Seven traits of successful people

Ever wonder why some people can never do wrong? I have been observing successful people around me, and experimenting with different ideas. Here are the seven traits that I've found work well for me in many situations. I think they will make you richer and more successful in many ways.

Successful People Know What They Want

Call it a dream. Call it a vision. Call it whatever. Is there something that you want? This was a hard question for me to answer when I was younger, and I think that's perfectly normal. Having a clear idea about what you want to do, to be, or to accomplish comes at a different time for each of us.

The nice thing about goal setting is that you don't have to get it right the first time — it is an evolution of ideas, not an answer. You can start with one simple goal, and establish more as desired. You can have short-term and long-term goals, easy and hard goals, or any combination thereof. If you find that a goal is too easy, make it more challenging. If you find that you fall short, try harder.

The important thing is to develop the habit of setting goals as soon as possible. Learn about SMART goals, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific. Here's an example of a SMART goal I set for myself.

Successful People Don't Just Think, They Act

So you have set some goals for yourself — great! But if all you do is think about them, you will never accomplish anything. I've always found it hard to take that first step, especially when it's completely out of my comfort zone. I am not sure who said this, but it's a quote that I like:

Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk.

The key is to have the dare to dream and the courage to act.

Successful People Have Insatiable Hunger for Knowledge

You've heard that you should “look before you leap”. This means that you should think carefully about the possible results or consequences before acting. Having the courage to act doesn't mean you should do so blindly without knowing how, or without considering the consequences.

Knowledge has long been recognzied as a key component to success:

  • “Knowledge is, indeed, that which, next to virtue, truly and essentially raises one man above another.” — Joseph Addison in the Guardian, no. 111, Letter of Alexander to Aristotle
  • “Knowledge is power.” — William Alexander, Earl of Stirling in Recreation with the Muses
  • “Knowledge and human power are synonymous, since the ignorance of the cause frustrates the effect.” — Francis Bacon in Aphorism III
  • “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.” — Rev. Jesse Jackson

My motto is never cease to learn, because if I did, I would cease to grow.

Successful People Are Curious And Are Not Afraid to Experiment

This trait goes hand-in-hand with knowledge. People like to say that “curiosity killed the cat”, but I don't like that proverb much. I think it's the opposite: lack of curiosity breeds mediocrity. I've written before:

My key beliefs about building wealth are (1) never stop experimenting, and (2) always look for ways to build, diversify, and shift my income streams toward passive sources.

If you find a formula that works and you stop right there, you'll never know whether there's something that works better. Let's talk about a theoretical guy named Joe, for example. To Joe, investing means putting his money in his savings account. One day he discovers a certificate of deposit that pays four times as much. If he stops there, he may never learn that long-term investing in the stock market could give him more than ten times as much.

Everywhere you look, the companies that are constantly changing and improving are the ones that succeed. For example, 3M would never be where it is today if it didn't encourage their employees to spend a portion of their times on pet projects. One of these projects resulted in the Post-It Notes. Now, where would 3M be without Post-It? Here is another cool example — square watermelons — who would have thought?

You and I are no different. Never stop being curious.

Successful People Build Their Networks

I am an introvert by nature (Myers-Briggs type ISTJ). Reaching out to other people and building a network is very hard for me. When I was younger I thought I could get ahead on the merit of my good performance and work ethic alone — I was wrong. Networking is essential.

Networking doesn't mean sucking up to your boss, or choosing to hang out with important people. True networking is about building relationships at all levels inside and outside of your work environment — e.g., friends, classmates, teachers, colleagues, subordinates, superiors, vendors, customers, teammates, virtual friends, clubs, etc.

Here are some fruits of networking from my own experience:

  • My employee's wife works for Liberty Mutual and helped me save money on my car and home insurance.
  • My former manager (and now a good friend) spotted a great job opportunity for me, resulting in a promotion and a significant salary increase
  • The M-network and other personal finance blogger friends helped my blog grow through cross-promotion and referrals, including incredible opportunities like guest blogging on Get Rich Slowly.

Although socializing in large gatherings is still a hard pill for me to swallow, I've learned that it's not the only way to network. It's not the number of people that you know, but who you know, and the quality of these relationships that matter.

Successful People Are Passionate About What They Do

Do you think Tiger Woods hates golf? Does Gary Kasparov hate chess? Did Shakespeare hate writing? Of course, not! They are passionate about what they do, and have a lot of fun doing it. That's why they're so darn good and successful.

