Jono Lester at Mount Ruapehu
Jono Lester at Mount Ruapehu

The Pursuit of Happiness

If there’s one thing life in the COVID-19 era has taught us, it’s the importance of happiness in your work and personal life. For many of us, this has been a personal crisis as we’ve been confronted with the way we’re living and what we tell ourselves we want, need and desire – which is often at loggerheads with the internal barometer we simply can’t ignore.

I’ve spent my life driving fast. I love it. I can’t live without it. But for most of my life it’s defined me and my performance on track has been a coinciding reflection of my self-worth. This is not a healthy mindset and my mental health has suffered because of it, and that’s something I’ve grappled with and worked on during the ongoing COVID hiatus.

So, with no choice but to face my demons and adapt for the better, I’ve thrown my energy into more than just driving race cars. Here are some of the other creative and philanthropic pursuits that are now a core part of my life…

Running…

The intersection between mindfulness and running is powerful. I’ve been a big proponent of trail running for a handful of years now and am gradually building up to the 100 mile (160km) ultra-marathon distance.

Running isn’t about your engine, your BoP, the speed of your pit crew or the multitude of other forces that need to come together in motorsport for victory to be possible. Running is about you vs. yourself. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s confronting, and it’s beautiful.

I have a couple of build-up ultras during the year at the 40-60-80km distances in various lush, wild parts of New Zealand.

I recently took on my first off-road marathon at the T42 adventure race near Mount Ruepehu, surprising myself with a top 10 overall finish in 3h 46min!

I’ve gotta say, if there’s ever a home to live in when you enjoy outdoor pursuits – NZ is it. I feel extremely fortunate to be here right now, despite having no other choice!

…and getting out in nature

Sometimes, it’s nice to slow down and take in your surroundings; so adjacent to running some friends and I have been having a ball gradually ticking off each of New Zealand’s many Great Walks.

We’re keeping it close to home initially, in areas such as the Central Plateau (where Mount Ruapehu is situated) and the East Coast of the North Island at Lake Waiheremoana, with intent to complete the NZ tour with the South Island’s incredible offerings in the coming months.

Helping others

As one of SPCA New Zealand’s national Ambassadors, I’ve helped this charity for the voiceless raise funds and awareness for their cause since 2018, but in the COVID era I’ve ramped that up further by also signing up as one of their volunteers at the local Auckland centre in Mangere.

After going through my initial training with their helpful coordinators, I set aside a day each month to help out in the doggery with pups of all ages and backgrounds, helping with their rehabilitation before being rehomed with new families when they’re eventually put up for adoption. It’s not glamorous work, but for all the cleaning, washing and disinfecting of their kennels there’s a good balance of ‘play’ thrown into the mix too.

I chose to help out with dogs as I’ve always had cats at home during my life, and it’s nice to do something different and get some perspective on what it takes to care for a canine before eventually adopting one of my own when my personal situation allows for it.

Outside of the SPCA, it’s lovely to continue my association with Make-A-Wish New Zealand as their go-to man for any child who’s wish involves fast cars and motorsport!

Most recently, with thanks from my team CRE Corliss Race Engineering and long-term sponsor Cuesko, we made Kuzae’s wish to ride in a Dodge muscle car come true. The smile on their faces says it all, and we’re so pleased we can be a part of these special experiences.

Reading and learning

Something as simple as getting a library card has been a worthwhile move for me and I’m a sponge for learning and self-improvement through books, audiobooks and of course podcast across a range of topics.

Cutting back on Netflix and instead entertaining myself in this manner has been fruitful during COVID and is now a crucial ingredient in my daily routine.

My personal favourite is the Rich Roll podcast. Rich is an inspirational ultra-runner and plant based athlete who’s story (alongside that of my friend and former All Black Adam Thompson) opened the door for me to try a plant-based lifestyle a little over two years ago – one of the most profound and life-changing decisions (for the better) that I’ve ever made.

I’m so glad I stumbled across Rich and every day his words are a tonic to me.

If you’re doing it tough, don’t internalise it. I spent most of my life doing the same thing, and speaking up to someone I trusted, in addition to cathartic outlets like those I’ve outlined above, are all part of my own pursuit of happiness.

It’s working – – but the work never stops.

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