Your Complete Potential

Brett Cowell
15 min readMay 11, 2022


In the postscript to his autobiography, From the Cockpit, car legend Bruce McLaren reflected on the racing death of teammate Timmy Mayer:

“The news that he had died instantly was a terrible shock to all of us, but who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”

We find ourselves inspired by the human spirit, by sacrifice in pursuit of excellence, and yet how do we move ourselves forward to higher levels of achievement and experience? How do we “see more, do more and learn more” and thus live an inspired (and hopefully inspirational) life?

In this article, instead of trying to jump in with “3 bullet points for a better life”, ones that you’ve no doubt heard before, I want to start a conversation and share a framework that I hope will be useful for thinking through, and living through, “more”, whatever more means to you.

Complete — more of?

What is by now, amazingly, six years ago I made a career change in order to start a business, pursue creative interests, and to try to chase down a little bit of my dreams. Perhaps it is just my nature, but I was also curious about the extent to which one can go it alone, at least at the start. Did I need a big organization behind me in order to be successful? Could I get by just on my own intellect and intuition? Could I use the power of ideas to create a living while also make a life, a life that also makes a difference in the world?

Could you?

The answer is “yes”, but it is difficult sometimes. It is difficult to stay focused, and it is difficult to recover from setbacks, and keep perspective. It is difficult to scale up the impact of what you are doing, but ultimately it is worth it. But, how to do it more reliably and faster?

I’ve always found that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a framework or model can be useful to help get organized, to focus and stay on track.

The first iteration of a post-corporate model for living was the “Five Pillars” in The Good Life Book (2017). After publishing the book, and soaking up the insights within, I largely went “off framework” and essentially started a voyage of discovery, following my interests and desire for self-expression.

This was interesting and I got to start to make my dreams part of my reality. I gained valuable insights into business and life, but also eventually felt that I was done with open-ended exploring for the time being.

I’d gotten a fair view of the landscape or “playing field” for work and life, and needed to transition of upping the impact of what I knew I had to do. That is, to scale up my business and creative projects to the next level. And that included helping you to experience more, since that is the win-win-win for you, the business, and to make a positive impact in the world that I’m aiming to help support.

Enter “Complete”, a new paradigm for working and living that is focused on taking the authentic you up to the next level of experience and impact. While I’m a fan and ambassador for self-expression, and an organic and personalized approach to growth, I also see the need for, and advantages of, having a framework that helps you to know where to focus, and how to measure and increase your performance.

Figure 1: The Complete Paradigm

Although the model might seem complex, this version of Complete pulls together everything I’ve been talking about so far in the past couple of years. That is, authenticity, creativity, mindset and so on, for example. You will be working on different parts of the model at different times. In particular, once the inner part of the wheel is established, you’ll move focus to the outer “performance” part of the model.

Let’s chunk up the model, starting with the inner and outer circles.

1. Expanding the circle

The basic concept of Complete is to expand the circle. The inner circle represents where you are today (or, at least, the authentic you), and the outer circle where you will be as you begin to experience even more from life, and move outwards towards your dreams and potential.

Figure 2: Expanding the Circle

If you really did take a voyage of discovery into the big questions of life, you might begin to see the full extent of the outer circle as representing a combination of self-actualization and Self-realization, and thus start to consider ideas such as purpose, and destiny. We don’t have to grapple with all those ideas today, just know that these are “in” the model, and we’ll return to those topics at another time.

What “more” means (for the time being) in terms of the outer circle, is up to you, and relative to where you are now.

More for you might involve just some tweaking to realize additional opportunities to have fun, meet people, learn, grow and contribute, for example.

Perhaps you are stuck in your job, and imagine “more” as a grander life chasing down your ideal career and/or life.

Perhaps you’ve been experiencing some sort of existential crisis, and your inner circle (e.g. comfort zone, confidence, colleagues and friends and so on) has actually shrunk. More means rebuilding, then moving to be better than you ever were.

