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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you allow yourself to be defined by your worst day?

Today is February 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow yourself to be defined by your worst day?” You will have bad days. Some people have bad years. But the question you need to consider during those bad times is ‘will you allow this to define your existence?’ Other forms of this question include ‘will you allow this to define your future self?’ or ‘will you allow this to define your ability to pursue your dreams?’ Matt Imhof had to ask himself this question and answered it over time as he processed what happened to him.

In June 2016, Clearwater Threshers pitcher Matt Imhof, the Philadelphia Phillies' second-round pick in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, suffered a "significant injury to his right eye'' during postgame arm care band work. Imhof, 22, was taking part in a routine stretching regimen after a game at Brevard County when a piece of equipment malfunctioned, and he was struck in the right eye.

He was rushed to the hospital and then flown to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, where he had surgery to repair his eye, and after that did not work, surgery to remove it. In that one moment in time Imhof lost his dream to pitch in the major leagues. As Imhof wrote in an emotional post on “I felt like the person who walked into that training room in Brevard County was not the same person sitting alone in this hospital room. Everything I thought I knew, everything I had planned for myself, was gone. Baseball, my future, my vision, all of it.”

But his surgeon, Dr. Wendy W. Lee told him "You have suffered a life-altering injury, not a life-ending one. It may be hard for you to see right now, but you can still do anything you want. You can play baseball again. You can drive a car. You can even be a brain surgeon. Anything that was possible for you before the accident is still possible for you now."

After listening to Dr. Lee’s words Imhof realized he had to decide he was going to let his worst day define his entire life. Imhof announced his retirement in a self-written ESPN article on Jan. 25, 2017. Imhof refused to let the injury to define him: "I had two options. I could let this injury define me. I could be angry -- no one would blame me for that. I could be depressed, feel sorry for myself, and live in the past. I could let the rest of my life be defined by the worst day of my life. Or, I could pick myself up, dust myself off and move on." Matt Imhof did not allow his worst day define him.

Neither did Jake O’Connor. A former construction framer who landed in a wheelchair when a wall collapsed on him at a construction project in Fort Collins, Colorado, O’Connor responded in a dramatic fashion and launched ReActive Adaptations. ReActive is O’Connor’s reaction to being wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.

With a love of the outdoors and a dedication to not have his life defined by his worst day, O’Connor creates knobby-tired, three-wheeled, hand-cycles that start at around $8,000 that bring paraplegics and quadriplegics back to the outdoor trails they love. With innovative suspensions, drivetrains and frames, his born-in-Crested Butte bikes provide long-missed thrills to disabled athletes. In nine years, O’Connor has built about 200 three-wheeled bikes that feature two wheels up front and one in the rear.

Like O’Connor, Jay Coughlan had to decide if he was going to let his worst day define him. Coughlan grew up in Philadelphia and often joked about his hard upbringing: “In our neighborhood a few kids were going to Penn State, but even more were going to the state pen.” Fortunately for Coughlan, he moved to Minnesota and started to focus on his career. From 1987 through the late 1990s, Coughlan, had been moving quickly up the ranks at Lawson Software, a company comparable to Oracle, going from salesman to executive vice president at the Minnesota-based company. Ever since taking a college course in his 20s, Coughlan wanted to become a CEO. His goal: to reach that status by age 40. But as he closed in on becoming a CEO, tragedy struck. When his father came to visit him in Minnesota, the two went on a hunting trip.

As Coughlan tells the next part of the story “We were on our way home when we decided to stop at a bar. When we left a while later and started to drive home, I missed a turn, drove off the road and down and embankment, and hit a train going 60 miles an hour. The next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital, all broken up.” Coughlan would wake up to find out his father had died in the accident.

He was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide and served a month in jail, five months under house arrest and 10 years of probation. In an interview with CNBC Coughlan said he did not want to be defined by his worst moment “I wanted to be defined by something else and it was all about the choices I made at that point.” In his 2017 book Five Bold Choices: Rise above Your Circumstances and Redefine Your Life, Coughlan identified the following five bold choices that helped him navigate the chaos of convicted felon to CEO:

  • Clarity: Keeping the important things important

  • Accountability: Taking responsibility for your life journey

  • Adaptability: Personal change precedes practical change

  • Confidence: Keeping your thoughts in proper perspective

  • Balance: Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong


  • Have you defined yourself by your worst day?

  • Which of the five bold choices do you practice on a regular basis?

  • Which one of the five bold choices would you like to practice more often?

  • If you do define your life with your worst day, how is that impacting your ability to leverage your mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos?


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