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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 recognized 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

This was a guest post I wrote for Get Rich Slowly on April 6, 2008.

17 thoughts on “Seven Traits of Successful People”

  1. Pinyo-Great post. I absolutely agree with all of them though there are several that could be added.

    I especially like the first two. Having a vision and a plan (trait 1) is one of the biggest attributes of winners. Being able to execute that plan (trait 2) is a close second.

  2. Thanks for a timely post. I have a very bad taste in my mouth right about now which originates from having made some very bad investments and losing a lot of money. It’s easy to then sit back and wonder why one bothers. It’s good to be reminded of what one should be doing while throwing a pity party for oneself.

  3. I really like these points, and I agree with all of them. There are more, I’m sure, too, but some of these really hit home. Especially on the last one about successful people trying something until they can do it really well, as opposed to just being satisfied with what works. I think it involves “RISK” as well. Just as in investing, risk=reward, so too in life, probably, risk=reward. The more you risk, the more you might fall, but the reward can be greater. It’s this one I have to work on, because I like to be comfortable.

    As someone once said: The more security you have, the less freedom you will have and vice versa. That’s why they refer to some prisons in terms of “maximum security.” You get the point!:)

  4. My former professor wrote a book called “What do you think” his name is George Stern Jr.

    If you are interested in motivating yourself you should pick up the book , very cheap, quick and engaging read and life altering it covers these topics and more.

    Great Post! Your tips are right on point for creating a successful and happy life.

  5. I really enjoyed your motto, “never cease to learn, because if I did, I would cease to grow.” I want to take as much as I can away from a job, an experience, or even a person. I listen to other people’s experiences and jobs and I feel as if I ask question after question. But I’m so curious to see what people know and what knowledge they have to offer my way.

  6. @B Smith — Thank you. I am sure there are a few. These are the ones that resonate with me the most.

    @MoneyBlogga — Sorry to hear about that. The only thing we could do after we fall is get back up and keep walking.

    @MoneyEnergy — I like that investing comparison.

  7. As a beginner i have learn a lot and i have interest of knowing much on investment . i will be sending my comments whenever there is a need.

  8. I love that people pretend to know what makes one persons life better than another’s… What do they mean by successful anyway?

  9. I like” Successful have the guts to try, and not afraid of losing” I am introvert by nature as well and afriad to take risks, which lose me chances. I am working on this and after reading this article from you, my confidence is building up.

  10. How about this trait: successful are lucky. That’s not to say that all successful people have achieved their successes through sheer luck. But being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people count, too.

  11. Competition is difficult, more and more applicants/over-qualified applicants are lowering their expectations. If you have skills take your time and don’t become discouraged all things will come in time. If you have little skills, use thing time to grow your abilities and make yourself more employable, for many that means going back to school and hitting the books.

  12. Everything here is agreeable and straight to the point. I will love to see more post like this. Very inspirational to the people who need to grow. As for me, I love my job as passionate as the word.

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