Let me start off by saying that all humans are dysfunctional in some way. Even people we think of as being the elitist of the elite have character defects. The good news is that we can all change and improve and make our lives work. We can all be successful…AND good people at the same time.
In this post, I want to share with you the key points of the book Integrity: the Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud. I boiled down some of the essentials so we can digest these lessons and pass them on to our kids.
1. Successful People Are Trusted
How do you build trust? Three ways: via connecting with others, by extending favor, and by being vulnerable. Dr. Cloud writes:
The human heart will seek to be known, understood and connected with above all else. If you do not connect, the ones you care about will find someone who will.
Trust-building connection occurs when we listen intently and make an effort to understand another person’s experience. We must put aside our own opinions and judgments and take in what’s true for the other person. Then—do not invalidate everything you heard by saying, “Everything will be fine,” or “You don’t have to worry about that”—instead, what you say back is what you heard, what you believe is true of their experience. Only after the other person acknowledges you’ve heard them correctly may you give your two cents.
The next element of trust, extending favor, refers to how we normally think about trust. That you will do right by other people. That they don’t need to watch their back when dealing with you. That you will protect their interests as well as your own. This makes you someone people want to be around and work with, and whom people are happy recommending to others.
Building trust by being vulnerable means that you are willing to share parts of yourself that are less than perfect in order to help others relate to you. This doesn’t mean that you try to keep yourself down or to remain “less than.” It just means that you don’t go to great lengths to hide the chinks in your armor when you talk to other people. You don’t talk to other moms about life and only share the nifty, tidy, perfect stuff and hide anything that might expose you as being human. If you pretend you are all-knowing and all-powerful, other people cannot relate to you and therefore will not trust you. Being vulnerable means being honest about what it’s like to be a human being, with highs and lows, with talents and flaws.
2. Successful People Pursue the Truth and Reality Relentlessly
We all delude ourselves at times so we can feel better or to escape unpleasant consequences. Successful people are keenly aware that it’s much easier to face reality (and the consequences) than to keep ducking what’s true. This focus on reality helps all facets of life run smoother, from relationships to finances.
Dr. Cloud writes:
“So, for us to get real results in the real world, we must be in touch with what is, not what we wish things were or think things should be or are led by others to believe they are. The only thing that’s going to be real in the end is what is. That is where profits are going to be made, and that is where love is going to be found.”
Successful people don’t assume that reality is obvious or that they know what it is automatically. They dig deeper. They seek the truth almost obsessively. They know that what they see on the surface is only what’s in the spotlight. They do the work: they move the spotlight around in order to better see the truth.
Successful people aren’t afraid of seeing their own faults, or the faults of loved ones. They aren’t afraid of challenging their views or the views of others. They aren’t afraid they will uncover something in life that they can’t deal with. They aren’t afraid to find out that they could be wrong or out of touch. Despite scary consequences, they seek to know what’s real.
When successful people uncover an unpleasant reality, they operate from a space of rational thought, despite what strong negative emotions might come up. They deal with reality calmly, regardless of how they feel about it.
3. Successful People Get Results
Well, of course successful people get results, or they wouldn’t be successful. The secret is in why and how they get results. First of all, know yourself; have an identity. Know your likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and values quite definitively, with no trace of ambivalence. I might add here that fully accepting your child for who he or she is—warts and all—will help them achieve knowledge of and acceptance of their identity.
Using this self-knowledge, successful people spend their time and energy in areas where they are talented and can fully engage their attention. They have aim, goals, a purpose—and are willing to make tough calls when necessary in order to achieve what they want, even when it won’t please everyone. They also don’t give up when they hit obstacles; they have the drive and perseverance to do what it takes to get the job done.
When successful people lose or fail, they know when to cut their losses and move on. They also can perform a clear-headed postgame analysis to see what went wrong and how they can improve on their performance the next time. They even learn to let go of what is working if there is a better avenue; they don’t just coast the easy route.
4. Successful People Eat Problems for Breakfast
Nothing good will happen unless you can embrace the fact that bad things will happen. And when those bad things happen, successful people are equipped to face them head on and work hard to resolve them, even if it means suffering embarrassment or taking steps backwards before moving in the right direction.
