Anna Mcnuff: What are you afraid of starting?

Anna Mcnuff: What are you afraid of starting?
10 January 2016 Janine

“When I’m 80, and I smell of wee and gin and tonic, I want to look back on my life, and I want to say – that was awesome. I would rather live my life on the brink of failure than in the comfort of assured success.”

“I haven’t made the finish line, and I’m crying, because I think I’ve failed,” Anna recalls.  The daughter of two Olympic rowers, Anna McNuff was raised in an environment where she believed that she could do anything, as long as she was determined enough. But in pursuit of being an Olympian herself, and physically as good as she could be, she lost sight of herself as a whole person. “It just wasn’t making me happy anymore,” she says. “So I looked at my dream of being an Olympian square in the eyes – and I let it go.”

At the age of 24, Anna decided to go and find a ‘normal job.’ “I spent my days staring at PowerPoint and Excel, and sitting in meetings discussing whether the next marketing campaign needed a bit more ‘juuussh’,” Anna says.

“I sat there, at my desk one day, and I thought ‘is this it?’ ‘Is this all I have to give the world?’ And the answer was no. I realised I had placed myself and my life within a set of limits that were created by somebody else.”

‘We are born as a castle of a thousand rooms.’ – Debbie Ford

“There is a quote by author Debbie Ford, that we are born as a castle of a thousand rooms,” Anna says. “But we end up jaded, as a one bed flat in Englefield Green,” she laughs. “This is what happened to me, and I wasn’t even a one bed flat – I was a broom cupboard.”

Anna asked herself that golden question – what would I do, if I could do anything? It’s a question usually answered with a list of responsibilities as to why ‘doing anything’ just isn’t possible. But Anna encourages us to be the ‘dreamer’ when we think about the answer to that question – and deal with the realist, and then the critic later. Anna’s dreamer decided that the answer was to cycle around the world. Her realist swiftly reduced that to11,000 miles through every state in America, and the critic didn’t get a look in.

“What are you afraid of starting? And what would happen if you forgot about the finish line, and you just started running towards it?”

Anna had an amazing journey meeting incredible people along the way, including Betty, a 93 year-old woman who runs one mile to her mailbox and back, every single morning.

After completing her trip, Anna decided to run the length of the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, 72 marathons back-to-back, solo and unsupported. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Anna says, “but I realised that this was a ridiculous reason not to start.”

“The night before I left, I was completely petrified, and other people were telling me that it was impossible,” she says. “Fear was a frequent visitor on my journey. One day I had to cross 30 rivers on the trail.” Anna sprained her ankle that day by slipping off a rock, and had the choice of walking two days back or four days forward through the New Zealand bush to find civilisation. “I crawled into my tent and I realised that I was at rock bottom,” she says. “But once I got down there – it wasn’t that bad. This wasn’t my limit.”

“I crawled into my tent and I realised that I was at rock bottom. But once I got down there – it wasn’t that bad. This wasn’t my limit.” 

She had a secret weapon in the shape of a pair of legging depicting a unicorn having a fight with a robot. “I think that it is scientifically impossible to be unhappy when you are wearing these pants,” she says. “They reminded me that I should be grateful – my ‘pants of perspective’.” Anna decided, pants on, to carry on going – and after five and a half months, made it 1911 miles to the tip of New Zealand.

“I realised that I would rather live my life on the brink of failure than in the comfort of assured success. What would happen if you forgot about the finish line – and you just started running towards it?”

Watch Anna’s motivational talk below.

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