John McInroy | Social activist, ultra-endurance athlete and philanthropist

John McInroy

South Africa is blessed to have the passionate and hugely inspiring John McInroy as one of her major MISSION MEN. With a heart for supporting primary education as a means to empower South African people, and address the significant inequalities the majority of South Africa still contend with, he founded “Red Socks Friday”, a movement that is connecting people all over the world by wearing red socks and for which he was awarded the “Ideas for the Future” scholarship by the University College of Dublin’s Graduate Business School. He is also the force behind the Unogwaja Charitable Trust with it’s very own Unogwaja Challenge – a 1650 km, 10 day bike ride from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg followed by the Comrades Marathon on day 11. Today, living in Langa, this great heart shares his story with us:

John_Mcnroy1My Definition Of Success | I think this is an important question we all need to ask ourselves that could have a massive impact on the direction of our lives and our collective future. Success in modern-day terms often boils down to material “measurements” like a car, a house and perhaps more meaningful things like having and being part of a loving family. In other words how much we can “get” or achieve in our lifetime. But for me, something needs to come before (or with) all these, and that’s what we can give and ensure we leave this earth in a better place or at least as good as we found it for future generations to enjoy. Or a simpler question to ask: “How can my life matter the most”. This does not mean we all have to be “world leaders” but all in our own way can have an influence on those around us. I think my definition of success has indeed changed as I have got older and I am sure this will be an ongoing process.
I Am Driven By | I want my life to matter, to mean something. I want to know I have used the days of my life towards something worthwhile. In my own small way I want to contribute as best I can.

A Key Talent |  This is a tough one as I continually feel like I have so much to learn and success doesn’t really exist as there is a never ending amount of work to be done. However if I had to pinpoint one element that has helped me the most it’s simple, it’s PASSION!  PASSION differentiates us. PASSION inspires other people to support you and be a part of what you are doing, what you believe in, PASSION equips you to fight through the many dark times and the challenges along the way, PASSION is the single most infectious quality in the world. And the best thing about PASSION is you can’t fake it, certainly not over a lifetime and no one else controls it other than you and there are no limits to where it can take you. It comes from within and will define how far you can go.


Lessons I Have Learnt | To listen. This is the single-biggest lesson I am continually learning and reminded of over and over again. Especially in our country, history has impacted us in many different ways and it is so important to listen and see other people and appreciate their lives and their struggle and see it from their viewpoint and not just our own!

Dealing With Doubt | If your life involves any form of challenging the status quo, requiring deep change from people, expect a tough time, and self-doubt, fear, negativity are all part of that. In times like this, I remind myself that Nelson Mandela went to prison for 27 years of his life. There is always a price to pay for walking a path less travelled.

John_Mcnroy2Performing At My Peak | I am far from it – one of the best analogies for perspective here is a flower is not always in bloom. Like a flower we also have seasons. But I think the key to ensuring your perform when you need to, whether it be for an important speech or a physical journey is to ensure you also have time off, time at ease, in the company of people you are fully safe with and can totally unwind with. I have realized that in order to stay the course, that rest and relaxation where possible is as important as work and focus, although this balance can be very hard to strike particularly when you know your work is never done. This paragraph from Edward Abbey is one of my favourites that I like reciting:
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” 

 People often ask about preparation. Well the truth is “it is too late to prepare when opportunity knocks” and this is how you know you are doing what you are meant to be doing when you start to realize that everything you have done up until now in your life is preparing you for what lies ahead. There is a great comfort knowing this and discovering this. Steve Jobs put it in his famous 2005 Stanford Commencement Day Speech, “dots will connect looking backwards… and this will give you the confidence to follow your heart even if it takes you off the well worn path”

Balancing high performance with happiness & contentment| I feel very lonely at times and I have felt like giving up. It’s difficult to explain or perhaps more difficult to believe as most people only see what’s above the surface and see me surrounded by many people. But the truth is, it often feels like you are fighting alone and everyone else is just going about their business and don’t care about change as they are not going to be around to experience it anyway.  For many years I felt I could never be weak, and certainly not in “public” but in recent years I have found this weakness and vulnerability as difficult as it may be to share has been really empowering, liberating and has enabled me to connect with many more people.

The Best Advice I’ve Received | Listen more than you speak. Act more than you talk of action. And stay fit and healthy as a priority as you are no good to anyone burnt out and broken!

John_Mcnroy3Advice On Building Wealth | What is the point unless you are going to use that wealth to serve the world? And what impact has accumulating that wealth had on the world? Just be careful that you don’t end up spending your whole life accumulating that wealth and never get round to actually putting it to good use or that accumulating the wealth has such a negative effect on the world already that the good use only serves to negate the deficit already created.

I Am Inspired By | There is no one who inspires me more than Nelson Mandela. I recently sold my car and have very little possessions. One of my few possessions I treasure is a large canvass photograph of Nelson Mandela that is up in my room. It’s a photo of Madiba looking out of his prison cell at Robben Island post his release.  His presence and this photo reminds me to keep going like no other. I imagine how I will feel when I look back at my life. I want to ensure I gave everything.

The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I certainly hope that the legacy of Unogwaja will be carried forward forever and remind us all of the power of our actions and the responsibility that goes with it.

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