What do Oprah, Jeff Bezos and your cousin Lauren, the law school valedictorian, all have in common? They are successful beyond their (or your grandma’s) wildest dreams. And as it turns out, most overachievers have overlapping qualities. Read on for the big ones.
They’re not afraid to fail. It’s not about whether you fall down (or pitch a dud of an idea in a staff meeting), it’s how you pull yourself back up after a stumble. And you know what practically guarantees occasional failure? Taking risks. Just ask self-made billionaire Spanx founder Sara Blakely, whose father would sit her down when she was little and ask, “What did you fail at this week?” He would then high-five her to show her that success was in the trying. Blakely famously founded Spanx out of her Atlanta apartment after failing the LSAT. Twice. "It was one of many tests that showed me how some of the biggest failures in our lives just nudge us into another path,” she explains.
They find fulfillment in their work. Whether they see themselves as making an impact on the world or they continue to be inspired by innovations and colleagues in their field, powerhouse performers see work as a calling rather than a clock to punch. Successful people “are more excited about the journey than the payout, writes author Dan Schawbel in his book Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success. “They enjoy the journey, despite the obstacles, because they are doing something that has meaning in their lives.” Sure you can fake your way through a Thursday afternoon sales meeting. But faking passion for your entire career? Hard pass.
They stay open, curious and flexible. “Resistance to change can stall your career,” reports Business Insider, quoting former Apple CEO John Sculley. Schawbel agrees: Successful people “are life-long learners who push themselves out of their comfort zones. While most people think that when they graduate college, they are finished being a student, successful people remain students. They are constantly learning new things and hav[ing] new experiences.”
They cure themselves of imposter syndrome. Successful people look before they leap, doubt themselves, freak out a little, and then leap anyway. As Shonda Rhimes once said, the thing she wishes someone had told her about adulthood was: “Nobody actually knows anything. You don’t feel more knowledgeable or wiser when you’re 25 or when you’re 35 or when you’re 55. You don’t feel like there’s any more wisdom. You just stop caring what people think. You don’t have to keep waiting for some magical thing to happen, some license, to be you.”
Their calendars align with their priorities. When you need to schedule a meeting, do you think strategically, or just plug it into whatever morning you have free? According to success expert Laura Vanderkam, not being deliberate enough about how you schedule your time might be keeping you from reaching your true potential. “Every yes is a no, and every no is a yes,” she writes. If you book an appointment at 10 and usually write all morning, you’re saying “no” to your writing time. On the flip side, saying “no” to the appointment means saying “yes” to an uninterrupted writing day. “You are always choosing,” Vanderkam explains. “A choice to do one thing is a choice not to do something else, and therefore a choice to disappoint someone. So the question is, who are you choosing to disappoint, and why?” (Hint: Hopefully it’s not yourself.)