5 Key Traits Super Successful People Share

What is it about the super successful that differentiates them from the rest of us? Without a doubt, luck and God-given talent play a big part, but surely there’s more to the equation than just that?

To get a better idea of exactly what that extra factor may be, I’ve talked to 4 people who have all excelled in their chosen fields, achieving amazing things that the rest of us can only dream of. These people are:

Jordan Canar – a professional bodybuilder, fitness model and elite trainer from England, who is already making waves in the fitness world despite his young age. Jordan is not his real name, as he asked that we keep him anonymous for reasons which will become evident later on.

Mark Pearson – a self-made multi-millionaire and award winning digital entrepreneur who built his company, MyVoucherCodes, singlehandedly, from nothing. Mark is also an angel investor for a number of fledgling start-ups and is passionate about incubating entrepreneurial talent in the UK.

Donna Chung – a Chinese/Australian clarinet player who has performed with a number of leading international orchestras, including the Berlin philharmonic.

Jason Wallien – a Zambian polyglot who has mastered 4 languages to native proficiency: Russian, English, Spanish and Chinese. He is currently developing a new language learning system that he says will be a radical departure from the way we usually learn languages in the West.

I interviewed the 4 experts hoping that it would give me an insight into what kind of habits, personalities and attitudes successful people have. While the experts held vastly different attitudes towards many of things we discussed, the following 5 traits were common to them all:

They Make Sacrifices

During our discussions, I saw a side to success that we don’t often see in Forbes articles and inspiring biographies: namely the huge sacrifices successful people make to pursue their goals. In the case of our experts, none of them live anything resembling a “normal” life, and their success has come at the cost of many things that most people value:

Jordan – Bodybuilder

“The biggest impact has definitely been on my social life. Before I started competing I was always out with my friends, meeting girls and partying. These days, I let myself go at most once every couple of months, and even then I feel really guilty about drinking too much. The worst thing is, I feel distant from my friends and often feel like I’m missing out on lots of stuff because I can’t join them for mad nights out.”

Jason – Polygot

“I feel that unless I really immerse myself in a language and a culture, I’ll never get to the level I want to be at. When my Mandarin reached a certain level, I knew that without moving to China and speaking it every day I would never improve.

I left behind a fantastic job, a flat I loved and almost blew my savings so that I could go and learn. I did similar things when learning (other languages), but back then I was younger, either a student or a recent grad, so I had far fewer responsibilities. The decision to move to China was definitely a hard one, and I sometimes do worry that by making such a rash decision at this point in my life, it may have hurt my future.”

Mark – Entrepreneur

“I actually trained as a chef when I was young, and even got the opportunity to work in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen, which definitely gave my career a big boost. I built upon that by starting a number of restaurants and gastropubs of my own, and while I was very proud of those successes, I wanted to move onto something more ambitious and more scalable. I pretty much gave up everything so I could concentrate solely on MyVoucherCodes (MVC). Putting MVC together, I didn’t leave my bedroom for years – I just put all my time and energy into building it from the ground up. It was undoubtedly a big risk, and a fairly scary time in my life, if I’m honest!”

They Never Stop Learning

Having achieved amazing feats in their chosen areas, the experts would have been forgiven for holding themselves in high regard, or perhaps even being a little arrogant.

However, all four were far more humble than I would have expected, and while they were all proud of what they had achieved, and confident in their abilities, their focus wasn’t on what they could do, but what they could improve upon.

Jordan – Bodybuilder

“I placed 2nd in my last competition, which was my first professional outing, so I’m insanely proud of that. However, the best thing about the competition is that it also helped me see where my weaknesses are. Besides a stricter diet and a more intelligent training regime, I feel that what will really help me next season will be my new gym. I was very much the big fish in a small pond in my old gym, but I’ve recently moved to a more specialist bodybuilding gym. It’s great, because everyone there is in incredible shape. Everywhere you look, you see someone you can learn from; a guy with a great chest, or a guy with brilliant delt definition. Surrounding myself with guys at the top of their game will help me get to the top of mine.”

 Donna – Musician

“I gave up a great place in an orchestra so that I could return to studying. As a musician, there can be no limit to your skills, you are never as good as your potential, so it is important that you continue developing as an artist. Only the most arrogant people think that they no longer need to learn and practise, and it is always those people that end up making mistakes in their careers and letting themselves down.”

Jason – Polyglot

“I think one trap which a lot of language learners fall into is getting ‘good enough’. You meet no end of people who have lived in, for example, America for 20 years, but can still only speak broken English. After a couple of years they get to a level where their English is passable, and so they stop improving. The thing about learning a foreign language is that you’ll never stop improving; you’ll never be perfect. You’re always going to mess things up, not understand certain words and almost certainly not know idioms.

Sure, I’m fluent in Russian, Spanish and Chinese, but what exactly does ‘fluent’ means? I’m still always going to continue reading in those languages and practising whenever I can because I’m still always going to make mistakes.”

They’re Not Afraid to Push Their Boundaries

Once you get good at something, it’s easy to spend all of your time concentrating on that one thing. After-all, success and achievement is addictive so it can be tempting to spend your time doing something you excel at, rather than try out something new and risk failure.

However, it’s very easy to get stuck in a self-congratulatory “feedback loop” by focusing on your strengths while neglecting your weaknesses. However, by pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, all 4 of the experts have managed to push themselves to achieve great things.

