12 surprising traits of people who excel at life

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If you take a quick spin around the internet, you’ll find an endless supply of habits that highly successful people swear by.

But as it turns out, there’s more to the story.

Beyond the well-known routines and practices, there are a handful of lesser-known traits that set these high achievers apart.

The good news is, these traits are accessible to anyone willing to cultivate them.

So without further ado, let’s dive into 12 surprising traits of people who excel in life.

1) They’re Willing To Fail

You might be surprised to learn that the most successful people out there are often the ones who are the most willing to fail.

In fact, they may even actively seek out failure as a way to learn and grow.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait, why on earth would someone want to fail?”

But it’s actually pretty simple.

If you’re always succeeding, you’re not really pushing yourself to your limits or taking on new challenges.

And let’s face it, success is never guaranteed.

So, by embracing failure and seeing it as an opportunity to learn and improve, these high achievers are better prepared to handle whatever comes their way.

It’s a mindset that allows them to keep moving forward, even when things don’t go as planned.

As bestselling author Shane Snow writes in his book Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success:

“The research showed that experts—people who were masters at a trade—vastly preferred negative feedback to positive. It spurred the most improvement. That was because criticism is generally more actionable than compliments.”

In other words, even the best of the best recognize the value of receiving critical feedback, as it provides them with specific areas for improvement and helps them to continue growing and developing their skills.

So if you want to excel in your own field, it’s important to embrace criticism as a tool for improvement, rather than shying away from it.

2) Success Is Never A Necessary Metric For Them

When it comes to achieving success, many of us tend to measure our progress by the goals we’ve achieved and the targets we’ve hit.

However, truly successful people don’t place as much importance on these things as you might think.

Sure, they’ll acknowledge their accomplishments and strive to continue improving, but they don’t define themselves solely by their successes or live in fear of failure.

At first, I found this mindset a little perplexing. How could someone who achieves so much not care about success?

But as I’ve observed more and more high achievers, I’ve realized that success is simply a byproduct of their hard work and dedication. It’s not something they actively pursue.

Perhaps this is because success comes so naturally to them, or more likely, they understand that failure is just as valuable a teacher as success.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that their focus is not on achieving success for its own sake, but on continuing to grow and improve.

In fact, according to psychologist Carol Dweck, this is because people who excel in life tend to have a growth mindset, and people with a growth mindset see challenges as meaningful:

“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome . They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.” – Carol Dweck

3) Long Periods Of Doing Nothing

You might be surprised to learn that people who excel don’t spend all their time hustling and grinding towards their goals.

In fact, I’ve noticed that many high achievers make a point of doing absolutely nothing from time to time.

Now, this isn’t to say that they’re being lazy or slacking off. Rather, it’s a deliberate choice to take a break and recharge their batteries.

You see, success isn’t just about how much effort you put in or how prepared you are.

There are a lot of factors outside of your control that impact your success. 

This is why it’s important to recognize when it’s time to step back and take a breather.

People who excel understand that we aren’t designed to be in go-go mode all the time.

By taking time to rest and recharge, they’re actually setting themselves up for greater success in the long run.

So if you’re feeling burnt out or like you’re constantly pushing yourself to the brink, take a cue from these high achievers and give yourself permission to do nothing for a while.

4) Not Having A Plan

Pop culture has conditioned us to believe that successful people are either born with an innate talent or have everything planned out to the finest detail.

But the reality is much stranger than that. In fact, a big part of what makes people excel are the things they had no plan for.

Now, this doesn’t mean that they’re unprepared or lack foundational knowledge in their field of work.

Rather, it means that they’re willing to adapt to the situation at hand and do what needs to be done, even if it wasn’t part of some grand plan.

In other words:

They excel not because they’ve meticulously planned, but because they’re able to think on their feet and make the most of the opportunities that come their way.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to have it all figured out, take comfort in knowing that many successful people have no idea what they’re doing either.

The key is to stay open to new possibilities and be willing to adapt as needed.

5) Very Involved In An Unrelated Hobby

You’ve probably heard the stereotype of the “eccentric genius” – the idea that those who excel in their field are often quirky and unconventional.

And while there may be some truth to that, the reality is that many high achievers are simply really, really into a particular hobby.

When I’ve asked successful people about their hobbies, they’ve told me that it’s a way for them to reset their minds and shift their focus away from work.

One friend described it as a “mental palate cleanser” – a way to clear the mental clutter and come back to work with a fresh perspective.

What’s interesting is that their hobbies aren’t always related to their area of expertise. In fact, they may not even be particularly good at them.

But they pursue them with the same passion and dedication they bring to their work.

6) Somewhat Lazy

As the saying goes, “a lazy person will find a smart way to do a task they can’t avoid.”

And when it comes to people who excel, there’s definitely some truth to that.

You might be surprised to learn that these high achievers often have things they’re not very good at or simply refuse to do.

But rather than being a hindrance, their laziness can actually be an asset.

Unlike lazy people who put things off by procrastinating, successful individuals find a way to get things done without expending unnecessary effort.

And the results can be truly impressive.

When faced with a task they don’t want to do, they’ll often come up with creative solutions that allow them to work smarter, not harder.

It’s this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that sets them apart and helps them excel in their fields.

7) Absolutely Hates Micromanaging

I used to believe that being successful meant obsessing over every little detail and micromanaging everything.

