This article first appeared in InFocus magazine Winter 2014. Coauthored with Nicola Ainger.
Adventure is an exciting, unusual and sometimes hazardous experience, according to the dictionary. It is also an essential part of life at Dauntsey’s – not simply an event but something that teaches invaluable life skills and changes attitudes and behaviour for the better. Sam Moore, our new Head of Adventure Education, explains.
A school expedition to Tibet when I was 17 made me realise how transformative adventure could be. We were plunged into a chaotic, whirling culture and had to learn how to fit into a Buddhist society, haggle with people whose language we didn’t speak, tolerate long bus journeys on potholed roads and rely on each other to find somewhere to stay and eat every night. I felt I’d learned more in that month than in the rest of my school career.
I studied mechanical engineering at university but realised that I cared more about people and the outdoors than about machines, so I secured a job in a school as an outdoor instructor, then moved to a centre in Wales, where I discovered that I was more interested in the effect of adventure on people’s character and behaviours than on the activities themselves. I set up my own company to focus on that, working with corporate clients and schools, before moving to Dauntsey’s.
For our pupils, an adventure is an undertaking with an uncertain outcome that requires some combination of enthusiasm, resilience, organisation, learning, problem solving and teamwork.
It is also an opportunity to demonstrate and adopt the kind of adventurous behaviour that will help them to lead a fruitful and interesting life, in which they take risks that they understand, work towards goals and learn from experience.
Whether they are tackling an expedition to Wales or Bhutan, taking on the challenge of crewing a tall ship or kayaking from Devizes to Westminster, climbing a mountain or simply camping in the school grounds, I want them to be acquiring new skills and attitudes that will stand them in good stead in the classroom and beyond, into the world of work and adult life.
Here are the components of adventurous behaviour – and the benefits of an adventurous spirit. They are attributes that universities and employers look for and that lead to a fulfilling and successful life.
The world is full of exciting, challenging, rewarding, scary and fun opportunities. Trying new things and going to new places helps us to learn and develop skills that transfer to everyday life.
Challenges present obstacles – the way we deal with them says more about our character than whether or not we succeed. Adventure means being willing to persevere when the going gets tough, to try again and look for alternative solutions to problems – and to do this while supporting and encouraging the people around you.
All actions have risks attached – physical, emotional, financial or reputational. We need to understand the risks we choose to take, so we make decisions with the confidence of knowing how likely we are to succeed and what we stand to gain or lose.
Success and failure can both be valuable experiences if we avoid too much self-satisfaction or self-criticism. Success can be analysed so it can be repeated in future, while reflection on failure can show us what we can change next time. Reflection is key.
We have a responsibility to treat every environment and culture we visit – whether that’s a disused mine, a Himalayan village or a wilderness – with respect. Where possible, we should leave them as we found them.
Everyone makes mistakes and the pressures of an adventure mean that they are not only more likely – they can also make us feel worse than usual. Being able to admit to an error is a real personal attribute that also helps a team to move on and solve the resulting problems without placing stress on relationships. The rule is to admit, reflect, make new plans and move on.
Much adventure is a group affair, so we need to put the aims of the group ahead of our own goals. When work needs doing, we should do our share and help others but not routinely do their work for them. If we are uncomfortable, other people probably are as well – we need to remember not to increase their discomfort to reduce our own. We should treat others with respect and dignity – but not at the expense of our own.
To be in the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment and paperwork is invaluable, whether you’re enjoying an adventure or in everyday life. We should look at our goals, plan how to achieve them and set about carrying out the plan. When it doesn’t cover the difficulties we encounter, we need to be flexible – adapt our plans, create new ones and overcome the obstacles in our path.
Good leaders are decisive, caring and have an ability to combine taking responsibility with looking out for and developing members of the team. Equally, we need to recognise someone else’s leadership, support their decisions and contribute to carrying out their plan.
Some experiences are enjoyable at the time, while others are more enjoyable in retrospect. We should seek adventures that we will enjoy and, even if they are hard, provide us with memories that evoke pride and achievement.