Want to be Extremely, Wildly, Radically Successful?

October 24, 2013 /LinkedIn/ – Whichever adjective you select for the success you’re seeking – extreme, wild, radical – is it really possible that a few tweaks could be all you need to reach these new heights?

Last week I read a popular LinkedIn post in which the author, Alex Banayan, promised to disclose “The 5 Traits of Wildly Successful People”. This sounded like a bargain: just 5 steps to wild success. With such straightforward tips – be persistent, ignore convention, be a problem-solver, cut back on sleep, build good relationships – taking life to the next level sounded downright easy.

Indeed, countless blog posts list success-ensuring traits, the kinds of virtues or habits everyone should cultivate. Some recipes for success include as few as five ingredients, as did Mr. Banayan’s, or as many as 50. (See the list at the end of this post if you need a “quick success” reading list.).

But here’s the thing: Fun as it may be to peruse these lists, simply reading through grab bags of traits and attitudes won’t ensure success in work and life. The very reason success is elusive is that it still requires a lot of hard and often tedious work. Not just daily work at the office, but the constant work of making ourselves into more effective, more adaptable, more thoughtful people. That’s what it means to build character. No secrets here. Just hours, days, months, and years of persistence in doing what matters most, honoring commitments, and working well with others.

For over twenty years, I worked closely with Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” – one of the best-selling business books of all time, with 15 million copies sold in 38 languages. Many of today’s list-like blog headlines are derivative of his famous title and insightful suggestions for building a principle-centered life.

Stephen – who passed away last year – might have been distressed at how his approach to building habits for successful living has morphed into a cottage industry of those peddling lists of secrets to wild financial windfalls and potent influence.

Stephen was not about these ‘ends.’ Instead, he was about being mindful of the person you become on the way there. He celebrated the idea of finding one’s “true north,” the guiding set of ethics and habits through which people develop character. He liked to quote Aristotle on the subject: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act – but a habit.”

Covey wasn’t talking low-level habits like brushing your teeth, washing the dishes or showing up early for meetings. His “habits” were ones of character – the kind that take time and repetition to build. Some were about thinking, some were about doing, some were about treating others with respect – but they were all about building character, about doing the right things over and over until they become ingrained — what Aristotle called the “stable equilibrium of the soul.”

Aristotle’s notion – the one Covey also espoused – is a profound one. Success in life is rooted in aligning our actions with our values, until our choices flow naturally, and without calculation, from our character. Like everything else worth doing, this is a matter of consistent, determined practice – as unromantic, familiar, and headline-unfriendly a secret as that may be.

So, nothing against lists, and nothing against anything that can inspire or help you become more successful. But, in my experience, there are no shortcuts to success.

By Joel Peterson