Five Traits that are Common in Successful People

When we look at successful people with envy and wish we could be like them, there is a hidden excuse we make up almost immediately: “I am not as talented, smart, wealthy, or lucky enough to be like them.” Is that really the truth though? Do we really know what they had to go through to get there?

It is easy to look at their shining moments to make assumptions and believe they had something “special” that we don’t have. We do this because it keeps us in our comfort zone. Even if we “tried” we could not be nearly successful, so why bother?

It is so much easier to stay where we are and not step into a place of fear: fear of failing, fear of making a fool of ourselves by trying and not succeeding, fear of not getting approved by people around us.

There is a lot to deal with when you step out of your comfort zone and go after a big goal or dream. There is a lot of hard work too.

I always think believing in yourself that you can do it is a big step towards your own success; however, you define “success”. Having done a lot of work and study on the topic, I know loving your dream, and what you do with passion is the best fuel to drive it.

I added perseverance to the list, especially after I read the book Grit. The author Angela Duckworth, who is a Ph.D. researching what makes people successful and what Grit means, tells us perseverance and passion are the biggest forces to get where we want to be. It is not even about having talent she proves and definitely not pure luck. I still read a lot of research, especially from Gallup that shows us those who are talented, if they also put the hard work into it, may get to their goals faster. By the same token, if they feel they are already gifted and feel like they don’t have to put so much effort, somebody with less talent can excel them. “Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential.”[1]

It reminds us we can all get to be “successful” if we put the time, the hard work, and the passion into the equation. This should give all of us hope that it is not only the gifted, the lucky, or the smartest to achieve what they want, it is available to all of us. We all seem to have a lot of potential but we are not taught how to make the best use of it. “If we overemphasize talent, we underemphasize everything else” Dr. Duckworth says. [2]

The best part of this is the fact that we do not leave everybody else (those who don’t think they are as talented) in the shadows. Everybody can get there if they really want it. Greatness can be acquired with consistent effort.

A good example is Robert Mankoff, a very famous cartoonist. He loved his work and he was certainly persistent. He got rejected from New Yorker about two thousand times in a three-year span until one of his cartoons got accepted. I remember reading Pour Your Heart into It by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz where he got rejected more than 200 times to invest in the company. Put yourself in their shoes and think “can I be this persistent and believe in my dream so much?”

To add to the list is purpose.

When you bond with a cause that is bigger than you and see your contribution to the well-being of others, you stick to it.

It is so important to you that no matter what the circumstances are, you show your best effort. You persevere. You get up and go on each and every time you face an obstacle.

The last one is a growth mindset; where you know you are not where you want to be yet but you know it is possible to get there. When you look at those people you admire, you can say “I am not like them yet but I can be.” You can read the book or watch the Ted talk of Carol Dweck about Mindset.

Of course, all of this takes time. From my own journey to discover my passion and purpose and working with dozens and dozens of clients who wanted to do the same, I know it is a long road until you get clear about what matters to you the most! You need experience and trying different things before you can even figure out what you are interested in. But once you find your reason to live and show the effort (which is a lot easier when it is something you love), then the envy may switch to others who see you.

I keep on reading books to understand what makes people and organizations successful. The most common theme I have seen so far is a combination of these traits that make people feel “great” and be “fulfilled” which is the best form of “success” I know:

  1. Figure out your passion and then live it
  2. Persevere in your road to accomplish your biggest dream with passion; lots of effort and hard work
  3. Be clear about your purpose in life; how you want to make a difference in people’s lives
  4. Believe in yourself and your potential
  5. Choose to have a growth mindset
  6. We all have the choice to use our potential with a lot of perseverance and passion or stay in our comfort zone. If we chose the latter, we can at least take the responsibility that it was our option to live this way rather than finding excuses and it is OK.

It is no easy task to embrace these five traits and stick with them, but knowing our life and work matter is one of the most satisfying things we can do for ourselves and our humanity.

[1] The book Girt, Angela Duckworth Page 51

[2] The book Grit, Angela Duckworth Page 35


Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

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