Success is often attributed to a variety of factors: someone’s unique experiences, a person’s intelligence and aptitude, their disposition and personality, and possibly the situational variables that all happen to come together with precise timing, leading to success (so more or less luck). There are also some pretty unbelievable fads that posit metaphysical laws and purposeful thinking as tactics to increase your level of success, but the current state of research on the emerging science of happiness is revealing that the keys to achieving success lie in the form of one’s disposition and personality. I’ve written previously on the personality traits that lead to sales success, but this post is specifically directed at personality drivers for success and happiness in general.
When it comes to success, resilience trumps intellect. Okay, this is a bold statement, and easily argued from ardent positions on either side. Cognitive ability has been demonstrated to predict job performance and career success, but does not necessarily lead to success all of the time. Think of the expression, “being too smart for your own good”. Without the tenacity of resilience, it’s not very difficult to reasonably argue and convince yourself to quit attempting something that’s proving to be especially difficult to accomplish. Plenty of research on the topic of success in children has revealed that encountering and overcoming failure creates character.
The book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character describes how children on polar ends of the socioeconomic continuum are at a loss for the opportunity to develop grit, i.e., affluent children are more likely to be sheltered from these hardships to overcome and although poor children have plenty of obstacles to overcome, they might not have the social support to persevere and develop feelings of confidence afterwards. Paul Tough (a seemingly ironic name for the book’s author) believes that being able to ride it out through difficult times leads to endearing qualities which facilitate success later in life.
Character, grit, resiliency, hardiness– whatever you call it, all boils down to personality dispositions that relate to some key domains of the Five-Factor model of personality, i.e., openness, emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extroversion.
These personality domains also lead to approach and avoidance tendencies in our dispositions (how likely someone is to be engaged), and our locus of control (how we attribute and make sense of outcomes, such as taking individual ownership for a result, or basing it off of external factors in the world). Resiliency by it’s very definition is related to the attitude toward overcoming setbacks, and the deeper you look into this topic, the more it becomes a chicken and egg question, e.g., did a rough experience have profound effects on how you handle setbacks now? Leading your current strengths to be characterized by an openness to challenges, a commitment to achieving success, and an ability to maintain control? Or do you have a natural proclivity to emotional stability that allows you to function optimally in challenging and turbulent situations?
I like things that make you grit your teeth. I like tucking my chin in and sort of leading into the storm. I like that feeling. I like it a lot. – Daniel Day-Lewis
Here’s a link to a TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth on explaining the role of “grit” in success as well…
Despite the nature vs. nurture argument, the importance of personality disposition in achieving success and maintaining happiness is key, whether or not it’s something we happen to be born with or develop continuously throughout our life. You might begin to subjectively look within at how you handle stress and difficulties, or you can also objectively tap into these traits by assessing your personality with psychometric instruments aimed at personal and professional development.
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