So, you’re about to get a series of blog posts detailing & explaining my new year resolutions for 2012. Lucky you. But if I want to REALLY explain what I’m all about then I’m afraid we have to go back in time…
Back to a simpler time. A time when I had a cute bob of a haircut and an unruly fringe. A time when I was short, boyishly-dressed, horrifically uncool (but no longer seriously bullied) and in my third year of secondary school education at Madras College. The time when I was allowed to start the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme (minimum age 14).
Early in the first term of S3 we were invited to attend a lunchtime information session about the school’s DoE Award program. The assembly hall was crowded – a lot of moodily indifferent teenagers were genuinely interested in this. (I remember that I had asked my mother about the DoE and she had mentioned in her explanation that “Employers often see it as an additional qualification,” which might have explained some of the interest. However, a girl from Wormit had expressed an interest in DoE so that she could “Share a tent with [name of boy in our year group]”!)
The two teachers in charge of organising DoE Bronze told us that we needed to write a letter of application if we wanted to do the Award, with 30 applicatants being accepted. I wrote a suitably heartfelt/bragging letter and I got in.
The Service, Physical & Skills sections I didn’t have a lot of problem with – I incorporated a lot of my current long-term extra curriculars such as Taekwon-do, Youth Theatre and clarinet lessons into the DoE Award. I volunteered in a cat shelter in (a dodgy part of) Dundee with cute kitties, then worked in a Sue Ryder Care charity shop, which continued for quite a long time after I’d handed in my Gold Award book. It was all stuff I enjoyed doing, and did quite well.
The Expedition Section was where the real challenge lay.
While other families got out into the hills an awful lot more than mine, I’d done hillwalking before and knew what to expect from walking/camping. I was in good physical shape too, so didn’t have any major concerns in that area either. My parents could afford to buy me decent technical hiking gear (though the school could rent me some pieces) to keep me safe & dry.
…No, the major challenge came from doing this all with a group.
In S3 not only was I a self-identified loner, I was ALSO a notorious swot with great long-distance stamina who was mildly smug about it all. Not exactly the reciepe for a good team player.
Things I learned through the DoE Awards (Bronze, Silver & Gold):
- Teamwork is all about working effectively with a group of people who aren’t necessarily like you. There are plenty of people in this world who don’t think like me, who never have done, who never will and who probably can’t understand where the Hell I’m coming from. Such is life, yeah?
- Sometimes you’ll be feeling tired & moody & unreasonable (e.g., after a long day of walking in the rain). When a member of the group then starts acting tired & moody & unreasonable…your first instinct is to up the level of moody unreasonableness, simply because that’s the easiest possible thing to do. Combining the right mix of empathy, confidence and support to keep the group in one piece takes experience.
- You’ve finished Day 1 of the Expedition. The weather has been atrocious and the terrain rough. There are 2 more days to go. That means you’ve got to get up tomorrow, put on wet clothes and keep walking, knowing that there WON’T be a warm bath at the end of it, just a miserable tent. You’ll probably be in need of the most bloody-minded self-motivation.
- The rest of the group wants to take a longer lunch than scheduled. You want to get this whole awful experience over and done with as soon as possible. Ah yes, looks like you’re going to have to compromise a bit. Go on, it won’t hurt.
- It’s 7 am and you’re trying to dismantle your tent with frozen fingers and period pains (…urgh). Despite the immediate agonies, can you spare a few seconds to appreciate the beauty of the moutain sunrise?
- It’s amazing what a sense of humour can achieve.
These are the sort of things I first came across when working with a team in a challenging situation. Walking through the Scottish Highlands we didn’t have adult supervision for most of the day and neither did we have an immediate escape route. Fortunately there were never any serious incidents on my DoE expeditions, but I reckon it laid the foundations for me to better understand group psychology and apply it effectively in the future. DoE Awards take part in the adolescent years when you’re growing up fast and erratically; I would go as far as to say it helped smooth my transition from teenager into adult…at least in retrospective.
I persisted with DoE through all three levels for one reason alone: because it was awesome. I absolutely LOVED the adventure and getting out into the Scottish Highlands for a weekend. Despite my social skills failing once or twice, I did get on well with my groups and we had some hilarious times. When I went to finalise my Top 5 Days of the Year, DoE expedition days always came out on top. I felt that it made my life better, I also felt that it kinda made me better, too.
And then it came to our final DoE Gold Expedition. We’d reached our end point intact and were waiting for the minibus that would take us back to Fife and hot baths, decent food, etc. While chuffed that we had completed our final DoE Award and achieved something so awesome, my brain was still calculating…
Was there some way for me to prolong the wonderful DoE Experience?