It’s easy to look at someone who is successful and think they must have talent, money, opportunity, luck, or some kind of crazy connection that normal people like us just don’t have access to.
How nice for them that their stars aligned, but it’s not like that happens for everyone, right?
But the thing is that talent, money, opportunity, luck, and connections aren’t things that every successful person has. There are plenty of people who are successful despite lacking one or more of those — or even all of them.
I’m a little obsessed lately by the things that successful people actually do have in common. Let’s call them the success common denominators. I have a little list: a work ethic, a growth mindset, continued learning, grit, and failure.
Every successful person has these things in common. What really stands out to me is that none of these common denominators are subjective. None of them are gifts or random acts of universal good will.
They’re all things that are completely in our control. We can cultivate them, or not. We can do them, or not. None of this depends on anyone else. And that’s what really excites me.
A Work Ethic
“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men
Okay. So Terry Pratchett is a comedian, but there’s some truth to what he wrote.
Here’s what I think that truth is: There are some people who spend all their energy believing and affirming and trying to attract success to them. And then there are people who believe, and then act on that belief.
A strong work ethic is the thread that runs through all successful people. They show up. They do the grunt work. While everyone else is trying to figure out a short cut or a hack, they’re busy doing the thing.
Even the people who are wildly successful at teaching other people how to have ‘passive income’ or make a ton of money with ridiculously short work weeks — are, themselves, working hard.
Successful people show up and do the work. They keep doing it, through the learning curve, through the failures, and long before they know that the work will actually pay off.
A Growth Mindset
“Becoming is better than being”
― Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
Doing the work is good. It’s essential. But doing the same thing over and over, without learning and adapting and growing is never going to get you where you want to go. It’s like taking a 2000 mile trip, but instead of going somewhere, you just drive around your block over and over.
You’re diligent. You’ve developed a strong habit. But it doesn’t get you anywhere, if you don’t make some vertical progress along with the horizontal. In other words, successful people don’t just drive around the block over and over.
Successful people are problem solvers. They look at what they’re doing and figure out if it’s working and experiment and try new things and (I think this is especially key) they relish the effort.
“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”
— Octavia Butler, Blood Child: and Other Stories
Successful people don’t rest on their laurels. They keep learning and applying what they learn.
Successful people aren’t always the most talented. They aren’t always inspired. But they are dedicated to learning. They seek out mentors, resources, whatever can teach them the next new thing.
Successful people are driven by curiosity. They aren’t satisfied with what they already know. They constantly look for ways to know more, to stay ahead of the curve, and to be innovative.
“The difference in winning & losing is most often, not quitting.”
― Walt Disney
Grit is strength of character. It’s sticking and persistence.
If successful people have any one thing in common it’s this: They didn’t quit. I mean, that’s obvious, right? They’re successful because they’re still doing the thing, whatever the thing is.
Sometimes, all it takes to be successful is to keep going when everyone around you quits. They keep persevere, even when it’s not clear that they’ll get what they want. And they have the nerve to switch gears and try new things and figure out what ‘not quitting’ really looks like.
Successful people are persistent. They stay in the game. And they don’t fall apart when things are hard. Grit means being resilient and able to adjust.
“We are all failures- at least the best of us are.”
― J.M. Barrie
Think of someone seems like they have it all — someone who is projecting an aura of absolute success, as if the light of sun just shines a little brighter on them than the rest of us.
Now look a little deeper. Do some research if you have to. How have they failed? If you’re thinking about anyone who does any kind of creative or entrepreneurial work, they have most definitely failed. They’ve been rejected. They’ve lost money. They’ve created something that no one wanted.
The failure is there. Maybe it’s not as sexy as the success, so they are’t talking about it much, but if they are truly successful, the failure is there.
Here’s the thing: failure happens when you reach beyond what you‘re sure you can achieve. If you never fail, then you’re not reaching high enough. Failure means that you tried. It means that you were brave.
Failure hurts, but it’s an absolute requirement.
Successful people might be afraid of failure, but the one thing they all have in common is that they reach high enough to fail sometimes. And then they get up and try again. That’s what separates them from everyone else. They aimed high and stuck around long enough to figure out how to be successful.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.