I stumbled upon this question on Quora the other day: “What is the best indicator of a person who will become successful one day?”
The person is trying to reverse-engineer success. If you know what predicts success, you can simply adopt those indicators. But there’s one problem. What is success? People get fussed up about this all the time.
To me, a successful person is simply someone who achieves what they set out to do. My mother’s goal was to become a good mother. My father’s goal was to own a business. They are both successful because they achieved what they set out to do.
I’ve written about this topic a lot because it still fascinates me. Research shows that ambition and effort are the most important predictors of career success. But what about life in general? One approach is to avoid becoming unsuccessful.
But that approach only looks at negative things. In this article, I’m sharing three positive traits that I’ve seen with all kinds of successful people, no matter how you define it. Sure, these things are obvious. And that’s exactly why the following traits matter.
One of my friends and mentors is my former landlord. When I got out of college, about nine years ago, I rented an apartment from this guy and we became friends.
He’s successful on different levels. He has money, a healthy family, a big house, hobbies, and a rescue dog that he brought over from the Caribbean.
I once asked him whether he thought he was successful. He thought a bit and said, “I’m content with my life, so my answer is yes.” I followed up with: What do you think made you successful? I can’t remember the exact words, but he said something like this:
“Go to bed thinking about your main goal in life. And wake up thinking about your main goal. When you always think about the thing you want, you’ll succeed no matter what.”
I think that’s true. The problem is that most of us chase the wrong things. When you only think about money, you might end up achieving a lot of monetary wealth, but you might pay a high price. The key is to think about a worthy and noble goal. Something that’s within your control. For example, I strive to become a better writer and teacher. I don’t aim for money; I aim for learning.
But learning is also very difficult. That’s why perseverance matters. You can’t give up on your goals. Ever. Keep going until you’re successful. And then, aim higher.
2. Emotional Intelligence
No matter how you define it, you can never become successful on your own. We’re all part of an ecosystem. Everything and everyone are connected. Think about your goal.
Want to start a business? Get a new job? Lose weight? Build muscle? Find a partner? Make new friends?
Everything is related to others. You might think, “What about losing weight or building muscle?” Let’s be honest, we want to look good for others. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad.
All the above goals only become bad when we take it to the extreme. Being obsessed with your appearance is destructive. So is a greedy pursuit of money.
How can we find balance? Emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill one can easily adopt. This is one of the hardest things in life because you need to look inside yourself. Emotional intelligence means you understand yourself and the people you work with.
One of the most harmful traits in life is the opposite of having a drive to learn. If you think you know it all, don’t listen to feedback, and are stubborn, I don’t think you can ever be truly successful.
If you’re like that, you’re making life very hard for yourself. Why would you go through life with so much resistance? Because that’s what it comes down to. When you kick against every wall, you’re resisting outside perspectives.
Every successful person stands on the shoulders of other successful people. As Sir Isaac Newton famously wrote in a letter:
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”
It’s a sign of humility. To adopt that mindset, it shows one has a drive to learn. To me, this has been the key aspect in my development as a writer, thinker, and person. It’s the main reason I started a learning community.
We all learn from each other. When you have the humility to learn from others, you will not only learn faster, you will also become a better person. That’s how generations should work.
The current generation should be better than the previous one. That might not be always true across the world. But on a personal level, we should all aspire to be better than the ones who came before us. Not because we want to beat them, but because we respect them.
Focus On Your Own Definition
Are there more predictors than these three? Of course. People often respond with something like this: “What about [insert trait]?” Yes, what about it? The point of this article is not to create a definitive list of success predictors. I don’t believe such a thing exists because success remains a subjective topic.
But it’s not complicated. We make success complicated by comparing ourselves to others. Instead of following our definition of success, we live according to how others define it. That’s how people end up thinking they are not successful.
You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. Simply aspire for being content with your own life. That’s already a very high aim because so many people are miserable. And if you can’t have it all? So what? At the end of the ride, you’ll be happy. And that’s what matters the most.