Donna – Musician

“From a very early age, I concentrated on classical music and classical playing, which means that although my technique is very good, I am lacking in certain skills such as improvisation. When I went back to studying, I decided that I would spend my extra time learning more about jazz and getting into that world. Playing with jazz musicians was very scary, especially considering that I had just come from playing for one of the world’s best orchestras, so I felt like I had this certain expectation to fulfil.

I’m so glad I put in the extra effort and threw myself into a kind of music that I feared, as I feel like it has not only added another skill to my playing, but it has made my playing more fluid and exciting too.”

Jordan – Bodybuilder

“I’m never in my comfort zone. Your body adapts to the stresses you put on it extremely quickly, so if you want to keep growing and keep getting bigger, you have no choice but to change up your training all the time. I make sure that instead of just going back to the same old exercises which I know, I always try and do new movements which work my muscles in different ways – whether that is a different kind of weight lifting manoeuvre or something completely different like yoga, which I’ve recently started getting into.

Once you start getting comfortable, you’ll never progress!”

Mark – Entrepreneur

“We’re constantly looking at ways to change how MVC works, and what it offers – both to consumers and to our partners.

The internet, and right now mobile commerce, is completely changing the way people buy stuff, and while it has given us an incredible opportunity, it also means that we need to stay ahead of the curve if we’re to take full advantage of those opportunities.”

They Hold Off Immediate Gains for Long Term Benefit

Thanks to an innate evolutionary hangover known as hyperbolic discounting, most people will take an immediate gain over waiting for a bigger one. For example, when offered $50 right now, or $100 in a year’s time, the vast majority of people will opt for the $50. However, the ability to hold out for the bigger pay-off is yet another trait which our experts shared.

Jason – Polyglot

“Becoming truly fluent in a language requires a very different approach to learning. The way most people learn a language, and the way we’re taught to learn languages at school, is by simply learning stock phrases and vocab, building upon both until they have a bank of words memorised so that they can reel them off, parrot-style, to communicate. Learning this way definitely has its benefits, as you can learn a lot and progress very quickly, but invariably you hit a wall, where your grammar and understanding of the actual language itself limits you.

Instead, I take the slow but steady route. I spend a long time building a strong foundation – learning grammatical rules, exhausting the different connotations of any word I learn and really making sure that I understand every aspect of what I learn. It means that while it takes weeks and months before I start making any practical headway, my learning is exponential, and once the foundation is in place I progress much faster than the people who learn the conventional way.”

Jordan – Bodybuilder

“I definitely train for the long game. People often ask me ‘how can I get huge as quickly as possible?’ and the only answer is steroids. I’m not morally opposed to taking steroids and have done in the past – the reason I don’t (take them) anymore is because of the health risks. By health risks I don’t mean the ‘you’re going to have a massive heart attack and your balls will drop off’ stuff spouted by people who don’t know what they’re talking about, but the effect steroids have on your tendons and ability to keep lifting. Steroids make your muscles grow at a rate much faster than your tendons can keep up with, which means that for a lot of bodybuilders, they end up injuring themselves when on a steroid cycle.

Over time these injuries add up, and are responsible for ending many a promising career. I want to lift for as long as possible, so my priority is growing at a rate I can control so I can keep lifting. This might mean that I have to work twice as hard for twice as long, and will never get as big as the Mr Olympia guys, but I will hopefully have a longer career as a men’s physique model.”

They Have a Unique Attitude towards Failure

Failure in any pursuit is almost inevitable, be it a disastrous gig for a rock band, a nasty tumble for a mountain biker or a pulled hamstring for a footballer. However, a person’s approach to failure can have more of an influence on their success than almost any other factor. For many, failure guts their confidence and motivation. However, in contrast, our experts all shared a more novel attitude towards the set-backs they’ve had in their careers.

Donna – Musician

“I wanted to give up music after my first auditions for conservatoires and music schools. I was always very good at playing at home, or in front of my teacher or family, but as soon as I had to play in front of people I couldn’t do it. I used to feel so sick in my stomach, turn completely red and forget everything.

I was so embarrassed and ashamed after failing to get into anywhere the first time round, but all my friends and music teachers rallied around me and we built up my confidence in front of people until I could play. Even to this day, after hundreds of performances I still feel so nervous and scared before big concerts and sometimes even think about quitting! I’m joking about quitting, but it’s definitely something I’ve had to beat to get here.”

Jordan – Bodybuilder

“When I first started getting into fitness, I injured myself really badly, completely ripping a hamstring due to a mixture of bad technique and too much ambition. I was at the gym for hours every day and my body just couldn’t cope with the stress I was putting it under.

The injury put me out of action for months, and I became quite depressed about it all, giving up my strict diet and just giving up on getting into shape. Even after my leg was fully healed, it still took me a couple of months to get myself together and give it another shot. I’m so glad I did, because otherwise I have no idea what I would be doing with myself.”


Despite working in vastly different areas, and achieving what they have through different means, it is very telling that these 5 traits have played a formative role in each of their lives and careers. As a complete blueprint for success, these 5 lessons may be lacking, but as life lessons for those who want to emulate the successes of our experts, they may just be invaluable.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Chee is a writer, entrepreneur and video game designer from Hong Kong. When he’s not up to his neck in video game code, he enjoys learning languages and cooking. Connect with him and learn more about his video games here.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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