduate college experience (four years at the University of Colorado) was paid for by the Boy Scouts with matches by CU and another company.


I started at Target as a sales floor associate. I was one of those people that made sure shelves looked nice throughout the day, helped customers find things, answer questions, stock products that were running low, and “other duties as assigned.” I was a sort of jack of all trades.

The schedule did not work well for me as a high school student, so I moved over to the cashier side of the store. I spent most of my two years at Target on the registers. I was also occasionally assigned to run the snack bar (.25 per hour pay differential!) or help the cart guy on a busy day.

What I Learned

When you have a boss, you have to do what they say. However, if you are a hard worker, do a good job, and perform well, they are willing to work with you on your needs. It is a two way street. Do your part and you will be treated well and respected regardless of your age.

The Real Benefit

I had to pay for car insurance, so I was there for the money. I also got a $1,000 Target Employee Scholarship for my first year in college.

You Are Not Too Good For Any Job

The most humbling part of working in a retail store and a camp is that you start at the bottom. I cleaned bathrooms and latrines, I scrubbed kitchens and offices, I built tents, I cleaned up from a virus outbreak, I taught archery, I was a trained lifeguard, I taught kids to swim, I carried heavy boxes to cars for old ladies. I did it all.

In today’s economy, people are often not willing to take a job that is “not good enough” for them. It is only not good enough if you are too good for money. Suck it up.

Your First Job?

What was your first job? What did you learn? How did it help you moving forward in life? Please share in the comments.

Photo by kevindooley.

8 thoughts on “My First Jobs: Camp and Retail”

  1. My first (paid) job was as a door to door salesman selling household products.  I saved that money earned that summer for spending money for college.  The real lessons occurred living on that money.  I had to make it last the entire year.  It was my first taste of money management.

  2. My first job was working for my parents in their “fish and chip” fast food place.  It was the WORST experience of my life.  I learned two things:
    1)  My parents didn’t pay me a dime and I worked every day after school from 3:30 – 9pm and all day Saturday and Sunday.  Their logic?  You are paying for yor room and board.
    2)  Labor laws – if you are working in a family owned business the child labor laws do not protect you.  If I was working for anyone else there would have been a limit to how many hours I could work.
    So after spending 3 years there (age 13 – 16) my parents sold the business having lost $100K.  When it came time to pay for college my parents were forced to decide which of their 4 kids they could support.  One of them was NOT me.  Ironic though – the kids they did support have moved to other states and rarely come home to visit.  The two they did not support are the only ones who help/visit them.

  3. Superfrugalette

    I worked in a women’s fashion store and learned that 3″ heels make every woman look better….14 years later I am still passonate about heels. I even blogged about it!

      1. Superfrugalette

        Eric, I have 3 pairs of heels to go with pants and skirts, one pair of heeled sandals for summer, and one pair of heeled boots. I am a minimalist.

        1. You don’t find many women who love shoes living the shoe minimalist lifestyle. I think you are smarter about it than most.

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