Implicit in using the circle as a representation, is the idea of an authentic/holistic idea of success. Success cannot be solely measured in terms of a “number”, it is necessarily a multi-dimensional thing even in the most basic of definitions e.g. “health, wealth, family”.

The alternative would be a narrow definition of success, firing a one-shot rocket at the stars and seeing what happens. Except “What comes up must come down” as the saying goes. Instead of a rocket, move the ground up to the stars. If the different pieces of your life fit together well, then your expansion effort will be more resistant to setbacks, and therefore be more sustainable.

2. “The Wheel”

The inner circle of the diagram you just saw is actually the boundary of “The Wheel” aka, the “Five pillars” that I talked about in The Good Life Book (2017). The “Five Pillars” were actually represented as a wheel when I first sketched them out, and I’ve decided to return to a wheel from now on (the pillars were too much like the rocket I just talked about)!

Figure 3 — The Wheel

I’ve labeled the boundary circle “Express” since it represents the sum total of what you put out into the world, based on your choices of how you allocate time and energy.

This allocation is broadly split into five buckets or “spokes”, comprising: Vocation, People, Health, Spirit and Self-Expression. The approach in the book encouraged you to “audit” your life using those five headings, and overall, then to set goals to move you from where you are now to where you want to be.

Needless to say, many of us are “out of whack” between what we say and know is important, and how we actually allocate our time and energy. And hours turn into days and weeks that turn into years and a lifetime. Small changes now have a compounding effect. Not making small changes now has a compounding effect. A really basic idea with the wheel is to begin to deliberately plan and allocate your time and energy across all five areas.

Many of us predominantly express ourselves through work, so instead of an even circle we have something that bulges out at the side, and looks more like the outline of a guitar or banjo.

Figure 4 — The Banjo

That is, the neck represents work, and the rest of the spokes are smaller in terms of how you consciously allocate your time and energy. You push at work to try to go higher, but without having a firm foundation in the rest of your life you risk catastrophic failure. Don’t be a banjo!

Let’s get back to the wheel.

Each of the spokes in the wheel fit into a hub at the center of the circle. The hub is the anchor of your core values, beliefs, meaning, and so on. Aligning the spokes to the hub is what you might call congruence, different parts of life are pulling together rather than pulling you in different directions.

The final part of the wheel diagram is the tau symbol “τ” in the center representing “torque” or the turning force for your wheel, which comprises energy, drive, desire, motivation and so on. Harnessing drive is key to performance.

Having an aligned or authentic life is no guarantee of success in itself, but what you do experience will be meaningful. Yet, achieving success that is not authentic can be a distraction and even counter productive.

You might finding yourself defending something you don’t believe in, doing “whatever it takes” and sacrificing for what turn out to be empty achievements. In practical terms, not taking time now to dig into what you care about can lose you time on the back end, delaying a career change and/or other decisions you know that you need to make. And much of the pre-work to the future can be done now, once you decide that direction, rather than waiting until you’ve quit your job or encountered a setback or crisis in work or in life.

Needless to say, The Wheel is dynamic. For example, a job might be highly meaningful when you start it, because of the difference it will make to your life. Over time your priorities and interests might change, and all of a sudden that same job is less meaningful, or even against your values. Meaning-making itself is dynamic process. There are various options from that point: to try to get your mojo back (see things in a different, motivating, way), or to change, for example.

3. Having the D.R.E.A.M.S. and the M.E.A.N.S.

Figure 5 — The Outer Circle and Tools

The final parts are two new tools i.e. D.R.E.A.M.S. and M.E.A.N.S.

The idea of the wheel might seem fuzzy to you, why not just start chasing after stuff? But it’s easier to build the foundation first (e.g. useful habits) that to try to build the foundation after some of the walls are up, or find that you’ve built the wrong walls.

A realistic snapshot of success is often less encouraging than the intentional approach I just outlined. For example, stories being expressed directly by those I’ve interviewed for various shows.