Would all the money in the world be worth it if your life was completely miserable? Do you get heartburn on Sunday because you have to go back to work on Monday? If you are in these positions, then you are probably not doing your best, and are better off elsewhere. Think about it. Have you ever heard of a successful person that does not like what he (or she) does? Sure, some people can make a lot of money doing what they hate, but soon enough they will burn out and can't bear doing it any longer.

My passion is the ability to express my entrepreneurial spirit. Sounds kind of odd for someone who has worked for over ten years in a big corporation. My previous assignment was drudgery, where creativity was a foreign language. My spirit was withering, and everything suffered because of it. On the other hand, my current job assignment, and now my blogs, lit a fire under the furnace of my entrepreneurial creativity. I can feel and see the difference. I feel successful.

Successful People Are Persistent And Patient

I am totally copying this idea from Happy Feet — it goes something like this: “To TRIUMPH, you must TRY first then UMPH…you tried enough and one day…TRIUMPH.” Well, close enough. Basically, success doesn't happen over night.

I had an interesting conversation with my mom the other day. We were talking about a successful political figure in Thailand. My mom said that he had failed so many times before he made it big — in a sense that having past failures is a bad thing. I disagreed and in my opinion:

  • People who never made it are as they are because they tried, failed, and never try again.
  • People who are mediocre are as they are because they found something that works and never try anything else.
  • People who are successful are as they are because despite their past failures, they kept trying until they found something that worked really well.

Not too many people succeed without effort, determination, and patience. Personally, I have never become good at something without trying a few times, and to get really good at something takes years of practice.

More about...Psychology

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Rich Gedney
Rich Gedney
12 years ago

Great topic.I have always had the drive to succeed but have been lax in setting my goals.This article helps me define what I need to do in setting and achieving my goals.

Thanks J.D.

Pinyo
Pinyo
12 years ago

JD, thank you for the opportunity to write this guest post for you and your readers.

Rich Gedney
Rich Gedney
12 years ago

I read it so fast I didn’t realize it was a guest post.It was very helpful.

Thanks Pinyo.

Tosin
Tosin
12 years ago

Thanks Pinyo,
That was a great article.

James
James
12 years ago

JD,

Excellent post. These key points are so crucial to succeeding in any arena. I am fortunate at a young age to know exactly what I want, and to be implementing a plan to get there. I am thankful to have the experience mentors/coaches in my life to guide me as well.

again, what an awesome post

-James Deen

My Daily Dollars
My Daily Dollars
12 years ago

Great post! I agree that goals and vision are essential! When you can imagine what you really want out of life, it makes all the day-to-day steps of getting there easier!

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
12 years ago

Lets get real. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who have those traits. What most successful people have is wealthy and/or well-connected parents. That’s why George W. Bush is President. Ted Kennedy a United States Senator. That’s how Jane Fonda became a movie star.

Are there people who are successful without those parents? Sure. What is the trait they have that others’ don’t? Luck.

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Luck doesn’t have anything to do with it. You need to read (thoroughly) all about the Laws of Attraction and the Laws of Effect.

Hannah
Hannah
12 years ago

Ross, I have to disagree. Many people with no ambition but connections do get ahead, but many people MADE those connections. They’re the ones who spend every day working at what they do, following these traits and doing everything they can to ensure they are successful in their business.

It may partly be luck, but it’s more hard work and dedication which makes the people who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths successful.

Stephanie
Stephanie
12 years ago

What a great post! I think that the luck you have in life YOU create by the people you network with and how you treat people…(How to Win Friends and Influence People) Ultimately what you get out of life is dependent on consistent effort! Sure there is a small amount of luck involved, but if you live your life with the mindset that you will only get ahead if you are incredibly lucky or belong to a rich family are those who will never get what it really takes to be successful or enjoy it if they had it.

Will
Will
12 years ago

I am the same as Rich Gendey. The desire to drive is there, the dream is well defined, the end result I want to achieve is well-defined, but I sorely lacked the patience to take baby steps (i.e. set short term goals and use them as stepping stones towards achieving long term ones).

Thanks for the post. I have a few projects going and they’re taking time yielding the expected benefits. This post is helping me refocus on my goal setting process, since my usual impatience was creeping up on me.

Couldn’t have come at a better time!

Pinyo
Pinyo
12 years ago

Thank you everyone for positive feedback on the post.

@Ross — I believe in luck to a degree, but I also believe that you could make your own luck. Did you see the movie in Pursuit of Happyness? You could say that Will’s character was lucky when he went from a homeless man to a millionaire, but you could also say that he made his own luck.

