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5 Things the world's most successful people have in common

December 21, 2016 by Lindsay Racen


There is no single definition of "success." Many different people have their own interpretation of the word that is often based on personal values, experiences, beliefs and other complex factors. Sometimes it's a mix of factual evidence and emotional sentiments that influence its meaning, while other times it can skew stronger in one direction than the other. Pulling insight from influential leaders in our world today and our own understandings of the concept, here are 5 things some of the world's most successful people have in common.

They Have Grit

Angela Lee Duckworth’s Ted Talk has risen to the top of the community's chart with over 4.6 million views and climbing. This once high-flying consultant turned seventh grade math teacher was inspired to go back to school to study psychology after her experience in the New York City public school system. Her motivation for this seemingly drastic career shift came when she realized that I.Q., one of the most recognizable indicators of success, was not the only difference between her best and worst students. She actually witnessed an inverse relationship between her strongest performers and their I.Q. scores, versus her smartest kids and their performance.

Her graduate research unveiled one specific characteristic that rose above as a strong predictor of success and it was not among common traits such as intelligence, physical health or appearance, and it was surprisingly not I.Q. - It was what she calls grit.

Ducksworth advocates applying something called the growth mindset as a positive avenue of building grit. The theory states that children can learn to persevere when they don't see failure as a permanent condition. But like most great educators, she inspires us to look even further, calling us to test our strongest ideas, measure what it means to be successful and be willing to fail.

In the midst of World Cup Madness, soccer players and fans around the world can appreciate this lesson.

They Put "Passion" and "Goals" in an Equation

During this past graduation season, we explored some lessons from the best to inspire you to build your own business. In that story we took the advice of Blake Mycoski, the founder of TOMS shoes, who said, "Focus on your passion. Nothing else matters." This is absolutely true, but some may say it only tells half of the story. Forbes did its own evaluation on what some of the most successful people have in common and found:

That warm electric feeling you get in your stomach when you are inspired is often the result of experiencing the purest form of passion. What then? The fire may be kindled and your eyes may be set far past the horizon, but it is only when the feeling is coupled with goals that success can be truly envisioned. This means that Passion + Goals should be treated as an equation rather than categorizing each term as independent variables.


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They Are Lifelong Learners

Dan Schawbel, the contributing writer that authored the Forbes article referenced above mentions that successful people are lifelong learners who push themselves out of their comfort zones. At University of Massachusetts Global, we are dedicated to creating lasting value and relevance for our students' evolving careers. The key word in this mission statement is "evolving," which means to develop, especially from a simple to a more complex form. We all have the power to learn and adapt, but successful people in particular know how to leverage that power and constantly thirst for new ways of evolving.

Schawbel says, "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 have new experiences." This is what we believe in and why we agree that lifelong learning is a critical characteristic that some of the most successful people have in common.

They Know Who They Are

The common understanding of this concept is to ignore your weaknesses and keep improving your strengths. It's a theory that has been referenced by many great leaders and scholars. Here are just a few:

  • "In identifying opportunities for improvement don't waste your time cultivating skill areas where you have little competence. Instead, concentrate on - and build on - your strengths." Pete Drucker, management consultant, educator and author.
  • "More than anything else, 'Know thyself.' Know what your type is. Think about your own personality. For instance, if you are a classic entrepreneur, you can't work in an organization. Know that." Gautam Makunda, Harvard University professor and author of Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter

This particular common trait can apply to a variety of different areas. At the core it involves reflection. Successful people look inwards and try to find solutions by leveraging their current assets. This may seem simple enough, but to truly understand its importance, let's take a look at the flip side of Maslow's self-actualization model and consider those individuals that are perceived to have more insecurities than most.

People who question themselves often look to others to find the image that they want to portray and try to take on their beliefs, their customs and values. Just as they are used to mirroring others, when something does not go the way they worked so hard to actualize, they tend to blame the person they idolized, relieving themselves of any accountability. Their definition of success lies entirely in the hands of others, and they will always be interpreting what it means second-hand, rather than recognizing its importance and working to achieve it in their lives.

They Are Great Communicators

Even those who are not historians or politicians can connect former president Ronald Reagan to the title of "The Great Communicator." Political party preference aside, based on common public recall of the relationship between the man and the phrase, the statement has validity. If you are one that tries to avoid any political commentary, fair enough, simply imagine of your own personal reference of someone who is a strong communicator. Typically you will find a few of the following commonalities:

  • When you ask them what they do, they are detailed yet concise.
  • They carry themselves with confidence and inspire you to believe in them.
  • They have the gift of optimism, while they know how to connect on a personal level.
  • They are sincere and can leverage brilliant illustrations during discussions.
  • They don't talk about themselves all the time

Of course these are a few of many different characteristics that are attributed to great leaders. Think of the importance of communication for a minute and its active role in the way we seek out information in today's digital world. On LinkedIn they call them "influencers." They are leaders in various industries and professions that we look to for insight, advice and oftentimes wisdom. Whether they sought out to be writers or not, as a result of being successful and having people want to learn from their experiences, they are essentially required to leverage their expert communication skills in order to meet their fan's demands.

Defining Your Success

The list of the five things that some of the world's most successful people have in common - Grit, Passion + Goals, Lifelong Learning, Confidence and Communication Skills - can easily be expanded. It all goes back to personal experiences, values and beliefs. Take some time to reflect on your own life, construct your own definition of success, write it down and keep it nearby. Let it stand as a reminder of where you want to be in the future, and as you progress, come back and adjust its definition to refine your next level of achievement.




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