Welcome to this Navigate the Chaos blog post. To hire Michael for a keynote speech, workshop, or presentation be sure to visit the Contact page. You can also purchase a copy of the latest Navigate the Chaos collection and download the Google calendar for free.

How often do you define your elements of success?

Today is February 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you define your elements of success?” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed “A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions--as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.”

Do you view your life as a series of experiments and questions to find out something? Does that something change over time? Today’s reflection reminds us that navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires one to have a deep understanding of what it means to succeed as well as the necessary elements involved. If you never stop to reflect upon what is important to you, then how would you know? The 2013 American Express Life Twist study identified ten elements of success commonly expressed by Americans:

1. Good health

2. Finding time for the important things in life

3. Having a good marriage/relationship

4. Knowing how to spend money well

5. Having a good work/personal life-balance

6. Having a job I love

7. Making the time to pursue your passions and interests

8. Being physically fit

9. Embracing new experiences/changes

10. Always trying to learn and do new things

Creating your own definition of success and allowing it to unfold over time is paramount to understanding one’s elements. For example, a few years ago the Massachusetts Arts Council asked artists the question "how do you define success as an artist?" The answers were varied but all contained the theme of individuality as evidenced by this quote from painter Mary Bucci McCoy: “an important part of my definition of success in terms of my studio practice as a painter is making work that continually challenges and changes me, work that pushes the boundaries of my practice and opens up new possibilities.”

As you gain more personal and professional experience, it is helpful and necessary to remember your definition of success is entirely your own. To get started you need to “put success into your own context and shift your perspective toward what’s important to you, as opposed to something outside yourself.” Recent research supports the personal approach to defining success. Maverick British advertising legend Paul Arden published It’s Now How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be and noted “your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have.” Additionally, the Gallup/Populace 2019 Success Index concluded “Americans have very diverse definitions of personal success that cover a wide variety of life domains. The study found that there is no average definition of success. Instead, everyone tends to have a highly unique, personal view of success. The most important domains in Americans’ personal definitions of success are education (17.1%), relationships (15.6%), and character (15.4%).”

Another element of success for many people is best described by author Stephen Covey "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities." Taylor Hunt is one person who understands the meaning of scheduling priorities. A Way from Darkness is his unflinching and confessional story of Hunt's journey from addiction to health – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Bankrupt in every imaginable sense of the word, Taylor's journey was neither quick nor easy. He spent most of his 20s living basically on the streets and doing drugs almost every single day almost to the point of death. After learning about a 12-step meeting he realized he wanted something more out of life. A friend then introduced him to Ashtanga yoga and that allowed him to further his journey out of darkness. His story is more than just autobiography; it is an invitation to the reader to find healing alongside Taylor through community, Ashtanga yoga, and ultimately, acceptance. Hunt traveled out of the darkness and with the help of the 12-step process, coupled with Ashtanga yoga, he would eventually step away from addiction and towards sobriety. He made sobriety, a better life, and a better body his priorities.

Much like Taylor, U.S. soccer champion Abby Wambach understood her rules for success when she addressed the Barnard College Class of 2018, letting them in on her four secrets to success. First, failure is the highest-octane fuel so learn to make failure your fuel. Second, you're either a leader everywhere or nowhere so when you are benched, be a leader. Third, support other women and claim the success of one woman as a collective success for all women. Finally, be assertive and demand the ball, equal pay, the promotion, and the microphone. How often do you allow failure to be your fuel? Are you always a leader? Do you support others and realize the success of one is the success of many? Do you demand the ball?

  • How do you define your elements of success?

  • Has your definition of success changed over time?

  • Are you comparing your definition of success to someone else’s?

  • What is stopping you from redefining success?