Pilot Graham Duff shared his strategies for success with students at this year’s Prize Giving. Graham’s ambition as a boy was to be a pilot and he was so determined that he obtained his pilot’s licence before his driving licence. During his RAF career he flew more than 30 different types of aircraft, was deployed to Afghanistan and attained his dream of becoming a pilot with the world-renowned Red Arrows.
Since leaving the Royal Air Force he has climbed Everest and is now working towards his professional pilot licence. He told the students: ‘I spent my whole life going after goals. Everything I did was about wanting to become a pilot in the Air Force. What I studied and the grades I achieved, the exams I needed, what I did in my spare time … absolutely everything was dedicated to being a pilot so, really, the hard work started quite early.
‘Getting into the Red Arrows was an accumulation of my 16 years and my every waking moment was about flying. When you go on to do other things like climbing Mount Everest that is about willpower, the will to get to the top because as you walk past you see frozen bodies on Mount Everest, you see people who are dying as you are on the way to the summit and it is a different mindset, it is the will to carry on above all else.
‘What I discovered is that nothing is for free. It is too easy to see too many people doing very well and achieving great things and saying “I want to do that tomorrow”. Don’t try and emulate that person straight away, try and build up. It is too easy to find it is impossible and give up too early. Never give up. You never get to see the pain or struggle or hard work that goes in behind the scenes to get to the finished product. The way to achieve it is through slow growth. Build a foundation. If you build it slowly you can maintain that for longer. If you go for an easy game or try to do something very quickly the foundation is not there and you won’t last.
‘Know what it is that you want to do. Be honest with yourself about whatever you are trying to achieve. If you can’t answer that then you probably haven’t given enough thought in preparing yourself for the future. Have a clear idea of what you want to be or what you want to do. With a destination in mind it gives you the ability to join the dots and get to the end stage.
‘I have had many role models in my life. The first one was an RAF fast jet pilot. I knew what he was and where he wanted to be so what I wanted to be what he was doing. I made a path and joined the dots to get there, step by step. Keep evolving your plan and find new role models. For example when climbing Mount Everest I needed to find a guide who had got to the top to learn how to do it. What did he do to achieve that? What do I need to do to get myself in the position where he was?
‘As the Principal said, if you want to, and you think you can do it, you very probably can, so try and take advice but also believe the buck rests with you. It has got to come from within. If you want to do something it is down to you to do it. You choose it, you follow it up and if you want to you will succeed.
‘It is about what you are going to do. When I ended my career flying I wanted to do something different and I am constantly evolving. Now I want to be a professional pilot, not in the military, I have to take all my exams again. I am now in the middle of my professional pilot exams, so I am starting a new career but I have got to keep going, I have got to keep doing my exams and achieving to get to the next level.
'Never give up. If someone offers you an opportunity, always say “yes”. Climbing Mount Everest was not something I dreamed about doing, but I had a drink with a friend of mine and the opportunity literally landed in my lap. I managed to raise the money and once you are there then the hard work starts and off you go on a new challenge. Life never ends, it never becomes a done deal, you have always got to keep achieving and extending, grasp every opportunity. Keep going, live life, there is no easy way to being successful, to being a Red Arrows pilot. You can’t just get there. You have got to do it bit by bit.
‘To sum up, build slowly, get to the top. Once you have got there you will stay there because you have understood the foundations being built. Know what you are trying to do, have a plan and join those dots and get to the end. Use role modelling as much as possible because they are your blueprints. If you haven’t got to the top yet then you will definitely find a way, if you want to. Grasp every opportunity and say yes. Don’t give up. Keep doing things, keep trying. Love life, it is fantastic.’