Successful people are able to separate themselves from results. This means that no matter what the outcome of an effort, they maintain a stable sense of self. In the face of failure, they focus on the actual problem and how to fix it, rather than letting the issue affect their feelings about themselves.
Dr. Cloud writes:
“The cure is always to find acceptance and love in one’s weakness and failure, and therefore discover that you are not what you do, but who you are. When we are loved for who we are, not for what we do, then we have a character based on being and not doing…When people are accepted in their failures and find that their imperfect selves are loveable, they are free to own their imperfections and improve. That is why correction that is done lovingly leads to healthier people than shame-based or critical, angry correction. The focus is on the behavior and not the person.”
Successful people also take full ownership of mistakes and failures. They hold themselves fully responsible, and they do not make excuses or point fingers. Even though it’s human nature, successful people don’t care about who is at fault; they care about taking control and solving problems.
Successful people are good at confronting others in a productive, helpful and kind fashion. Post-confrontation, they are quick to forgive others and to let the bad stuff go. They also trust their gut in order to avoid getting involved in the wrong situations or with the wrong people. They sidestep trouble by shunning scenarios that don’t feel right or that stir resentment.
5. Successful People Strive for Constant Improvement and Growth
Successful people willingly invest themselves in the growth process; they have a drive towards increasing experiences, skills and knowledge. Dr. Cloud writes that kids who are encouraged to pursue their talent (not the talent their parents want them to have, but their actual talent) and are afforded the experiences to grow that talent are better able to stimulate and channel their talents throughout their lifetime.
Dr. Could writes:
“For someone’s character to grow, it has to be free from internal attack…But if every time they think of trying new things, they get a negative message from inside, then that aspect of themselves remains unintegrated. Growth is stifled when there is internal attack and fear. Compare that to the little kid who knows no fear other than the actual consequence of falling down. Falling down never stopped children from developing. But getting yelled at, criticized, and put down can stop them for life.”
Successful people are not afraid to take risks, but they do it smartly, in increments. They know that they can handle failure, so they aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and make efforts in areas where they are not guaranteed success. In order to grow, they attempt things that they don’t know how to do or are initially unable to do. They put themselves in unfamiliar territory so they can learn how to deliver in new scenarios.
Successful people are also open to new ideas, energy, people, and input. They don’t stagnate in a closed feedback loop; instead, they join up with outside forces who push them to grow. They enlist a coach, join a group, get a counselor, take a course, or locate a community that will motivate them to greater heights. They are willing to spend time and money to become “more.” They also accept that when you invest in yourself, some people will get mad at you. Successful people have the courage to live with that reality. They also know that teaching and sharing helps them grow, and they invest in the growth of others.
Successful people are able to congratulate themselves for their successes. They are happy with where they are today. But they don’t rest on their laurels. They keep striving for the next victory.
6. Successful People Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Successful people don’t feel they are special. They don’t overestimate their talent or importance. They aren’t selfish or self-centered.
Dr. Cloud writes:
“She realizes that there are things much bigger than her, and that her existence is really not just about her and her interests, but ultimately about the things larger than she is. Her life is about fitting into those things, joining them, serving them, obeying them, and finding her role in the big picture. Then, as a result, she ultimately becomes a part of them and finds meaning much larger than a life that is just about her. Life is about things that transcend her.”
The greatest people are the ones who have not sought greatness, but served greatly the causes, values, and missions that were much bigger than them. And by joining and serving those, we see greatness emerge.
Successful people have a higher consciousness that allows them to live in ways that go beyond just wanting to feel good personally, and instead to work towards the greater good. They live a deeper life by giving time and effort to others, even when they think no one is watching.
In order to take in these 6 traits and to teach them to our kids, we must first acknowledge that we ourselves have gaps in some of these areas that we need to work on. That’s in the nature of a successful person: having the courage to face a negative truth, and doing the work to solve the problem. And of course investing in the growth of others by sharing what we’ve learned with our kids is another hallmark of success.
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