What human traits predict career and life success? I’ve been curious about that question since I was 16.
That was also the time I became interested in personal development. I wanted to improve my life and become a better student, friend, son and human being.
I decided to build a good life for myself and the people in my life. Now, 16 years later, I think that decision was probably the most important decision of my life.
That was the day I embraced ambition. You see, building a good life and career is one of the most difficult things in life. To be honest, you have to be a little ignorant to believe you can succeed in life.
The odds are against you
Unless you’re born into wealth, all the odds are against you. Most people let life happen to them. Just look at the numbers. Depression is at an all-time high, obesity has become more common, people are sitting at home with burnouts, etcetera, etcetera.
I can go on for a while. Life ain’t pretty—we all know that. So what makes you think you’ll be successful?
Really. Think about it. Why do you even think you’ll be successful?
Here’s the simple answer: If you don’t start with believing in yourself, you’ll never start at all. And if you don’t start, there will be no success whatsoever.
To be clear, when I talk about success, I’m not talking about monetary success. I’m talking about living life on your terms. To have a job you love, be surrounded by the people you love, and to have a positive outlook for the future.
That’s success—not having a lot of money, power, and status.
Belief + effort
Albert-László Barabási, a professor at Northeastern University, and the author of The Formula, studied the laws of success. He found that ambition plays a major role in success. For example, Barabási’s research shows that students don’t excel because of the school they attend.
Often, we assume that people who went to a university like Harvard become high achievers because of their education. We think that Ivy League graduates somehow get different training and that’s what makes them successful on the long-term.
That’s a wrong assumption. In The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success, Barabási’s writes:
“The single determinant of long-term success was derived from the best college a kid merely applied to, even if she didn’t get in. Meaning that if she applied to Harvard, got rejected, and went to Northeastern, her success was on a par with that of Harvard graduates who matched her SATs and high school grades.”
Put simply, ambition is what makes someone great, not the school they went to. Barabási’s research backs up what Henry Ford said decades ago:
”Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
But you and I both know that we don’t automatically become successful if we believe we will. Belief by itself is not enough.
Your performance needs to back your beliefs; otherwise you’ll never get any tangible results.
Also, success remains complex. There are no blueprints or roadmaps that guarantee anything. I don’t think success can be replicated. But that’s not the point I’m making here.
Always believe you can do something
That’s my point. When I decided that I could make something out of my life, I purposefully worked on making that happen. And this is what most people don’t get.
Yes, belief by itself is useless. But here’s the thing: The people who believe they can achieve their goals are the ones that actually do.
So make that your default. When you set a big goal for yourself, don’t automatically think, “I can never do that.” You have to be ambitious enough to actually set some big goals for yourself. Why would you settle for average?
My goal with blogging was to do this full time and not only as a part-time struggling writer. I wanted to make a good living. But when I started, I made about $500 in the first year. During that year, I thought to myself, “How on earth can I get comfortable if I’m not earning enough to pay my mortgage?”
But I had other streams of income and kept at it. Eventually, I started earning six figures with writing alone. Of course it wasn’t that simple. I’ve been improving myself and investing in my skills for 16 years. But hey, you can’t expect to get anything for free in life. It’s simply the price we pay for accomplishment.
Just look back on anything you’ve achieved in your life. Remember the beginning of each school year? You didn’t know anything about your new subjects. But eventually, you passed your exams and at the end of the ride got your degree.
Same thing with work. What did you know on your first day? Nothing, right? I remember the first day I started all my jobs and businesses. I knew nothing! But look at what you’ve learned since then.
You can learn a lot in a short amount of time. You start at zero and make progress every day.
That’s how you will achieve your new goals too. But only if you believe you will.