But then I met some truly successful people and learned that sometimes, less is more.

High achievers don’t feel the need to micromanage every aspect of a task, even when they’re delegating it to someone else.

Instead, they trust in their own abilities and the abilities of those around them to get the job done.

By relinquishing control in this way, they’re able to focus on the bigger picture and make strategic decisions that move them closer to their goals.

And because they have confidence in their own abilities and those of their team, they’re less likely to make mistakes or run into unexpected obstacles.

So if you find yourself getting bogged down in the details or feeling like you need to micromanage every aspect of a project, take a cue from these successful individuals and learn to trust in yourself and your team.

Sometimes, stepping back and letting things unfold can be the key to achieving greater success in the long run.

8) Will Always Ask For Help

While competitiveness and success are often thought to go hand in hand, the truth is that true success is not a solo endeavor.

In fact, the most successful people are often the ones who ask for help when they need it and welcome any assistance that’s offered.

They understand that the best way to generate good ideas and achieve their goals is by collaborating and bouncing ideas off of others.

Even if they’re highly skilled in their area of expertise, they know that they can’t do it all alone.

That’s why these high achievers are always willing to ask for help when they need it, whether it’s from a colleague, mentor, or friend.

They recognize that their success is not just a reflection of their own abilities, but also the support and guidance they’ve received along the way.

By having the humility to recognize their own limitations and the willingness to ask for help, these successful individuals are able to achieve even greater heights of success than they could on their own.

9) Willing To Consider Bad Ideas

I once spoke with a successful person who told me that the reason they know so much about the right thing to do is because they have a lot of experience with the wrong things.

While it may not be the cleanest or most straightforward way of learning, this approach can yield powerful lessons that stick with you.

Truly successful people are always willing to consider bad ideas, even if it’s just to explore them further.

They don’t act recklessly, but they understand that taking calculated risks and thinking outside the box is often the key to finding innovative solutions.

By being open to ideas that may not be in line with the usual thinking, these high achievers are able to generate fresh perspectives and come up with more creative solutions to complex problems.

And because they’re not afraid to consider even bad ideas, they’re able to separate the truly innovative ones from those that aren’t as viable.

So if you want to excel in your own life and work, take a cue from these successful individuals and be willing to listen to all ideas, even if they initially seem like bad ones.

You never know where they might lead you.

10) Spacing Out

As someone who enjoys people-watching and paying close attention to my surroundings, I’ve always believed that being alert and aware is crucial for success.

But I’ve noticed that many high achievers have a surprising tendency to space out and miss things, which might seem counterintuitive at first.

However, I’ve come to realize that these moments of spacing out are actually crucial for their success.

By allowing their minds to wander and be open to almost anything, they’re able to avoid the mental blinders that people often put on when they’re focused on a task.

This state of openness and receptivity is what allows these high achievers to anticipate potential problems and come up with creative solutions to complex challenges.

By not being too narrowly focused on any one thing, they’re able to see the big picture and make connections that others might miss.

So the next time you find yourself spacing out or daydreaming, don’t be too hard on yourself.

It could be a sign that your brain is opening up to new ideas and possibilities, which could ultimately help you achieve greater success in your own life and work.

11) Collaboration Is More Important Than Credit

Successful people don’t seek attention or recognition for their achievements. In fact, many of them excel simply because that’s how they’ve always done things – no credit required.

But there’s one thing that these high achievers always insist on: working with others. Collaboration is key for those who excel, as it allows them to expand their network and learn new skills along the way.

I’m always struck by how insistent they are about the idea of working with others, even if it means not getting any credit or recognition for their contributions.

They understand that success is not a solo endeavor and that true greatness can only be achieved through collaboration and cooperation.

By working with others, these successful individuals are able to tap into new perspectives, challenge their assumptions, and come up with more creative solutions than they could on their own.

And because they’re not seeking personal recognition, they’re able to focus on the task at hand and achieve even greater results.

So if you’re looking to excel in your own life and work, take a page from these successful individuals and focus on collaboration rather than personal recognition.

You may be surprised by how much more you’re able to achieve when you work with others towards a common goal.

12) Defines Failure Differently

Excellence is a standard that everyone strives for, but it’s also a standard that is highly subjective and varies from person to person.

What I’ve noticed about people who truly excel is that they have their own unique definition of what success should look like – and that definition often becomes the benchmark against which others measure them.

At first, I used to think that these high achievers were working towards becoming the best in their field, only to realize that they were simply doing what they do because they can.

They have an innate drive to push themselves to be the best they can be, regardless of any external expectations or pressure.

And even if they do fail, these successful individuals don’t see it as a true failure.

Their self-defined standards of excellence are so high that even falling short of them is still an accomplishment in its own right.

So if you’re looking to achieve greatness in your own life and work, don’t get too caught up in external standards or definitions of success.

Instead, focus on defining your own personal standard of excellence and strive to achieve it every day, regardless of what others may think or expect of you.

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Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an entrepreneur and thought leader in personal development and digital media, with a foundation in education from The London School of Economics and The Australian National University. As the co-founder of Ideapod, The Vessel, and a director at Brown Brothers Media, Justin has spearheaded platforms that significantly contribute to personal and collective growth. His deep insights are shared on his YouTube channel, JustinBrownVids, offering a rich blend of guidance on living a meaningful and purposeful life.

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