When you’re starting from the very beginning, taking on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award might seem like an insurmountable task. You might think it’s impossible to fit in to your routine, but don’t panic: microadventurer, and Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion Steph ‘Sanders’ Sanderson is here to share her top tips on how to fit the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in around a busy life.
Hi! I’m Sanders. I’m a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award holder and a general pursuer of slightly bonkers microadventure ideas. I did my DofE Award while studying full-time and working part-time, so I know a thing or two about achieving your goals around a tight schedule. My Gold Award was hard work, but also incredibly rewarding: now, I take the lessons I learned from doing the Award and use them to help me fit as much adventure as possible around a full-time career. Here are my suggestions for things you can do to succeed at DofE when you’ve got lots of other stuff going on in your life.
1. Choose something you’ll enjoy
DofE is your excuse to try something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet got around to. The options are wide open. Ever fancied learning bushcraft skills? How about a craft, or a new language? As long as you can do it regularly and show improvement, your DofE activities can be as creative as you like. By choosing something you’re genuinely interested in, you’re much more likely to be able to keep your activities up for the whole award period. If what you’re doing is fun as well as challenging, you’ll never even realise you’re working hard towards a big award.
2. Set goals
A year or 18 months is a long time to stick to an activity. Give yourself a goal to aim for, and you’ll have a much better chance of keeping up your energy throughout the award. I was worried about my fitness section; I wasn’t very good at turning up to classes every week, and being surrounded by people much fitter than me was intimidating. To make sure I committed, I booked myself on to a half marathon. I then told loads of people I was going to do it, so I couldn’t pull out! I had a tangible goal, motivation to keep training, and a real celebration of achievement when I got my medal at the end.
3. Don’t see it as a chore
Enjoy your award! It’s basically an excuse to prioritise doing cool and interesting things for a couple of years, so make the most of it. Think of the award elements as an opportunity for adventure. Your expedition is an activity holiday; your residential is a cheap week away making new friends. Changing your perspective and thinking of all the elements as an excuse to do something fun, rather than just another task to fit in, can keep the DofE from feeling like a huge effort and, instead, make it the start of a lifetime full of adventure.
4. See it as a priority
When you’ve got lots of demands on your time, it’s easy to get distracted by the urgent stuff, put other things that are still important on the back seat, and say you’ll get around to it later. The problem is, time slips by quicker than you think it will. Give yourself a set day or time to do each of the elements of the award, and stick to it. Hold yourself to account by keeping a tracker or a blog of your progress.
For me, Monday night was volunteering night. I didn’t plan anything else on a Monday evening, because I knew I’d be heading to the Scout Hut to run a programme I had helped plan for the Cubs. As a result, I didn’t miss a session and my volunteering commitment was covered before I knew it! Best of all, we got to see progress in the Cubs as we moved through the challenge badges. It was a winner for all of us.
5. Be proactive
Don’t wait for expeditions and residential opportunities to come to you. The DofE website is a great resource for finding open expeditions that you can book on to. This means you can choose an expedition that’s running on dates that work for you. You might even find something on there that gives you a chance to do something totally different. When I searched for expeditions, I was expecting to be hiking in the Peak District or Wales; instead, I spotted a great opportunity and ended up sea kayaking around the south coast!
Loads of people find the residential section tricky to organise, but you just need to go looking for opportunities. Organisations which are run or helped by volunteers might put on suitable events, whether it’s an international Scout or Guide camp, or a maintenance week at a Youth Hostel. Get in touch with local or national charities and find out if they’re running anything you can get involved in. They’re usually very cheap or free to participate in, and will be full of like-minded people to meet and have fun with.
I’m going to level with you: the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is always going to be a challenge. If it wasn’t, the award wouldn’t be worth having. But this is your award, to carry out your way, and when you’re at St James’s Palace, Holyroodhouse or Hillsborough Castle, having your formal presentation and being acknowledged for all the things you’ve achieved, you can stand there safe in the knowledge that you did your best, that you got the most out of it, and that you’ve earned that moment. So what are you waiting for? Go and get it! There’s no better time to start than right now.
Interested? Check out our What, Why and How of the D of E, so you know exactly what's involved.