What do high achievers have in common?

Over the past decade I have spent countless hours reading biographies, watching interviews and observing high achievers. I have also had the great privilege of working with and training under masters in the field of law and martial arts. I credit a lot of my career advancements to having a great mentor who set an example for excellence. From my experience and thorough research, I have discovered that these people all tend to have similar traits and habits, which has helped them to become high achievers. I have summarised fifteen characteristics of a high achiever, and you will notice that none of the traits I will list involve money, status or natural born talent. While I do not deny that these things can be invaluable to ones path to success and may offer far more opportunities, I do not believe they are essential to what it takes to be an achiever. Most of the people I have observed who have excelled in their life did not have access to any of those things, which is why I believe there is a particular formula that if adopted completely, with the right intention, can have the same effect on almost anyone who strives to achieve greatness and not just wish for it.

1. They focus and hone their strengths and neutralise weaknesses

A high achiever is very self aware, they know themselves well and are not in denial based on fantasies of grandeur or self importance. They know where they are strong, and not only do they know this, but they spend a lot of their time and energy refining their strengths. In contrast, they are also attuned to their weaknesses, and they work towards neutralising them by either finding ways to keep them from becoming a hindrance to their strengths or they seek alternatives to avoid them from interfering with their goals.
Moreover, it is also significant to be able to distinguish the difference between strength and something we are naturally good at but makes us feel weak when we are doing it. For instance, when I was a young girl aged 6, my Mum enrolled me in ballet class, she had high hopes of her little girl one day becoming a prima ballerina in cute tutus on her tip toes frolicking on a stage. (If that is what they do). When I tried out for the first few classes the teacher noted that I had a natural talent, I could easily stand on my tip toes, had great balance and was able to learn most of the moves very quickly, my Mum was so excited that the following week she bought me a new outfit for my ballet class. But I never really enjoyed it and did not feel strong or comfortable dancing so I quit after a few weeks. Then at the age of 12, my Dad enrolled me in Taekwando classes, he said it was important for girls to learn how to defend themselves. I was reluctant at first but I still recall the feeling I had after my first class, for the first time in my life I felt an incredible surge of energy, strength and self confidence. The feeling was intoxicating. I loved every minute of it. I completely felt like I was in my element, and I felt incredibly powerful and strong. I am now in my thirties and still practice martial arts, it is one of my greatest passions and gives me a sense of empowerment.

Another important issue to note is, as children we may have been told by our parents or our teachers that we need to focus and improve on our weaknesses, I remember the days where my parents would pay a lot of money to maths tutors to help improve my weakness for mathematics but all this did was drain me and to this day I am still horrible at maths, and need a calculator to calculate simple addition and subtraction. Ultimately, I chose a profession where mathematics would not be a crucial part of the job.

2. Choose a career based on passion.

(Refer to first blog on Finding your life’s purpose)

3. Understand themselves and others

Over the years I have studied many great motivational speakers and always wondered how they came to be so knowledgable about life and people. I remember watching an interview with Tony Robbins and he was asked how he learnt to be so good at his job, he said he understands himself really well and because of that he understands why others do what they do, and what motivates them.

In my experience people with an accurate perception of themselves have a far greater capacity for compassion and dealing with people. They are able to identify issues in their own personality that require analysis and change and as a result, have a greater ability to effectively negotiate with difficult people. They also have a strong capacity for inspiring others because they become adept at developing connection and common ground. This is particularly important for business owners who want to expand their business and rely heavily on their staffs’ loyalty and hard work. A high achiever knows that to achieve greatness they cannot do it alone and they know just how to inspire others to want to follow them and work with them to making their dreams come true. (More on this topic in my future blog about leadership).

4. Good people skills

Knowing how to deal with people is probably the single most valuable skill a person can have, we live in a world where we are all connected in some way and we all rely on people to get by our daily lives. Think about how many people you encounter in a day, and what life would be without their service, from the medical scientists who develop medicines and vaccines, to the farmers who produce crops, and the tradesman who builds your home, or the cleaner at your work place who provides a clean environment for you to work in. We are all in this together and when we know how to interact with each other in a harmonious manner, life tends to become far more pleasant and you will notice people tend to make an effort for those they respect, and with the help of others and the benefits of being favoured by others you are able to move towards your goals with less friction and the valuable assistance of others.