That Guy
That Guy
12 years ago

To play a little devil’s advocate here, this post sounds like it was spewed straight out of a self help book. I would say that success is never guaranteed but you increase your odds through making consistently good decisions and being persistent. Break big goals into components parts and achieve those. You have to be willing to sacrifice short-term pleasures for the long-term outcome (kind of like personal finance). For example, go to college, then grad school, then take a menial job to get your foot in the door of your dream occupation – or alternatively work at an unfulfilling… Read more »

Dividends4Life
Dividends4Life
12 years ago

Pinyo: Great post! There is something in there that we all can work to improve on.

Best Wishes,
D4L

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
12 years ago

“I think that the luck you have in life YOU create by the people you network with and how you treat people…” By definition, those things aren’t “luck” are they? >”It may partly be luck, but it’s more hard work and dedication which makes the people who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths successful.” Most successful people were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. The really successful ones mostly started out with gold spoons. The notion that success reflects some sort of moral virtue is highly questionable. There is a lot more evidence that being… Read more »

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
12 years ago

Did you see the movie in Pursuit of Happyness? You could say that Will’s character was lucky when he went from a homeless man to a millionaire, but you could also say that he made his own luck. I haven’t seen the movie. It certainly is easy to create a story where people have material success based on virtue. In fact, that’s the kind of story people want. But I don’t think those stories exist in real life. It only works when you define material success as an overriding virtue in itself. Isn’t it possible to go from homeless to… Read more »

Aura
Aura
12 years ago

I’m also an ISTJ, and I agree that it’s the quality of relationships that matters. It is a lot easier for me to maintain a few close relationships vs. many acquaintances. I have to admit, however, that I need try to step outside my comfort zone more often and get to know more people.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Ross, I feel like you’re making some pretty bizarre assumptions. For example, this doesn’t mesh with anything I’ve ever read: “Most successful people were born with a silver spoon in their mouths.” First, of course, one must define “what is success”. After that’s done, I think you’ll find that their are many successful people from all sorts of backgrounds, and that it’s not the starting point that matters, but the journey itself. Some people are willing to make the journey; many aren’t. In The Millionaire Next Door, the authors note that a huge majority of U.S. millionaires (80%) are first-generation… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

“Ever wonder why some people can never do wrong? ” Um. No. I’ve never met anyone like that. I’ve met people who are very successful in certain areas of their lives, usually after several failed attempts. One comment on this: I have noticed that some regional cultures are more forgiving of failure than others. In California, failure is a rite of passage. In Wisconsin, it’s a stigma. So, sometimes moving on isn’t as easy when people around you are judgmental and have long memories. I grew up in WI, adapted the attitude of California during 15 years there, and now… Read more »

Vered@MomGrind
12 years ago

I completely agree that networking is essential. Some people seem to have been born with the ability to network, others must learn to do it.

I do agree that luck never hurts, but since we don’t have any control over that, we should focus on the things that we *do* have control over.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

TosaJen makes a great point that I’d forgotten about: successful people are often those who fail, and fail, and fail again. But they get back up to try again.

I have a notecard in my office that summarizes this philosophy. All it says is: Fall down seven times, get up eight. That’s not luck, but it does lead to success.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

I just stumbled upon Trent’s recent post: Is success a choice? It’s relevant to this debate.

Also, here’s a post from a few weeks ago about economic mobility and The American Dream.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
12 years ago

In The Millionaire Next Door, the authors note that a huge majority of U.S. millionaires (80%) are first-generation wealthy. I don’t doubt that most millionaires have parents who weren’t. Being a millionaire means you have $40,000 each year for your retirement withdrawing the standard 4 per cent of liquid assets. That assumes none of those millionaires’ assets are in their homes, which is obviously not the case. In other words, the authors are using a standard for comfortable middle class, not “wealthy”. Which means they have an ax to grind. this doesn’t mesh with anything I’ve ever read I suspect… Read more »

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
12 years ago

Do you really believe that luck is what separates Michael Jordan from the average guy in the gym?

Yes. I have no doubt about it. Its also what separated him from the rest of the players in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard or develop his talent. He did. But there are plenty of others who worked just as hard and never made their high school’s varsity.

