Imagine a successful person. Do you see someone bold, risk-taking, and confident? If so, you're probably not alone. These are the stereotypical characteristics of worldly success we learn from hard-charging movie heroes and media reports of swashbuckling super entrepreneurs.
But after a moment's reflection, we all know that the real world doesn't often resemble the movies. And what it actually takes to get ahead in life often looks less like the polished, ever confident personas those at the top tend to present to the world.
So what skills actually make the difference between failing to meet your goals for your life and truly thriving? A curious user of question-and-answer site Quora recently spurred a great discussion of this issue by asking "What is the single most underrated trait a person can have?" Respondents offered a host of wise answers that suggested some of the most essential skills for life are those that are celebrated the least, such as:
"I recently started my first company," founder and writer Nicholas Cole says in his Quora answer. "Already in just a few months I am seeing all the things I spent years reading about, firsthand. And all the standard startup stuff applies. Things like, 'Don't overspend. Reinvest in your company. Only focus on the things that will move the needle.' Blah blah."
He concludes: "I'll tell you the one thing more books need to talk about: compassion--the ability to really hear and understand what each person needs, wants, and is motivated by at any given moment."
Plenty of other great leaders agree that the ability to truly listen and empathize is one of the most undersung skills for success. "When employees feel listened to, they are less likely to feel emotionally exhausted and less likely to quit their job. They are also more likely to trust -- and like -- their bosses, and feel committed to them," Yale business professor Marissa King reported recently in the WSJ, for instance.
2. Comfort with vulnerability
"The secret killer of innovation is shame," management consultant Peter Sheehan has said. "You can't measure it, but it is there. Every time someone holds back on a new idea, fails to give their manager much needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure shame played a part."
Standup comic William Beteet agrees. "I attribute most of my success in life to my ability to withstand soul crushing shame. What most self-help gurus leave out is that getting good at anything is an embarrassing journey, filled with folly and sadness," he writes. Get good at handling embarrassment and expressing vulnerability and you'll be able to endure more bumps and stumbles and go further in life.
3. Selective focus
Yes, going after your dreams like a honey badger will help you get ahead in life. We all know that. But another aspect of focus is less well celebrated, according to entrepreneur Dylan Woon: the ability to ignore things.
This can take the form of saying no to distractions, but it can also mean letting minor problems or annoyances roll off your back. You'll do better in life, Woon says, if "you can walk away from a petty argument and let them win. You can disregard topics which don't affect your quality of life. You can ignore the noise and focus on the signals instead. Cultivate selective ignorance."
4. The ability to change your mind
Everyone knows that lifelong learning is a great way to boost your chances of success, but not everyone necessarily accepts an essential corollary of this truth -- getting anything valuable out of all that study and reflection means you'll need to admit when you're wrong, a lot. The quicker you accept errors and change your views, the faster you'll learn.
"When facts intrude, people's self-confidence is rattled and they become even more hell-bent on sticking to their opinions," notes Stanford graduate student Sriraman Madhavan on Quora. "The ability to break out of those shackles to accept a change of opinion without letting ego get in the way is highly underrated."
We celebrate the hustler, who pushes and pushes and won't take no for an answer. Sometimes this is an awesome approach, but sometimes what you really need is the wisdom to know when to let events develop at their own pace, insists sales development manager Brendon Lemon in his response.
"We live in a world that's GO! GO! GO! GO! GO! and it values immediacy over anything else," he notes. "Patience is underrated. Patience doesn't mean 'doing nothing.' It doesn't really even mean 'waiting.' There's a simple and powerful definition of patience I love: Patience is the ability to endure."
Sadly, almost all of us are going to need the ability to endure setbacks if we want to accomplish great things. "Change, progress, success probably won't come from one action," Lemon concludes. "It probably won't come from a dozen actions, or even dozens of actions, or hundreds, maybe. It will come, but you have to be patient. You will have to endure the pain of not succeeding long before you succeed."
What other undersung success qualities would you add to this list?