On Success

“… the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.”

From: What Drives Success? by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

I believe the quote to be very true.    Here’s why.

Superiority Complex

The first trait is a superiority complex, or believing in one’s own exceptionality.  In order to accomplish great things, first one has to aspire to great things.  Only someone that believes they are exceptional can dream that they could be a senator, a president, climb Mount Everest, or become a hit recording artist.  You decide what your upper limit is.  When you believe something is impossible to achieve, it becomes impossible for you to achieve.

I think of superiority complex as one’s potential.  For example, look at climbing Mount Everest.  For someone to accomplish that, they first need to believe that they have the potential to complete it.  If Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had not felt that they were exceptional climbers with the ability to succeed, they probably wouldn’t have even been on that expedition.

Insecurity

Next, the insecurity to believe that what you have already done is not good enough, or not there yet.  This is the thing that keeps pushing you to go farther and do more.  Insecurity is the difference between saying, “I climbed Mount Fuji (basically a walking climb that 300,000 people did last year) and I’m good now” or saying, “I have to keep going until I get to the top of Everest.”

One idea that inspires me to keep moving forward is the definition of work.  Work is a “force applied to an object causing movement.”  The force represents one’s potential and the movement one’s accomplishments.  If you have great potential and push a very large rock, but never move it, then no work was done.  Potential is not enough.  You have to turn that potential into an achievement by moving the rock.  To look at that a different way, it is not enough to believe you can be the next American Idol, if you don’t actually get out there and go for it.

Impulse Control

The third trait, impulse control, helps to turn those feelings of having the potential to accomplish great things and the feeling of needing to accomplish more into a reality.  By learning to prioritize, eliminate distractions, set and focus on goals, you can turn those goals into realities.

Suppose you believe you are exceptional enough to be a hit recording star but you skip your music lessons, or you want to climb Everest but you spend all day playing video games and eating potato chips instead of getting into shape.  You wouldn’t get very far and your dream that would remain unrealized no matter how exceptional you thought you were.

The quoted article looks at ethnic groups and their tendencies for success, but you can apply these principles individually also.  You can decide that you are exceptional enough to accomplish your dream.  You can decide that what you have done so far isn’t quite enough to serve as your legacy.  And you can learn to control your impulses and stay focused on your success.

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