Laura Kennington, adventurer and author of her new book Kairos.

It is easy to fall into the trap of doing what we “should”. Whether that’s following the unspoken consensus of our society or just going along with the crowd. We find ourselves bundled up and strapped in on the that’s-just-how-it-is train, settling for average or for someone else’s dreams.

That’s where we start Laura Kennington’s new book Kairos. Not with the outgoing and enthusiastic adventurer that she is today, but with a woman trapped in a pencil skirt. She paints a very relatable picture: “I’d often find myself staring at myself in the office bathroom mirrors – barely recognising the enervated woman in a respectable outfit staring back at me. Who even was I now? Here I was with everything I’d been told I should want… [but] I couldn’t escape the thought that life was too short to be this miserable. I felt like I’d been conned – nobody told me that a successful adult life was so… well, utterly stagnant.”

Laura Kennington swimming around Sark

‘Kairos’ is an ancient Greek word meaning “the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment); the fleeting rightness of time and place that creates the opportune atmosphere for action, words or movement”. By finding moments in her burnt out 9-5 routine, Laura was finding kairos for her adventures. What started as a side project grew into what is now her career, one adventure at a time.

“It became really important to me that I could make the most out of time,” she says, particularly while everyone around her said they were just too busy for adventures.

I think the biggest thing is to trust that process. Even if you try something and it doesn’t work, you’re still closer to finding something that will work because you’ve eliminated something else.”

Kairos the book is about the struggle for contentment with self: where you are and who you are. It is a funny,  honest and often incredibly relatable account of breaking free from shoulds, realising yourself and owning it. For Laura Kennington, a huge part of that was overcoming fear of failure and learning to accept failures when they did come around. Please note: this article will contain spoilers… but no more of a spoiler alert than if you’d been following Laura on social media for a while. Here we go.

Laura Kennington sea kayaking

Not many people would launch an adventure career by kayaking the longest river in Europe – particularly not someone with very little paddling experience. But this didn’t phase Laura. She set out to kayak the 2300km of the Volga river in Russia, solo and self-supported in 2015. “It didn’t even occur to me that I could fail,” said Kennington, “because I’m really stubborn. I thought that as long as I can just keep going that will be enough.”

What no one anticipated was how her challenge would go viral on Russian social media. Alongside a huge amount of warmth and support from local people, she was soon being chased by the press and receiving unwelcome visits to her campsite at night. Everything conspired to make the challenge unsafe to continue and she pulled out after six weeks.

“Retrospectively, I didn’t mind failing because it was out of my hands. If I had just failed because I was a bit tired and just wimped out I would have struggled a bit more with that.” But the events of the Volga started to hang over her: what if I fail again? She needed to make peace with it.

I think that fear of failure is pretty irrational when you come down to it. Because what does it mean? It means you tried something and you didn’t succeed but at least you tried, that’s the important bit.

That peace came in 2017, when Laura had to pull out of a solo North Coast 500 attempt because of injury. She started out the day after her Nan’s funeral and pushed herself until breaking point. The scathing headlines she’d imagined, “Pathetic Adventurer Fails Again – Why Doesn’t She Stop Embarrassing Herself?”, never materialised and the failure gremlin was kicked out of the driving seat. “You can’t live your life because you’re scared of failure, and drive yourself with no compassion in that way.” Having to stop and turn around to face that fear made Laura realise what she’d been running away from wasn’t all that scary at all.

“I think that fear of failure is pretty irrational when you come down to it,” she said. “Because what does it mean? It means you tried something and you didn’t succeed but at least you tried, that’s the important bit.”

Laura Kennington doing the North Sea Cycle route in Norway

They say that it takes an incredibly long time to become an overnight success. Living in a world where we are constantly updated on the best parts of everyone else’s lives, comparison syndrome is rife. You might easily assume that everyone adventurous is climbing mountains and beating Guinness World Records on a daily basis. It’s easy to forget that these are just the highlights.

“By the time we come across people,” says Laura, “they’ve made it.” Couple that with sensationalist headlines that vilify failure, we’re in a pretty poisonous world for just giving things a go. It’s refreshing to read an open account that focuses as much on sweet victory as it does battling headwinds and commiserating with pizza.

Laura Kennington has an impressive adventure CV. She has undertaken several solo kayaking and cycling challenges across Europe. She has run the 100km length of Fuerteventura and completed an extreme triathlon, circumnavigating three Channel Islands. She describes writing Kairos as her “biggest endurance challenge yet”.

“It was both wonderful and awful, I think,” laughs Kennington. “I’ve had the urge and the want to write a book for a while, it definitely felt like the right time. But the act of having to say no to so much else to get it done I found really difficult. There were times when I just felt like I was in the world’s longest detention. I couldn’t go out to play.”

Book cover for Kairos, Laura Kennington’s completed book

What advice would she give to someone who (literally or metaphorically) has their personality “squished into a pencil skirt”?

“I think you just have to keep trying stuff out. I fell into this by fate, really, when I took on that sailing adventure to Sweden. Honestly, when I boarded that ship I thought, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to sail: this is going to be my new job.” Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out. But if it had, Laura’s life would have been very different.

I think the biggest thing is to trust that process. Even if you try something and it doesn’t work, you’re still closer to finding something that will work because you’ve eliminated something else.”

You can get yourself a copy of Kairos here. Do you need something to shake you out of the that’s-just-how-it-is train? Check out our adventure holidays across the globe, from 0-21 days off work.