5. Unstoppable work ethic and working intelligently

Unfortunately, anything worth achieving cannot be done without a lot of practice or training behind it. In “the book of five rings” written by one of Japan’s most notorious but arguably greatest swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, he talks about how he mastered the sword; “forge yourself with a thousand days of training, and polish yourself with ten thousand days of practice.”
The importance of consistent and disciplined training cannot be stressed enough as one of the most crucial aspects to mastery. There are many in today’s culture who expect far too many rewards before they have even put in the effort, but that is not to say that hard work is all you need in this case, you must do it intelligently, which means seek the best mentor you can find in the industry, one who cares about the quality of his work and has properly mastered his skills, be thoughtful and vigilant in your practice, as the worst thing you can do is to place your effort into practising something that is either wrong, a mistake, mediocre and not right for you.

6. Decisive

I was watching a documentary on Anna Wintour, one of the longest standing editors at the prestigious American fashion magazine Vogue. She was asked what her best quality was that has helped her to gain such tenure in her role as Editor in chief at Vogue. She credits her decisiveness as a crucial part of her success, she knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like, and she is able to make pragmatic decisions without hesitation. She is stern and decisive in her opinion, and her employees, while are somewhat intimidated by her reputed tyrannical manner, concede that she is very effective and productive to work with because she is such a clear, decisive and fast thinking leader.
Pragmatic decisiveness comes from a strong background of knowledge, there is really no advantage to being decisive if the decisions you make are hasty and reckless. Anna Wintour is not one to shy away from hard work and doing the relevant research, but also has a keen eye for fashion and style which has contributed to her successful career. You must know your industry or area of choice well, learn from the best people you can find who are already successful in the industry, always continue your education and surround yourself with trustworthy and sound advice.

7. Confidence

This is definitely a really important characteristic of high achievers, confidence is belief in oneself, and the ability to work effectively in spite of our fears and self doubts. A confident person acknowledges they will at times have doubts and fears but these are merely human emotions that don’t really mean anything more than just passing thoughts. Confidence comes from a deep trust that whatever happens, one will be able to handle it, and deal with it. Therefore, they are able to perform without the hindrance of their insecure emotions.
There are many techniques that most tend to adopt, such as changing their physiology to reflect a confident person, with good posture, a relaxed face and steady voice. This may help on a surface level and definitely assist in the way others react to you, however, the most important aspect to confidence is ones state of mind. A confident person is enthusiastic and energetic because they are eager to get things done. They aren’t held back by any negative beliefs and are ready to take action. It is important to address the beliefs we may have about ourselves, and identify the beliefs that are holding us back. Most, if not all, of these negative beliefs are untrue and once we really examine them we will see just how little merit they hold.

8. Back themselves and move on quickly from their mistakes and setbacks

There was a recent article in the Financial Review recently, where one of Australia’s most successful property developers was interviewed, and asked what his best qualities were that helped him to achieve such great success in the property industry. He explained that it was undoubtedly his ability to make decisions in a reasonably efficient period and back himself regardless of the outcome. He wasn’t constantly changing his mind and second guessing himself causing uncertainty and a lack of confidence in his staff. He said he makes the best decision he can with all the facts he is reasonably able to attain during the relevant period of time and then he sticks to it unless there is a drastic or obvious reason for change. He states that one must develop a strong mindset that if I make a mistake I know that at the time I made my decision it was the best I could do with the facts at hand, it is more important to back yourself than to be constantly consumed with uncertainty and doubt because this way of thinking can be paralysing and causes many to miss out on great opportunities.

9. Allocate time for play

This is important because as hard as a high achiever works they must also balance this with play time, a time to relax and just have fun without the pressures of trying to attain a goal. Many high achievers in the business industry, for instance, Hong Kong billionaire business magnate Li Ka-Shing, noted as the wealthiest man in Asia; owner of various companies, container terminals and health and beauty retailers. Li reportedly enjoys a game of golf every morning for an hour before he begins his work day, this routine helps him to gather his focus and prepare for the day ahead by doing something he enjoys. It’s a great way to set him up for his busy and often stressful work day by engaging in a task for pure fun and pleasure. There are many high achievers who specifically make time in their daily routines for play time, and generally this does involve some form of sport, as it both helps relieve physical tension, nurtures their naturally competitive instincts, and offers time for fun in their lives which helps keep them motivated by breaking up their intense regime of hard work.

(Remaining 5 characteristics of a high achiever to be continued…)

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