In many if not all cases, chasing an ambitious goal comes ahead of almost all other parts of life. So can you have success without sacrificing everything?

Let me try to answer this way. Many stories of non-success also come with extreme sacrifice, except without the end result, and we rarely hear those stories, even though statistically, they must be the vast majority (e.g. high failure rates in new businesses). Sacrifice in itself doesn’t equal success.

There must be a middle ground that is even palatable for the most ambitious among us where, at a minimum, we focus on those areas of life that help work, which are the other four spokes i.e. physical and mental health, people/relationships, spirituality/connection and self-expression. This is something I’d like to explore more in future podcasts/videos.

Tool: D.R.E.A.M.S.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary…In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex [.]” — Henry David Thoreau. Walden

There is some magic that happens when we try to pursue our dreams. Not that everything is easy and you don’t have to work, but eventually some luck and “breaks” will come your way. Obviously, if you don’t try to pursue your dreams those breaks won’t arrive, and if they do, you won’t be in the position to see or act on them. If you’re not pursuing your dreams then what are you pursuing?

There is something simplifying that goes along with success and knowing who you are and what you stand for. You stop trying to be everything to everyone, play more to your strengths, and even reframe weaknesses into strengths rather than spending all your time trying to fix them all.

D.R.E.A.M.S. is an acronym for:

  1. Dream — your Big Hairy Audacious Goals, your Wishlist of stuff, your visualization of a better future state, your burning ambition
  2. Reality — where you currently are today, your burning platform
  3. Explore — investigate, experiment with, live a bit of your dream
  4. Articulate — lay out your why/story, goals, plan, the resources you need
  5. Momentum — chunk down goals, find small wins, work in public
  6. Sustainability — build habits and routines that lock in progress

I’ll save a detailed walkthrough of the framework until a future article. Each of the six stages of D.R.E.A.M.S. has detailed activities under it that help you move forward via concrete actions.

For now, I’ll say three things:

You might feel uncomfortable talking about your dreams, even in private. As adults we’re supposed to have it all worked out, to remain practical, and even be totally self-sacrificing to other commitments in our lives. I get it. But giving yourself up to external forces seems like being a martyr rather than a mortal, a human, with hopes and dreams.

Putting aside the word dreams for a moment, the practical fact is that sometimes people simply feel like a change, doing something different, a new growth challenge. That’s normal and it’s ok! It is never too late to start. If the last few years has taught us anything it is to be more intentional about how we are living and working, and that might well involve changes. It will.

Secondly, Explore is a key stage and way of operating. Instead of jumping straight into goal setting, take some time to make a small piece of the dream yours. Get some of that dream energy into your week! It could be as simple as following relevant groups or personalities on social media. It could be reading 5 books about the subject. It could be attending a meetup! Work out who is doing what you want to do, and who inspires you! If you are building a bridge to your dreams then exploring is about narrowing the span of the bridge, making the distance shorter.

Lastly, D.R.E.A.M.S. is a cyclical and iterative process. The reality is that you might not know what your dreams are in any detail. You might have a general sense that it is something to do with music, or travel or helping others, for example. That is a start, but to have true motivating and change power, you’ll need to explore your dream and see if you can start identifying some specifics, or at least some distinct options!

For example, more than a decade ago I wrote down that I was interested in music/the arts, as one of the most important things in my future. Living in London at the time, I had plenty of opportunities to attend music festivals and visit galleries. Instead of music and the arts only being something I “consumed”, I knew that I wanted it to be a bigger part of my life.

Later, about seven years ago, I had a vague idea about performing some music I’d written at a festival, but even for an optimist, starting a performance career entering my 40’s seemed a bit of a stretch. Music and the arts is such a big field, how could I find an angle that worked.

I also realized that I had an interest in film, so overlapping film and music gives some obvious ideas: writing films about music, writing music for films, producing music videos, and so on. Running the business “forced” me to learn and work on video and sound, and thus brought me closer to the practicalities of those overlaps I just talked about. As it turns out, many ideas are all relatively easy to pilot without quitting your day job. And once you start piloting, you build a portfolio. Evidence to you and the world of your intention moved into reality. More of that next time.

