What does it mean to be a successful person?
And what traits of success do you most need to work on cultivating in yourself?
You know plenty of hard-working people who aren’t where they’d like to be in their chosen careers, and you don’t want to be one of them.
Do you want to know what characteristics of successful people set them apart?
Once you know, you can begin the process of making those success traits your own. Read on to start your transformation.
- How Would You Describe a Successful Person?
- What Makes a Successful Person?
- 31 Traits of Successful People
- Adventurous Spirit
- Big Picture Thinking
- Clarity of Focus
- Compassion and Forgiveness
- Curiosity and Continuing Education
- Readiness to Do the Work
- Personal Care
- Relentless in the Setting and Pursuit of Goals
- How to Cultivate Traits for Success
How Would You Describe a Successful Person?
In Western culture, success is defined by power and money.
The more you have of both, the more successful you are.
But those two markers alone aren't enough to make you content and fulfilled, both of which should be on anyone's definition of success.
If we start with contentment and fulfillment as necessary for a successful person, then it is up to each of us to decide how to foster these qualities.
We have some ideas that might resonate with you and help you hone in on what will make you feel successful.
What Makes a Successful Person?
What qualities in a person make them genuinely successful, whatever their current income level or professional status?
The word “successful” is thrown around a lot, after all. What does a truly successful person look like?
- They love who they are and inspire others to love themselves.
- They love their work and do it well.
- They love connecting with others and are good listeners.
- They don’t worry about how their wealth compares to others.
- They’re always learning and growing.
- They judge no one (including themselves).
The cornerstone of real success is your mindset, which determines how you see yourself and what you do with your time and energy. If you describe someone you know to be successful in all the ways that matter, you’ll likely see some of the traits listed below.
31 Traits of Successful People
The characteristics of success listed here reflect the mindset of a person who will succeed in whatever life throws at them. The more of these you cultivate in yourself by building the habits that nurture them, the happier and more successful you’ll become.
Whatever happens, the successful person knows how to turn it to their advantage — or at least to weather the storm in style.
They’re also adept at navigating unfamiliar situations without making unnecessary and self-destructive compromises or expenses. If they make mistakes while adapting, they learn from them and don’t waste time on regret.
The successful person is the ultimate adventurer, even during times they’re not able to explore new surroundings. They find and seize upon adventures wherever they are, and they know how to draw others into the experience with them. They don’t believe in the concept of limbo because they always find something worthwhile to do.
Whatever happens, to disrupt the successful person’s flow, they’ve learned to remain balanced, always keeping their eyes on the bigger picture.
If they falter, they check themselves, reorient their attention, and focus on doing the next right thing. If they’re not always super-chill, they at least manage to avoid extremes in the way they react.
Successful people believe they can do what they set out to do. They think they have every reason to have confidence in their ability to succeed. They don’t waste time on self-doubt or worry because they’d rather use that energy to take purposeful action. They don’t need a win for every effort; they trust success will be their final result.
Big Picture Thinking
Successful people look at the big picture when they make their smaller picture plans and put them into action. They keep that vision in mind whether day-to-day things go right or wrong, thus preserving their equanimity and keeping their outlook bright. Everything they learn (from mistakes, surprises, etc.) contributes to a better outcome.
Clarity of Focus
Successful people keep their focus and intention clear. They can articulate exactly what they want. Then they find out how to get what they want, and they break it down into steps. They acknowledge and delegate what they can’t or would rather not do, and they create a “dream team” to help them work toward the best possible result.
Successful people are not afraid to commit a tremendous amount of time, energy, and other resources to reach a worthy goal. They see commitment as an indispensable factor in their success and their development as a person. Since they don’t choose goals lightly, they’d rather stick around to give their chosen commitment its best chance at success.
The successful person knows the value of communication and networking. And if anyone appreciates the skill of active listening, they do. They listen to understand — not just to reply. They take the trouble to learn how someone’s background might affect their interpretation so that they can avoid offending.
Compassion and Forgiveness
The successful person values the differences between people as much as the similarities. They don’t expect others to do as they do or think as they think. They don’t waste time judging those who don’t share their ideals or their perspective. They know that compassion and forgiveness are essential to any success worth having.
The successful person sees and appreciates connections between seemingly disparate things and ideas. Likewise, they value connections between themselves and people with different backgrounds, skills and talents, and perspectives. They make connections and believe in their power to enrich both participants. They never tire of making new friends.
The successful person knows the value of consistency — specifically the kind that’s closely related to justice. No one gets special treatment (not even they), and no contributor to any worthy project is overlooked or minimized. Consistency gives everyone enough stability to trust that the benefits will outweigh the costs.
Successful people are creative. They use their powerful imaginations for good, and they delight in the creativity of others — so much that they’re more likely to draw positive attention to a worthy competitor than to malign them in any way. They can’t help but appreciate beauty and ingenuity when they see it.
Curiosity and Continuing Education
A successful person is always learning. They’re endlessly curious, and they’re uncomfortable with the word “expert” because it implies there’s no more learning to do. They’d rather be a “constantly evolving student” of everything meaningful to them. They don’t let asking questions get in the way of getting things done — and vice-versa.
Readiness to Do the Work
It’s no surprise the successful person works hard — harder than most — and there’s a reason. They don’t do the work out of a sense of obligation or out of fear.
They do it as an extension of their visionary spirit. They love what they’re doing, and they don’t see a separation between the work and its glorious result.
