The greatest stock market trader of all time, Jesse Livermore, once said that poise is the most important trait in his profession:
“I believe that one of the most important qualifications for a successful trader is ‘POISE’ which to me is defined as stability, a well-balanced person with dignity of manner—as it relates to the stock market. A poised person is a person who can handle their hopes and their fears in a calm manner.”
I believe this is true. If there’s one trait you can attribute a person’s success to, whether that’s trading stocks or any other profession, it’s poise.
In the world of personal development books, this concept is quite foreign. Most books talk about how you can improve your habits and mindset. This is an essential part of self-improvement.
But as you and I both you, worldly success is not merely about the self. A highly productive and positive person with perfect habits is owed nothing in the world.
One has to go out there and put their skills and habits into practice. And even then success is not likely. One of my former classmates at university is sadly an example of that.
This is a highly intelligent and kind person. The person was always mindful of others, nice to collaborate with, and got great grades.
We lost touch after graduation, but the last time I checked, the person was still living in student housing and had the same side job as in university. He never found a way to build a career because he lacked the counterpart of his substance.
Style: Perception matters
I bet you know at least one person at work who you look at and think, “Why is this person a manager?” They might not be particularly skilled or talented. And yet, they have a good position within the company.
Maybe you’re not thinking that (because it’s not really a nice thing to think), but you hear it from your co-workers. While others might not appreciate that type of success, I think it’s interesting.
If someone has no qualities at all, they would certainly not get a high-level position. To me, this means there’s more to career success than just being good at your job.
That’s why I’m a fan of adopting poise as a personality trait. If you look at some of the most successful and gracious people in the world, you will identify they have or had poise.
Audrey Hepburn, the famous actress and style icon, once said this about poise:
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
Hepburn was famous for many things like her acting, optimism, outgoingness, and even her philanthropy.
But what’s she mostly known for today? When people talk about fashion icons or people with timeless styles, they always mention Hepburn as number one or two (along with Jackie Kennedy or Princess Diana).
Her picture from Breakfast At Tiffany’s from 1961 is still on the walls of millions of homes across the world. I also have a poster of Hepburn as someone who appreciates the importance of style.
She also described poise as the way you carry yourself. If you walk around with grace and confidence, you generally get more opportunities. But style alone is not enough to succeed at any endeavor.
Substance: Skills alone don’t translate to career success
I’m a firm believer that mastery of skills is at the foundation of career success. I don’t believe you can truly fake it ’till you make it.
Even the people who claim they faked it until they succeeded at something had something to offer. They either had a particular skill set or other valuable assets.
But at the same time, I also don’t believe you can succeed in the marketplace if you only rely on your qualities. We live in a world filled with personal development books that focus on skills, habits, discipline, work ethic, getting more done, being less distracted, and so forth.
I’ve written about these topics too. But these things, I call “qualities of substance.”
The definition of “qualities of substance” is: The skills, habits, and mindsets that determine the way a person works and behaves when they are alone. These are qualities that change the inner world of a person.
Don’t get me wrong, we certainly need good habits, discipline, grit, focus, and determination to accomplish anything worthwhile in this world. No matter what you want to do in the world, you need substance to back it up.
- A writer needs discipline, skill, good grammar, and attention to detail
- A financial planner needs knowledge of finance, investing, and taxes, plus analytical skills
- An illustrator needs a steady hand and an understanding of color, shape, and form
You get the idea. But think about it. A writer with perfect substance might never earn a good living because they lack the ability to make their writing interesting enough for readers.
The same is true for a financial planner. If you have perfect knowledge of all the rules but can’t get any clients, you’re toast.
And an illustrator that knows how to make great designs but doesn’t know how to communicate with people — no one wants to work with them.
This is why you also need to have “qualities of style.” To truly succeed in the world, you want to combine your style and substance to achieve results and make sure you get recognized and rewarded.
The definition of “qualities of style” is: The skills, habits, and mindsets that determine the way a person works and behaves when other people are watching. These are the qualities that change the way a person carries themselves in the world.
Style + Substance = Poise
Having poise comes from confidence, accomplishment, and an awareness of how one presents themselves to the world.
To have poise is to be aware of both how you are perceived by others and how to carry yourself in various situations.
A person with poise has both style and substance. You can’t be poised if you only have one quality.
A good example of a person with poise is former First Lady Michelle Obama. She’s confident, knowledgable, elegant, and speaks with grace. In her book, Becoming, she wrote about the importance of taking your destiny into your own hands:
“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”
This is the #1 reason you need poise. If you have substance, you can’t define yourself in the world. The same is true if you only rely on your style.
To succeed, develop qualities of style + substance
To increase your odds of worldly success, you need poise. And how do you develop poise?
By developing qualities of style and substance. Here are a few tips for doing that.
- Use substance as your foundation for everything you do. When you want to build a career, start with developing skills and knowledge. Focus on your craft. Get better at the key skills you need to do your job well.
- Develop a unique way of representing yourself. Avoid imitating the way others dress, talk, and communicate. When you are like others, you are not unique by definition. This is simpler than you think. You must look within and 100% be comfortable with who you are. Since every person is inherently different, you will stand out if you are yourself in your style.
- Be mindful of how others perceive you. In the business world, we need to be professional and casual simultaneously. Results matter. But how you achieve those results equally matters. Always be aware that human beings are judgmental. This does not mean we become people pleasers. We simply understand human psychology and use it to our advantage.
- Show your work. It’s important to be good at what you do. But it’s more important that you put your work on display in an elegant way. If you don’t tell people about your qualities, they will not ask for it because they are too consumed with their own lives. You must make an effort to show yourself to the world.
- Be the same person when you’re alone. Develop your character and live according to good ideals. Live that way whether people are around you or when you’re completely alone. Even when no one is watching, remember that the most important person in the world is always watching: You.
I’ve learned that there’s SO MUCH more to developing poise. In fact, I feel compelled to write a book about this topic.
I can’t give you a step-by-step framework for developing style and substance in an article. I’d rather write a book that shows you how to become a person with poise.
It’s something I’ve had to learn in my career. I’m naturally someone who feels that “results should speak for themselves.” I always believed that substance is the key. I focused on my skills and education.
But when I kept running into walls in my career, I realized skills alone will not bring you the results you want. And let’s be honest, we all want to be recognized and get better rewards in our careers.
When people say that the craft is the only thing that matters they are lying. Without worldly success, we will not only go broke, but we also won’t get the input and energy we need to continue.
If you enjoyed this article and believe you can benefit from having poise, please send me an email to let me know whether you want to read a book on this topic.
Thanks for reading. All the best.