Tool: M.E.A.N.S.

In addition to the specific tasks to achieve your goals, there are several critical “meta-factors” that need to be managed to achieve success.

M.E.A.N.S. is an acronym for:

  1. Mindset — thought process, beliefs and routines. Confidence
  2. Experiences — The experience you create for others, how you experience life, the new experiences that you take on board
  3. Activity– planning, managing, adjusting. Productivity, work-rate
  4. Network — your accountability group, mentors, wider community
  5. Skills — skills you have or learn that directly or indirectly support achieving your goals

Out of the five above, Mindset is arguably by far the most important, with confidence being the most differentiating part of Mindset, given its interrelationship with drive.

I’ll also call out the threefold definition of Experiences here too. Experiences, and stories about experiences, can shape or even define us!

The overall focus of Complete is to empower you to be aware of the power of experiences, and then to give you the tools, skills, actions to enhance your experience of life, and the experiences of others.

You create experiences for others though how you show up every day, the stuff that you create, and the energy you bring (this applies as a leader, and in life). Another way of looking at this is via the lens of personal brand. Are you the sort of person others want to interact with, and help succeed?

Next, how do you “taste” or experience life? Which situations in your week contribute to a positive experience of life, and which detract from that? Finally, are you open to new experiences (a trait often associated with creativity). is there a shorter way to your goals via new types of experiences that you can be a part of? What about the content that you consumer or interact with?

Lastly, depending on your dream there will be various Skills requirements. Don’t assume that just because you don’t have a skill now, you can’t have it quickly in future. Being able to record a podcast, shoot and edit video are all fairly easy to get a baseline proficiency in, for example, with reasonably inexpensive equipment. Creativity and problem solving are really key meta-skills in that they apply to so many different goals.

Key Takeaways

Firstly, I apologize for trying to cover so much ground in one article. I don’t have all the answers yet, but hoped at the least in this article I’ve been able to provide a map of the territory that we’ll be exploring over the next months.

In a sense the key takeaways are the ones that are most meaningful to you based on where you are now!

For me, the key ideas from this article:

  • Allow yourself to dream, if you don’t then can you really understand your potential. You can work out the right goals and a creative approach later on. New possibilities will appear
  • Mindset, and particularly confidence, are of utmost importance in achieving anything significant. Don’t leave confidence to chance. Put in a process and establish routines to manage it and mindset more broadly (we’ll explore how to do that later!)
  • If you haven’t already, get started on building self-knowledge as soon as possible (see links below), but don’t stop there, move from knowing to doing…get a piece of that dream energy into your week!

What this means going forward

I’ve become fascinated by the power of experiences to transform us in a short period of time, so will be experimenting with making more experiential content going forward, and hopefully doing this online, in-person and eventually in VR/AR.

What you can expect from me in the short term is three things:

  1. Further fleshing out D.R.E.A.M.S. and M.E.A.N.S. probably in two short articles and I’d like to start hearing from you on how these have worked out in your situation
  2. Upcoming podcast/video content will be aligned with the Complete paradigm, and I’m particularly interested in talking more about confidence/mindset, creativity and the realities of pursuing a dream in the real world
  3. You’ve asked for more help in unlocking your own creativity as a leader at work, so expect some tips here, and some more formalized learning coming soon!

Also today I’ve launched the Complete group on LinkedIn, will post the link below. In lieu of a big team, one of the things I’ve sorely missed is being part of a positive community that can bridge work and life, and isn’t only dependent on being in a certain place at a certain time! You’ve also asked for more community, so please join, and you have the opportunity to shape what this community becomes and the value to you and others.

Was this useful? Am I on the right track? Let me know!



Brett Cowell

Creativity/Leadership/Lifestyle. Author, Filmmaker, Music Producer/DJ, Founder Total Life Complete. IG/TW @brett_media