What do world-class athletes, prolific artists, and business titans have in common? What traits are shared by Picasso and Jay Z, Mark Zuckerberg and Leonardo DaVinci, Serena Williams and Mozart? I've been reflecting on this a lot recently, becoming increasingly curious to discover the commonalities of the most successful people in history. What makes a Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bezos, or Dizzy Gillespie so darn good?
My first instinct when trying to answer this question was natural talent. But I quickly learned that the real answer supersedes birthright. Inherent ability certainly plays an important role, but that is actually a smaller factor than you may think. Many of the greats were not born savants, while many incredibly gifted people never make it to the top of their fields.
After hours of exploration and reflection, I discovered two common attributes that transcend industry, age, sex, era, craft, and background:
- They're Perennially Dissatisfied. A continuous feeling of incompletion plagues those who make history. No matter how incredible their previous or recent achievements may be, they have an insatiable appetite to do more, learn more, create more. While they may take a moment to celebrate a victory, they quickly shift their attention to their next level of greatness. A burning sense of urgency drives them to tackle the next challenge as if their life depends on it. They live in a perpetually unsettled state, feeling like they're behind even when the world doles out endless accolades. Haunted by a sense of incompletion, they are intrinsically driven to leave an increasingly bigger mark.
- They Own Outcomes. The desire for a better future and even a clear, bold vision is simply not enough. While important first steps, dreams only manifest if backed by relentless execution. Instinctively, you may think this just means you must work harder, but it isn't about just cranking the hours. The Steven Spielbergs and Peyton Mannings of the world never confuse effort with results. Instead, they take personal responsibility for delivering their desired outcomes. Embracing a whatever-it-takes attitude, they figure out how to conquer any obstacle, setback, or enemy. Also-rans blame others when falling short, playing victim to circumstance. Can you imagine Beethoven blaming his publicist or a stagehand for a poor performance? Knowing that 100% of the results are on their own shoulders, top achievers refuse to cede responsibility. They own it fully; ensuring rigorous execution follows their wildest dreams.
I truly believe that each of us is meant to achieve greatly. If you want to play at the highest levels, compare your current thinking with that of the history-makers and upgrade accordingly. Combine burning dissatisfaction with unwavering ownership and you've got a potent cocktail of success.
Bartender, make mine a double.