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3 Common characteristics of successful people

I certainly don’t claim to be a scientist or somebody who has an incredibly nuanced opinion of nature vs. nurture but there are certainly a lot of folks on the market right now that talk about what motivates people. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a great example, by Daniel Pink. There’s another book I loved about what engages people to work hard to move forward in their lives. There’s also another great book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell about what it takes to master things. I’ve been around enough successful people, not just in the sense of people that you might’ve read about in newspapers or magazines, but everyday people that have been able to achieve things that maybe they hadn’t had formal training in otherwise. They would look to be unprepared to do something yet you watch them succeed and I think that they all encompass the same essentially three characteristics that jump out at you.

  1. The first characteristic I’d like to discuss is dogged determination to succeed. It’s amazing how much learning something new or anything else, just depends on simply sticking with it. I’ve watched people teach themselves some pretty complicated things in a pretty compressed time period just on the basis of knowing it had to be done and figuring it out. I think there’s just a mindset there around that level of determination that if you put it in your head that you’re simply not going to fail, you’re a lot more likely to succeed.
  2. The second thing is a willingness to work with others, communicate, explore new avenues, and do what it takes to reach success. That’s another one where I’m always impressed when you see someone who is willing to ask questions. I think sometimes, and I know that I’m as guilty of this as anyone, that you can be hesitant to ask something because you don’t want to look dumb, expose a weakness or lack of knowledge, and have somebody think that you’re not as smart as they thought. That is a path to not growing. I think you have to be willing to show your weaknesses in order to improve. If you consistently play to your strengths you’re locking yourself out of a lot of growth opportunities. When you’re forced or put in a position where you absolutely have to learn something new or develop a new skill, it becomes really hard if you cut yourself off from one of the primary avenues of succeeding. By that I mean finding other people who have done it before you that can help you. I think that this second factor is huge in attaining success; finding avenues for communicating with folks who have done it before you, asking questions, and being willing to look a little bit silly on the path to understanding what you need to do.
  3. Finally the third thing should come as no secret, and that is you have to be willing to put in the work. It’s really hard to be successful at something new if you constrain yourself to just the time you put into the everyday things that you already know how to do. When you’re trying to transition into a new skill set, learn something, and apply something in a short period of time, if you’re not willing to put in some extra work and some extra time I don’t think you can get there. There’s a lot to be said about work/life balance and maintaining a perspective of what you’re trying to achieve in the context of who you are as a person but sometimes you need to spring a little in order to get things situated in your mind in a way that you can use it on a daily basis. There’s absolutely nothing like immersing yourself in something for a few days or weeks to overcome some of the hurdles you would otherwise have in learning or figuring out how to do something new.

So I think those three things are kind of common sense qualities needed for success. Time and time again I see people that are teammates, people that I work with, and people that work for me who are succeeding and the common ingredients that they all share are the ones I mentioned above. Now again, I know that they seem to be common sense but they are not always applied. The people that are frustrated and saying, “I’m not really picking this up,” or “I’m really struggling to understand this,” and you watch what they’re doing; it should come as no surprise that they’re not working as hard as the people that are able to pick something up. They’re not asking the right questions of the right people.

Now while I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to ask for help and being able to reach out to people, there’s a balance that needs to be struck there. You need to push through and make your own breakthroughs sometimes so you can really own the material or the skill whatever it is rather than simply having someone else do it for you because they’re better at it. I’m curious what other people have seen and what other people believe are the short list to succeeding at those sorts of things.

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Profile Photo Karen "Kari" Uhlman

I agree. The opportunity arose for me to work for the County because in the early 80’s Cessna Finance Corporation had closed down (where I previously worked) due to prime rate rising to 22% and consumers found it difficult to finance personal aircraft. I was young and determined not to give up the freedom of my first apartment (and Ford Pinto). Therefore, I took the advised path of my government-employed family members and entered the public servant world…law enforcement with the County…along with a pay cut.

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Profile Photo Earl Rice

I will throw out the question: “What is success?” Is it success in career? Is it success of drawing power to one’s self? Is it amassing huge sums of money? Is it raising a child? There are so many different types of success that you have to define what is success (and I have to say my current definition of success is no where near what it was when I was say 25 or 26 or even 35 or 36). And, what I define as success may not, actually will not, be the next person’s definition. Yes, dedication is needed. And, asking questions is always good to ensure proper understanding. And yes, it takes effort (work is the word used, but I would prefer effort). But, each person must look hard in the mirror, and often, to define their definition of success, and to formulate how they are going to get there. I will throw out that success at work doesn’t have to be the ultimate definition of success. I know a Dutchman that once said: You Americans live to work, we work to live. And, as the slaves that rode behinds the Caesars in the chariot would say: “Memento mori. Sic transit gloria mundi!” Think of those that had immense “success” at their work, only to fall, and fall hard once they reach the highest levels.

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