The actions and words of successful people are aligned with their values and goals. They don’t do anything that isn’t in agreement with their core beliefs. If their actions are at war with their beliefs and big-picture goals, that division makes it impossible for them to move forward as a single-minded person. It makes ruin more likely than success.
Successful people have a positive outlook on life. Their glass is always (at least) half full, and their positive attitude is contagious. Nothing dampens their enthusiasm or persuades them to doubt themselves or their ability to succeed. They find the energy to look for the good in everyone and every situation.
Successful people know that patience with themselves, others, and the process is crucial to a success they can be proud of. Because they keep their eyes on the big picture, they can be patient when, in the moment, things aren’t going according to plan.
Successful people are passionate about their work. They’re not content to just punch in and punch out for a job that pays the bills if they can find a way to pursue a passion of theirs. To them, a life without passion is a sad, mechanical existence, and they want more than that for themselves and for others.
Successful people take care of themselves, and they encourage others to do the same. They wouldn’t sacrifice self-care to get ahead, and they don’t expect or want anyone else to neglect their needs, either. Personal care is an essential part of their success, and they want the same success for others.
Successful people prioritize the right things. They’re not at the mercy of every person or task clamoring for their attention. They also know not to cut out self-care to get more tasks done. Their needs and the needs of others on their team are on their own priority list, even if it means saying no to something else.
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Knock down a successful person, and they always get back up again, even when the desire to just stay there and play dead is stronger than ever. They get up, assess the situation, and recalibrate to handle the setback as best they can. Maybe they pivot, or maybe they charge ahead with more firepower. But they keep getting back up.
Relentless in the Setting and Pursuit of Goals
The successful person is relentless in their pursuit of a worthy goal. If one door shuts, they find another and another. Their minds are always working on ways to get closer to their big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGs) — goals that would strike fear in most people’s hearts.
Successful people take responsibility for their own words and actions. They care if the consequences of their actions hurt people. And they do what they can to make amends. They also take the trouble to learn how people from different backgrounds might interpret their words because people matter to them.
The successful person sees value in things often overlooked because they see possibilities others miss. And when they’re up against the wall, they turn those overlooked resources into a “miraculous” solution. Even when resources are low, they find a way to make it more than enough without being stingy or violating another’s rights.
Successful people know that risks are part of growing. They fear only standing still or holding back when they could take a leap instead. Whatever happens, they can learn from it. They learn nothing by staying in their comfort zone. And since everything they want lies outside that zone, they seize opportunities to step out of it.
Successful people know their limitations (and their strengths), which helps them notice others’ complementary strengths. They help the members of their team develop their strengths for the benefit of all. They’ll also give credit (and reward) where it’s due, taking no more of the profit than they have a right to.
Successful people have enough confidence to step up and claim what’s theirs. They know they’re worthy of success, so they don’t hang back and wait for someone to notice them.
They also encourage others to own their strengths and make the most of them. Their unabashed confidence inspires others to be braver and to look at themselves differently.
Successful people cultivate the quality of self-discipline, which they know is essential to the pursuit of their goals and to their personal growth. They don’t let a desire for comfort distract them from the big picture; they subject the flesh to their will because they know which one needs to be in the driver’s seat.
Have faith in yourself and your abilities. Successful people don’t waste time on false modesty or fishing for compliments. They know they’re capable of greatness, and they don’t pretend otherwise. And they don’t let anyone’s criticism or judgment slow them down, either. They know not everyone will like them, and that’s okay.
The self-reliant person doesn’t expect others to make their chosen (or created) path easier for them. They know it’ll take work — probably more than most people are willing to do. They’re not waiting for someone else to tell them their goal is worthy, either, or that they have what it takes to reach it.
Successful people keep going when the going gets hard, whether they travel the same path or find a better one. Nothing and no one can get them to stop or slack off in their pursuit of a worthy goal. They keep holding on and keep moving forward.
Their determination and persistence are without equal.
How to Cultivate Traits for Success
Some of the traits you see on our list are qualities you already possess. But there may be others that aren't in your success wheelhouse yet — and you'd like them to be.
How can you expand your opportunities for success by cultivating new traits? Here are some actions to get you started.
- Choose one trait at a time. Find the low-hanging fruit on our list — the quality you'd like to work on first that will make a big difference in your life. You can't work on several traits simultaneously, or you'll dilute your efforts.
- Perform a brain dump. Once you've chosen a quality, write down any possible actions or skills you can take to develop the trait. Some of these traits are extremely broad, so may have a long list of ideas.
- Think about your success goals. What do you want to achieve that requires this particular characteristic? For example, maybe you want to write a book and need more self-discipline. Try to keep the goal focused and specific.
- Match actions to your goal. Go back to your list of actions and skills needed for your chosen success trait. Which of these should you work on first to help you achieve your goal? If you have dozens of actions on your list, chose the top five.
- Write an action plan. Get specific and detailed on how and when you will take these actions. Break them down into manageable chunks that you know you can achieve. Put them on your calendar and commit to following through.
- Track your progress. As you work on these actions, write down how you are building this trait and how it helps you with your goal. Acknowledging positive change gives you the motivation to work on building more characteristics of success.
What will you do this week to cultivate one of these success traits? Which habits will you build to help you grow into the most successful version of yourself?
Do you have the traits of successful people?
Now that you know the top 31 traits of successful people, which ones reminded you of someone — or of your own approach to life?
You have it in you to create a successful life on your own terms. It’s just a matter of making the best use of your gifts. Keep learning, and keep stepping outside your comfort zone.
One thing at a time, though. Do something you can do. And do it today.