Mega-success, fitness personality and business coach Chalene Johnson teaches people to find health, wealth and peace of mind.
She’s a New York Times bestselling author, business mentor, podcaster, fitness icon and fashion-savvy mom, and that’s just the start of it. Chalene Johnson has helped people get fit through her popular workout programs like PiYo, Turbo Jam, Turbo Fire and ChaLEAN Extreme. She has earned a spot in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for fitness videos and coached others on how to build profitable businesses and grow their reach with social media prowess.
And while she has built multiple lucrative companies with her business partner and husband, money has never been the driving factor making Johnson forge ahead. Her hard-earned rise to the top has been full of learning opportunities and mistakes, which she now gladly shares with the world in order to help more people achieve the healthy and wealthy lives they truly want.
24Life recently sat down with Johnson to find out how she lives a rich life of choice, success and balance.
On her career growth and story…
24Life: How did you get your start in the fitness industry?
Chalene Johnson (CJ): While working as a paralegal in a Southern California law firm in my 20s, I made the big decision to forgo law school and instead pursue a career in fitness. I worried that my parents would be disappointed in my decision, with the loss of earning potential, financial security and prestige that comes along with being an attorney, but I knew I wanted to be happy and help others in a personal way. (Little did I know that I would one day be making about 10 times what I would have been making if I had become a partner in that firm.)
I started out working independently as a personal trainer, while also teaching fitness classes and eventually managing group fitness departments for 24 Hour Fitness in the Southern California region. During this time, in order to solve a problem for the fitness instructors who I managed (as well as myself), I began branding and marketing my own unique workout.
At the time, instructors had very few teaching resources available to them. In fact, in order to teach a top-notch one-hour class, it could take between two to 10 hours to prepare the choreography, the exercise sequencing and the corresponding playlist. And that was time instructors weren’t paid, and I was losing my best instructors each month because of what it took to create a great class. It wasn’t worth the cost and effort for them. I capitalized on this need and created a pre-designed workout format, which eliminated the hours of preparation and development needed, and instead allowed instructors to focus on connecting with their class and motivating people. That first pre-designed certification program was called Turbo Kick.
The idea took off in my region and across the U.S., and I resigned from my management position at 24 Hour Fitness (although I continued to teach for the company for the next 20 years).
Over the next 10 years, my husband, Bret, and I ran our fitness company together, developing four other group fitness programs with membership videos, an apparel line, certifications, master trainers, sales training, as well as motivational and personal development seminars. Eventually, we were approached about acquisition by fitness infomercial giant, Beachbody, LLC. We decided to take that option.
And through a partnership with Beachbody, I have been fortunate enough to take several of my in-club programs to consumers through a variety of infomercials, selling tens of millions to date.
24Life: What did you learn about health and happiness while growing your businesses?
CJ: Doing everything from designing group fitness programs to hosting seminars simultaneously certainly was rewarding and fulfilling — but it was also exhausting. We got really good at setting and achieving our professional goals, but we didn’t put much thought into the toll it would take on our marriage, our stress and our freedom. And it wasn’t good. We had wealth but were missing some aspects of our health.
We finally realized things were reaching that tipping point where we either had to sell, or strategize for massive growth. We were moving at a pace of about 100 miles per hour and saying yes to every opportunity for fear that we might miss out on the next.
The irony of being in that state is that, in fact, we were missing out. We were missing out on our happiness. It’s nearly impossible to experience peace and happiness when your stress threshold is at max capacity all the time.
We made the decision to sell, based on what we believed would be healthiest for our family, as opposed to our bank account. It was a real turning point for us spiritually, financially and for our family.
Today, my husband and I make it our full-time mission to help others simplify their lives. Even though I still partner with Beachbody on infomercials, the bulk of our income and our work revolves around our own online SmartLife academies, in which we teach others to adopt this lifestyle. We call it “smart success” and think of it as a radical step away from the hustle that is touted as the American way.
We believe that people need to make decisions based on the health of their family and relationships. Then, everything else, including financial health, will fall into place. It’s a shift in the way they look at wealth and success.
“Wealth for us is measured in terms of three words; peace, freedom and happiness. When your priorities are clearly defined, difficult decisions are simplified.”
24Life: These days, how do you define success?
CJ: Everybody should have their own definition of success. For me, my definition of success is choice. I can choose what time I want to wake up. I can choose if I want to decline a project. I can choose who I want to work with. I can choose who I want to give money to and who I want to give my time to. For me, that’s smart success.
Like I said, it used to be what I call, “stressed success,” which meant I had the money, had the car, had the houses, had the notoriety, but I didn’t have a lot of choice. I didn’t have a lot of freedom. I had people to please and projects that had pending deadlines, and I never felt like I was ever going to reach the end. I never felt the sense of satisfaction, and I had to really redefine and ignore what society says is successful. And, for me, there’s a lot of peace in just being able to chill and say, “No thanks.”
On health …
24Life: What does “health is wealth” mean to you?
CJ: Health is more than our physical pursuits. A man confined to his bed in the final stages of ALS may have lost much of his physical health, but he certainly has the power to maintain and improve his mental health. Sometimes in the face of physical or financial loss, we develop health in other areas that bring us happiness.
Health, for me, is the pursuit of being my best — the pursuit of a healthier state or approach in all areas of my life. My definitions of health and of wealth have radically evolved since my fitness industry beginnings, in which I was go-go-go.
Many years ago, I was asked to be a guest speaker in a corporate setting on the importance of physical fitness and productivity. At the time, my interpretation of “health is wealth” was quite literal. At the end of my talk, a woman with a cane approached me and said, “I beg to differ with you. I have MS. Every day my physical health declines. Yes, this disease continues to rob me of my physical strength, but I have never felt more blessed, my relationships have never been healthier, my faith has never been stronger, and because of that, I feel like I have never been as wealthy in happiness and blessings as I am today.”
