In my role as psychologist, I have evaluated over 4,000 individuals – usually with regards to learning difficulties they are experiencing. In my feedback sessions, I often share with parents the core characteristics that make individuals successful in life. (I define “life success” as becoming an independent functional adult, having healthy relationships, and experiencing a level of happiness and contentment in one’s life.)
If parents of developmentally challenged students focus solely on academic success (which is emphasized by their school community), then they can become quite discouraged. But when we understand “life success” in broader terms – the goals are attainable for most individuals regardless of their intellectual or academic capabilities.
A parallel can be made to the world of work. Leaders and managers of organizations understand that in order to create a healthy work culture, some basic building blocks must be in place.
What are these core characteristics for life success?
*Getting along with others. Everyone has to deal with other people in life – family members, friends and neighbors, bosses, coworkers, customers, vendors. And if you don’t have the ability to get along well with others, life is difficult. Some people think they can live “fine by myself”, but as most of the functional adults in the world know, this isn’t reality-based thinking.
*Managing yourself – in two ways: a) emotionally, and b) through self-discipline. Individuals who are severely or chronically depressed, anxious, angry, irritable and easily frustrated tend to struggle in developing long-term supportive relationships and also have difficulty in accomplishing life tasks (completing courses in school, performing acceptably at work). Secondly, individuals who do not develop the self-discipline to go to bed at night, get up in the morning (the two are usually related), complete tasks even when they don’t feel like it, etc. – tend to not achieve to their potential in the tasks of life.
*Persevering through difficulties. Life is hard and it takes effort. There are barriers and obstacles to overcome (sometimes it is called “problem-solving”). This is true in middle school, college and the world of work. If an individual does not, first of all, learn and accept the truth that “life is hard”, then they will be chronically frustrated with the life challenges they face. And when an individual experiences success by persevering through a difficult course of life, they learn one of the most valuable lessons there is: No one achieves their goal by giving up, but with perseverance, reaching your goal actually becomes a possibility.
*Having a learning attitude. This is different than being a good learner in school. Those with a learning attitude are willing to learn from others, take input and instruction on how they can improve, and actively seek how to become better in “life” – whether it is how to buy a car, how to make wise investments, how to not make the same mistake a second time, how to become a better friend . . . The lessons in life are endless, that is why the most successful people are lifelong learners.
It is interesting to me that these core characteristics are highly interrelated with the core characteristics of healthy organizations – which raises two possible implications. First, maybe the concepts are rooted in the fabric of life. And secondly, maybe healthy organizations exist because their leaders understand the importance of these issues both individually and corporately.