In my various professional roles throughout 35 years of working – as a corporate director/VP, therapist, career coach and writer — I’ve been fortunate to learn from amazingly successful, impactful and inspiring people – including business leaders, thought influencers, creatives, artists, and entrepreneurs. I’ve taken the past 12 years to study closely what “success” is at the heart, and how people who are reaching their highest potential joyfully approach life differently from others.
I’m defining “success” here not as some objective measure of wealth, accomplishment or achievement (which our society tends to do), but as achieving what matters most to you, individually and authentically. Sadly, I’ve met scores of millionaires and others whom society has deemed as highly “successful” but inwardly are not. In fact, many don’t derive any joy, satisfaction or reward from the money they’ve amassed.
In observing people in action who are living fully on their terms and absolutely loving it, I’ve seen how they think, react, interrelate, problem solve, and lead. I’ve noted that people who love their lives, and love what they do for a living — and have achieved tremendous success, fulfillment and reward — not only engage continuously in life-supporting (and generous and compassionate) behaviors, but also avoid certain negative actions and mindsets that other, less successful people habitually get lost in.
The 8 self-limiting, negative behaviors successful people avoid are:
Engaging in “below the line” thinking
“Below the line” thinking refers to a particular mindset that shapes how you view the world in a limiting way. It leads to your believing that what’s happening to you is outside your control and everyone else’s fault – the economy, your industry, your boss, your spouse, etc. Below the line thinking says, “It’s not fair what’s happening, and I don’t have what it takes to overcome these challenges. I didn’t expect this and I can’t handle it.” Above the line thinking, on the other hand, says, “I clearly see the obstacles ahead, and I’m addressing them with open eyes. I’m accountable for my life and my career, and I have what it takes to navigate through this successfully. If I fail, I’ll still wake up tomorrow exactly who I am, and will have learned something critical that will help me on my path.”
Mistaking fantastical wishful thinking for action
Successful professionals pursue outcomes that flow organically from their current actions. Unsuccessful individuals attach to fantasies that may relieve them momentarily of their situational pain but have no basis in reality. For instance, I’ve heard from corporate professionals who share, “Kathy, I really hate my job and desperately want to leave. I’ve been wanting to write a book and become a motivational speaker for several years now. What’s your advice?” I’ll respond, “OK, great! Are you writing and speaking?” and 98% of the time, the answer will be, “Uh…no.” Well, you can’t write a book if you’re not writing a word about anything, and you can’t speak in public if you haven’t developed any material to speak about.
It’s critical to take brave, committed action toward your visions, in order to create success.
Successful people develop huge goals too, but they crush them down into smaller, digestible (but courageous) action steps that they then build on, which leads naturally to the end goal they’re pursuing.
Remaining powerless and speechless
Successful people are in touch with their power, and are not afraid to use it and express it. They advocate and negotiate strongly for themselves and for others, and for what they care about, and don’t shy away from articulating just how they stand apart from others and from the competition in their respective fields. They know how they contribute uniquely and the value they bring to the table. In addition, they don’t wait to bring up concerns – they tackle challenges head on, speaking about them openly, with calm, poise and grace.
Successful people don’t hide from their problems. And they don’t perceive themselves as hapless victims. They stand up for themselves and others.
Putting off investing in themselves
I see this behavior over and over in those who feel thwarted and unsuccessful – they are incredibly reluctant to invest time, money and energy in themselves and their own growth. They are comfortable only when putting other people’s needs ahead of their own. They’ll make any excuse for why now is NOT the time to invest in themselves or commit to change. They feel guilt, shame and anxiety over claiming “I’m worth this.”
Successful people don’t wait – they spend money, time and effort on their own growth because they know without doubt it will pay off – for themselves and everyone around them.
Successful people don’t break themselves against what is or drown in the changing tides. They go with the flow. They embrace new trends or developments that align with their hearts, minds and spirits, and embrace them. They are flexible, fluid and nimble. They react to what’s in front of them, and improvise deftly. Those who are unsuccessful bemoan what is appearing before them, and stay stuck in the past or in what they “expected,” complaining about how life is not what it should be and why what is feels so wrong.
Honoring other people’s priorities over their own
Successful people know what matters most to them – their priorities, values, concerns, and their mission and purpose.
They don’t float aimlessly on a sea of possibility – they are masters of their own ship and know where they want to head, and make bold moves in the direction of their dreams.
To do this, they are very clear about their top priorities in life and work, and won’t be waylaid by the priorities and values of others. In short, they have very well-defined boundaries, and know where they end and others begin. They say “no” to endeavors and behaviors (and thinking) that will push them off track. They know what they want to create and the legacy they want to leave behind in this lifetime, and honor that each day.
That doesn’t mean that they’re selfish and think only of themselves. It means they know specifically how they want to use their talents and passions in the world and commit to living out their visions (and very often, these visions are about being of service to others).
Doubting themselves and their instincts
Those who doubt themselves, lack trust in their own gut or instincts, or second-guess themselves continually find themselves far from where they want to be. Successful individuals believe in themselves without fail. Sure, they acknowledge they have “power gaps” or blind spots, and areas that need deep development. But they forgive themselves for what they don’t know and the mistakes they’ve made, and accept themselves. They keep going with hope and optimism, knowing that the lessons from these missteps will serve them well in the future.
Searching for handouts and easy answers
I can often tell from the first contact I have with someone if they’ll be likely to succeed in their new ventures or careers, or not. How? By the nature of their expectations, and how they set out to fulfill them.
Here’s an example – if a complete stranger reaches out to me expecting free help without considering what she may offer in return, it’s a bad sign. Let’s say she asks something like this: “I’m launching my new business and wondered if you can give me some advice. I can’t pay you, but I hope you can help me anyway.”
From this one email, I know she’s not ready to make it happen in her own business. Why? Because successful people (and those destined to be) wouldn’t consider asking for help in this way.
Instead, they: 1) understand that they have something important and valuable to offer in any situation, 2) are willing and happy to share something helpful in return for what they want, and 3) if they can’t return the favor, they offer to pay it forward in meaningful ways to other individuals who are in need in the future. In short, they treat others exactly as they would hope to be treated.
Successful people are respectful, resourceful, curious, competent, tenacious, and they figure out how to get the help they need without asking for handouts. That doesn’t mean they don’t seek assistance when and where they need it , or make use of the many free resources available to them (like Score.org, etc.). It means that they don’t expect something for nothing. They recognize their own value. They treat others equitably and fairly and know they deserve the same.
Successful professionals realize that if they’re not willing to pay fairly for what they need in life and work (or treat others fairly and respectfully), then others won’t treat them fairly either (yes, it works like karma).
They also know that their success is directly proportionate to the effort they put in. Most of all, they understand there are no short cuts or easy answers on the road to a successful, rewarding life, and they embrace their growth journey as an adventure to be relished.