By: Brian Harris
You’ve probably had those moments when you breath a sigh of both relief and satisfaction.
It’s come off. Something you wanted has worked out, and you are really pleased. Perhaps your response is, “Well, that was lucky. Hope it happens again.” Now once in a while success is like winning the lottery, and things come through against all the odds, but it’s dangerous to build our lives on that model. For the majority of successful people, achievement is a pattern, not a moment.
What do I mean by that?
Simply that there are reliable predictors of long term success, and they have very little to do with luck. They are qualities to be cultivated. There is no point in being jealously covetous of the good fortune of others when you aren’t willing to put in the hard work and discipline that they do.
So what are some of these qualities, and what is it that those who are routinely successful do? Most are able to tick all of these 8 boxes. There is no reason you can’t aim at ticking them as well…
- They know where they want to go.
As the adage goes, “aim at nothing, and you are bound to hit it.” Clarity of purpose and direction – or being guided by a compelling vision of what could be – is fundamental to success. If you think about it, how else do you know if you have been successful? There is a reason Paul informs us in 1 Corinthians 9:26 that he does “not run like someone running aimlessly.” It isn’t to brag or boast. It is to encourage us to do the same.
- They adopt a growth rather than a fixed mindset.
I’ve written about this in another post, but essentially people with a growth mindset know that it takes a while for potential to come to fruition and are patient and kind as they challenge their performance over time. They don’t assume that we either can or can’t do things, and while they recognise that we pick up some things more quickly than others, they accept that it’s normal to have to work at things to get better at them. They are willing to try new things and to defer judgment about their ability at it until they have genuinely given it a wholehearted go. As a result, their world expands, and when they attempt to do things, they bring a wider range of experiences to the table and are more likely to succeed. People with a fixed mindset stick to their knitting, safely repeating what they are able to do, but not expanding their repertoire so that when the tide turns (as it inevitably does) they have little to offer other than yesterday’s dying song.
- They view failure as an invitation to growth.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the person asked the secret of their success. “That’s easy,” they said. “Two words: Good decisions.” “And how did you learn to make good decisions?” the interviewer asked. “That’s easy,” they replied. “Two words: Bad decisions.” We make good decisions as a result of bad decisions we have made. Ah, if only it was so easy, but the link isn’t automatic. After a poor decision we can rationalise our choice, deny it was poor, blame others because it didn’t work, or we might even pretend that it was actually a good decision that will strike gold for us some time in the future (as if…) Or we can accept responsibility, dig into why it didn’t work, and give serious thought to how we will avoid the same mistake in the future. We don’t have to be cruel or unkind as we do this – just genuinely committed to learning what we can from it.
- They know and hold to their values.
If we want success at any cost, we might find it at the expense of our soul. Because every yes is also a no, we need clear values to guide us, and to provide direction when we face borderline decisions. When values are in the optional basket success tends to be short lived and to ultimately back fire. What are your values? In 1 Corinthians 13:13 the apostle Paul suggests that there are three that will remain forever, “faith, hope and love” and that the greatest of these is love. Faith, hope and love – it’s a powerful trio – it’s a trio I try to shape my actions around.
- They are willing to forgive and move on.
Though it’s best not to get into a habit of blaming others when things go wrong, the reality is that others do sometimes do us harm. Bitterness and cynicism can be an understandable response when others have left us to pick up the price tag that flows from their irresponsibility or selfishness. But if we do, we set ourself up for failure, because bitterness crushes the soul, destroys creativity and leaves us perpetually angry. And the simple reality is that most people are badly let down at one time or another. Rather than rage against the unfairness of your lot, view it as a test. Can you rise above it and be larger than your circumstances? Yes you can – and when you do, success becomes a pattern rather than a fleeting moment.
- They are outwardly tilted.
Strangely, when it’s all about you, your world becomes too small. Jesus was right (surely not a surprise!): when we are willing to lose our lives for others and for God’s work in the world, we most truly find ourselves. If my success is all about me and what I got for me – well, it sounds a little too much like the man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:19ff who congratulates himself on how wealthy he has become only to hear God saying, “you fool, for this very night your life shall be required from you.” It is not that we should never do anything for ourself, but “me, myself and I” make for far too tiny a world. Looking outwards and seeing how what we do can serve the greater good can become an instinct. It also sets us up for success.
- They have a large definition of success.
If your definition of success is primarily around money, power, popularity or fame, your definition of success is too small. You are successful if you are living a life worthy of your humanity –a life worth living. Made in the image of God, every human has to answer the question of how they respond to God’s invitation to reflect a little of what God is like through their living. There are many, many ways to do this, and they often don’t lead to money or fame. They may well lead to power – not the power to lord it over another, but the moral power that flows from living a life of integrity and kindness – a life shaped by faith, hope and love.
- They clean their own room first.
OK, so this is the Jordan Peterson insight, and it’s an important one. If you don’t have the discipline and self respect to look after yourself, why is anyone going to listen to you or pay attention to what you say? This reflects Confucius who said: “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” Setting our own heart right is an important start.
Of course this can sound a little like pulling yourself up by your own shoe laces. I am so grateful that the Christian faith revolves around grace. Actually I can’t adequately clean my own room. But I am grateful for Calvary and the Cross of Jesus – that place where I find forgiveness and a new start. And because of Jesus I can embrace life with an unqualified yes, and I can allow faith, hope and love to form me – and that’s a trio that ensures success even if poverty and obscurity are my lot.
Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.
About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.