That conversation stayed with me.
24Life: What’s something that you think people should focus on to unlock health – that is wealth – in their lives?
CJ: Happiness comes from so many sources. Recently, I asked my followers to tell me what or who it was that most often was responsible for their bad days. I asked, “What has the most profound effect on your happiness?” Overwhelmingly, my audience listed discord or disappointment in other people as that root cause of their unhappiness.
The next day, I asked them, “Which of the following do you think would help you improve your happiness — to lose weight, get organized, improve relationships, get in shape or find your purpose.” Less than 1 percent said they wanted to work on their relationships, yet the day before they identified it as the one area that most affects their happiness.
That tells me that we tend to focus on the external, assuming it will fix the internal. If instead we focused on our relationships, improving communication and becoming more loving and caring people, it’s likely most other areas will see improvement, too.
“The gym is a great place for us to get our bodies healthy, but if the mind is consumed with negative thoughts or clouded by self-limiting beliefs we’ll never truly reach our potential.”
When we are getting along with our spouse, we sleep better. When we like the people we work with, we are less likely to go home and engage in emotional eating. That’s why, if I had to give people one thing to work on that would improve all areas of their lives, it would be to create a deeper connection with the people who matter most. And honestly, most of us don’t know how to do that. Our walls are up.
I recommend that everyone spend a little time in a therapist chair to get a sense of where to start. It’s actually a shortcut, but so many people wrap a stigma around seeing a therapist. I’m quite the opposite. I like to say, “Smart people go to the dentist when they have a toothache, and they also go to a therapist when they can’t figure things out!”
I have worked with literally hundreds of thousands of people over the past 25 years, and everyone wants the quickest way to do this or to do that. Yet, the things most often standing in our way are our own thoughts and beliefs. My experience has been such that the most successful and peaceful people are those who have spent some time allowing an expert help them dismantle their negative or self-limiting beliefs.
On goals, balance and authenticity …
24Life: Your book “Push” is about push goals. What exactly do you mean by that, and how do we set them for ourselves?
CJ: A push goal is not your most important goal. Only a small percentage of people write down their goals, and of the people that do — they first attack the one that’s most important to them, which usually has to do with money, family or a bucket list. What I teach people to do is to look at your list of 10 and then say, “Is there a goal on this list that makes all the others more likely?” And sometimes, that’s not the most important goal to you, but it’s one that makes the others possible.
I say find your push goal, and if there isn’t something on your list that creates that momentum, then create one. For example, let’s say your list of goals includes that you want to take four weeks of vacation, you want to be able to help out at the church, and you want to be able to spend more time with your family. So you go ask yourself what you need to have to do most of these goals. And if what’s required is more money, then you’ve got to create a push goal that’s focused on how you are going to earn more, and that goal pushes the others over like a domino.
24Life: How do you navigate your busy world as an entrepreneur balancing your family time, work time and personal time?
CJ: I hear people say you can’t balance it all, but you can. For me, it’s just knowing my priorities, understanding clearly what they are and not compromising. Whether that makes somebody mad or it means I don’t get the next opportunity, that’s okay. I’m living according to my principles, my priorities and what is important to me. And to be honest, it’s kind of putting my own ego second. It’s exciting when you have amazing opportunities offered to you. While you want to take them all, you have to figure out the cost of each. Is there a cost to your family? Your children?
“For me, I’ve always known that all decisions are based on, ‘Is this good for my family?’ And if it’s not good for my family, I say no.”
24Life: How can someone sustain success and also add new interests?
CJ: I think the most important lesson I can share with people is to plan your life in seasons. Give this “thing” your all, but do so in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the people that are most important to you. You can do anything, but you weren’t meant to do everything all at once.
Put blinders on. Go on a “distraction diet,” so you’re not tempted to continually add more. When it comes to raising children, you only have one opportunity to get it right. But as for work, your body, your hair or your own pursuits, you have a lifetime to make those your focus.
Today, focus on your family and just watch how the universe will bless you.
24Life: You teach a lot about showing up fully open and transparent and being real. Why do you think people hold back on the full expression of who they are, and how does that negatively affect you?
CJ: I think a lot of people, unfortunately, had childhood experiences that created beliefs that they weren’t good enough, or that they were going to be a disappointment if they were to show up as themselves. And I think that stems from parents or experiences where other people’s pain has been projected onto kids. To be authentic, be yourself and to show up as you are is so much easier.
“One of the reasons why I can’t be anything other than who I am is because I wouldn’t be able to remember another story.”
I think it makes people more comfortable to be around someone who is being himself or herself. And I think our “BS” meter is finely tuned, and we can tell when someone is “BSing” us, or putting on an air or pretending. Then we don’t connect with them, because we know something is not real there. It’s easier to say, “Love me or hate me, this is what you get.”
On passion and advice …
24Life: Outside of fitness, what’s something you’re passionate about?
CJ: I am very passionate about passive income. I think that one of the best things about my life that I absolutely love, and I want other people to feel, is choice. I didn’t make up the rules, but to have choice, you need more money. You just do. And what I mean by choice is this: say you’re on a business trip and you’d like to get home earlier to see your kids — it’s nice not to have to worry about the upgrade fee. And that means, for most people, making more income. But I want people to know that they can do it in a way that doesn’t require more time working. That’s why I’m really, really passionate about encouraging people to find passive streams of income. It builds confidence, it gives you choice and it’s something to fall back on.
24Life: What’s an inspirational message you’d like to share with the world?
CJ: Anyone and everyone has a purpose. The things that you’ve been through, the experiences you’ve had, all relate to how you’re supposed to help other people. So that means the more tough stuff you go through, the more opportunities you will have to help others.