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

@TosaJen- i didn’t even think of that! i also grew up there and wondered why i was so absolutely fearful of failing. now that i’m elsewhere, i see that failure is a chance to learn but it is still very difficult for me. general comments: i was also one of those who thought the virtue of hard work and honesty would bring me success. i learned the hard way that is not true. many other things, especially networking, come into play. this post had great timing- grad school itself requires many baby steps, and i keep forgetting that and getting… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

@Ross I still don’t understand your point: That luck and opportunity is unequally distributed? OK. That successful people don’t work hard? No, you didn’t say that. That working hard won’t lead to success? Sure, if you mean working hard at something with no advancement prospects or learning potential will probably not lead to much “success”. Researching and taking advantage of all available opportunities and working hard in a field that interests you and doing a good job probably will. Maintaining your relationships and pursuing your passions probably will. That truly successful people are all lucky? Not necessarily. That success is… Read more »

NL
NL
12 years ago

The Pursuit of Happyness is a film based on a true story if I remember correctly.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

I suspect that says more about your choice of reading matter, than it does about the comment I made. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I consider myself well-read, not just in personal finance and success, but in many areas. There’s always more to learn, however. If you want to argue that the starting point doesn’t matter in determining where you end up, that’s fine. I don’t think there is any evidence to support that. The starting point does matter. Again, see my recent entry on economic mobility and The American Dream. Those who start off poor are more likely to be poor.… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

@Ross and @JD: “Any successful American owes most of that success to the country they were born in.” I agree with this statement to a point — almost any American citizen has more freedom and opportunities to get an education, change jobs, move to a new location, access information, or start a business than citizens of almost any other country. In fact, I seem to remember a quote by Warren Buffett about “winning the Ovarian Lottery” in crediting his luck with being born in a country at a time where he was likely to get a reasonable education, survive childhood,… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Good points, Jen. (By the way — your e-mail address bounces! I tried to reply from here and Get Fit, but to no avail.) Buffett does credit the “ovarian lottery” with allowing him to be born in a time and place that favored his financial acumen. And you’re right about The fact that Americans may (probably?) have more financial mobility than elsewhere. @Ross I went outside to pull weeds for an hour, and thinking over our conversation here, I’m sure I sound like I’m trying to argue with you. I’m not. I’m just trying to hash out ideas. I appreciate… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

p.s. The irony of my heavy participation in this thread is that it’s actually a form of procrastination. I don’t have tomorrow’s post started yet, and I’m putting things off. 🙂

Nicole
Nicole
12 years ago

JD, Ross, and all the rest –

No matter what determines success and the best path to achieve it, nothing is an absolute no matter the circumstance.

The only thing we can control is our belief that we can do it; without that we can be sure of nothing but failure.

The rest is really just details.

Walter
Walter
12 years ago

Luck definitely plays a huge part in success in any endeavor, but a sports cliche states that ‘luck is the residue of preparation.’

Early failures in an endeavor are learning experiences and some who do not possess certain traits may be inclined to give up, while others who do possess them forge ahead and learn not to make the same mistake, while others are savvy enough to learn from the mistakes of others. Nothing guarantees success, even those traits listed above, but having them will, in all likelihood, increase those chances.

Kevin
Kevin
12 years ago

Great post!

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
12 years ago

Hard work and the “seven traits” Pinyo listed above do not guarantee success, but they increase its odds significantly. There is little doubt that knowing what you want and being willing to do whatever it takes to get it is an advantage. But do theses seven traits increase chances of success more than wealthy and/or connected parents? More than being self-absorbed, predatory, ruthless and larcenous? More than being white, rich and good-looking? Without hard work and the “seven traits”, your chances of success are limited. Not if you have the right parents. My objection is not that this is bad… Read more »

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

Great post – hanging it on my wall tomorrow!

mike
mike
11 years ago

1M8LeB hi! how you doin?

Ian
Ian
11 years ago

@ Walter “Early failures in an endeavor are learning experiences and some who do not possess certain traits may be inclined to give up, while others who do possess them forge ahead and learn not to make the same mistake, while others are savvy enough to learn from the mistakes of others. ” This, if it is a trait, is an extremely common one. All changing requires is a basic ability to distinguish, and the memory to implement that change. Perhaps change is harder for some than others, but very rarely is it impossible. @ Ross It’s not black and… Read more »

stefania
stefania
11 years ago

I think the most valuable of the 7 traits is “persistent and patient”. It shows they’re ready to face negative results and go on with the hard work until they actually see the end of the “tunnel”. Easier than just pay to appear on http://www.wallofwealth.com

Dennis
Dennis
11 years ago

No matter what anyone says, rich people are just born that way..they make me sick. I f you weren’t born into it, no matter how hard you work…it won’t happen

Onel
Onel
10 years ago

what is this fallacy that hard work equals success but nothing more than the engine that drives people to work everyday? this misconception has for years been the back bone of this country and as this country’s economy grows, it continues to grow, until it warps into the delusional dimensions many have tried and failed to reach.

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comprar kamagra
8 years ago

Great post. Thanks a lot.

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