What Are the 8 Traits Shared by All Successful People?

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Successful people share common traits that can be replicated with surprising results. Educator Richard St. John made it his life’s work to uncover exactly what these were after a conversation on a plane heading towards a conference in 1999. A high school student asked him:

“What leads to success?”

He couldn’t answer eloquently which annoyed him. ‘Work hard’ and ‘be passionate’ came to mind, but he had little evidence to back this up. Then a light bulb went off. He was arriving at a conference with some of the world’s brightest minds. Surely the answers would be pent up in their routines and stories? So, like any curious person, he decided to ask some questions.

The first person he approached was Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, who responded with unexpected openness about his career. Founding Ben & Jerry’s in 1977 was actually his second option. He told St. John over a coffee. He had wanted to start a bagel business but the enormous costs had prohibited him from doing so. And the distinctive ice cream flavours? They were to compensate for Cohen’s near loss of taste and smell. He would increase the size of the flavoured chunks in the ice cream purely to satisfy his need for texture in food.

And so, his journey began, the first of countless face-to-face interviews with leaders from every field, astronauts, Nobel-prize winners, accountants, actors and many more. The aim was to find common traits of success. St. John managed to pin down 8.

The first, and most important is passion.

“If you do it for love, the money comes anyway.”

2. Work hard

“When I was interviewing all of these successful people, they kept telling me how hard they worked.”

Every single person he interviewed worked long hours. Sadly, there is no substitute.

There is, however, a difference between clocking long hours because you work inefficiently and working long hours because you enjoy what you are doing.

Take a look at Bill Gates for example; St. John described him as a “workafrolic”- Gates worked hard for the love of it and even “after he was a multi-millionaire, he worked most nights until 10pm, taking 2 weeks off in 7 years.”

St. John suggests that a societal problem lies in our habit of under-estimating hard work and over-estimating talent when actually, “work tops talent.”

3. Maintain focus

“Success means narrowing down and focusing on one thing, not being scattered all over the map” explains St. John.

The director of Titanic and Avatar, James Cameron explained that one of the key attributes of success is being “super focused like a laser.”

Individuals should start wide and learn everything they can whilst slowly homing in on their main point of focus. Try to become an expert in one particular field. Preferably an area you are passionate about.

Bill Gates told St. John that “If you want to be a great software company, you have to only be a software company.”

How do you ensure you maintain focus? Best-selling author Stephen King believes you have to “Eliminate every possible distraction.”

4. Push yourself

“Successful people push themselves through shyness, doubt, and fear. They push boundaries. They push limits. They push beyond what is expected.”

Richard Branson lives his life this way; the Virgin Group founder whose business controls more than 400 companies believes you’re more likely to get satisfaction out of life if you push yourself to the limit.

This starts with leaving your comfort zone. A fear of failure can’t get in the way of finding out what you are capable of.

5. The big idea

Creative problem solving and coming up with new ideas is one of the hallmarks of successful people. No one espoused this trait quite like the father of advertising himself, David Ogilvy.

In his 1983 book ‘On Advertising’ he wrote:

“You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product…Research can’t help you much because it cannot predict the cumulative value of an idea, and no idea is big unless it will work for thirty years”

It is one thing to come up with ideas regularly, but another to come up with ideas that will stand the test of time.

6. Keep improving

Far too many believe learning stops once they graduate, but St. John found that the successful remain students for life.

You need only look as far as sporting heroes.

“Michael Jordan was an improvement machine. Chicago Bulls assistant coach John Back said that Michael had that rare capacity to be a genius who constantly wanted to update his genius.”

Someone who achieves great success is always improving. Then getting better and aiming to be the best, St. John writes. Focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. It’s fine to be bad at things, just make sure you are very good at one thing.

7. Serve

Success is measured by the value you serve to others because most people only really care about how you can fix their problems.

The difficult part, writes St. John, is actually working out who you are serving.

Martha Stewart, for example, tailored her expertise to women by providing value “for millions of women to make a better home.”

Walt Disney went bankrupt before he hit gold with Disney. He was fired from a job because he ‘lacked imagination.’

8. Persistence

St. John came to the conclusion that 10 years of working towards a particular goal was the magic number in terms of your likelihood of success at it. Unless you got lucky of course.

St. John writes “persistence means the ability to keep going through failure, pain, rejection, criticism, negativity, and crap- not to mention all the bad things we encounter.”

Let these examples of failure serve as a motivator:

J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 different publishing houses.

Walt Disney went bankrupt before he hit gold with Disney. He was fired from a job because he ‘lacked imagination.’

Stephen Spielberg was rejected by film school twice.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team only to become the greatest basketball player of all time.

The important takeaway is to recognize that things probably won’t go the way you planned. Try using failure as a foundation and building off of it to improve.

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