The Thrive Questionnaire//

How Acclaimed Ballet Dancer Rodney Gustafson Uses Failure to Achieve Success

“Failure sets the stage for humility and learning.”

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Dance has always been a part of Rodney Gustafson’s life.  As a professional dancer with American Ballet Theatre, Gustafson worked with many of the greatest dancers and choreographers of all time — Mikhail Baryshnikov, Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Rudolph Nureyev, Jerome Robbins, and more.  He appeared in films such as The Turning Point and Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker, and performed in several Live from Lincoln Center specials on PBS. He is the Founder and  Executive & Artistic Director of State Street Ballet, where he created numerous full-length ballets for the company, including The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Jungle Book.  Most important to Gustafson is breaking the body stereotypes of ballet. State Street Ballet is now internationally acclaimed and respected for artistic excellence and for its diverse repertoire, and is currently celebrating their 25th Anniversary Season.

In his Thrive Questionnaire, Gustafson shares how loving what you do can combat burnout, and how you can learn to be more mindful of every step you take in life. 

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Rodney Gustafson: A brief meditation

TG: What gives you energy? 

RG: As an artist, I seek energy via the creative “flow.” Athletes  call it “the zone,” artists call it “the flow,” and children just call it play. 

TG: What daily habit or practice helps you thrive?

RG: Gratitude is my mainstay. As I forge through the daily challenges life provides, I always need to go back to  my gratitude list. 

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

RG: Way of the Peaceful  Warrior by Dan Millman

TG: How do you deal with email?

RG: I try to compartmentalize, and spend about one hour in  the morning doing only emails. If I check emails throughout the day, I can easily be distracted from important tasks.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

RG: I try to do the things that are the most unique to me, as they are the ones I cannot usually delegate. 

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

RG:  I am a big believer in the power nap.  It can act as a reboot for the busy committee in my head.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

RG: I feel burnout from time to time when overloaded by the challenges ahead of me, although it does not  usually last long, as I love what I do.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed, and how did you overcome it? 

RG: I do not run from failure, as it teaches me much more than success. Success feeds my ego, but failure sets the stage for humility and learning. 

TG: What advice would you give your younger self? 

RG: Embrace your life, and remember that every moment matters. 

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

RG: “Chose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” —Confucius

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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