Take a look around. It’s easy to find someone — if you’re like me, to find plenty of someones — who seem more accomplished. If they’re entrepreneurs, maybe they have more employees. More locations. More prestigious customers. More funding.
Or in broader terms, more talented. More skilled.
Or just more successful, whether professionally or personally.
But that may not be the case. Depending on your definition of success — because everyone’s definition of success should be different — what appear to be red flags are actually signs you’re more successful than you imagine.
1. You only have one or two close friends.
For one thing, close friendship are increasingly rare. Twenty-one percent of millennial respondents to a 2019 survey reported they had zero friends.
The 2021 American Perspectives Survey found that Americans report having fewer close friendships than they once did, talking to friends less often and relying less on friends for personal support. (If you’re wondering, the average person’s number of “close” friends is 2.08.)
But then there’s this: A study of 300,000 people found that having a few close friends led to a 50 percent better chance of survival than those with weaker ties.
So while you might want to have more friends, what matters is the quality of your friendships, not the quantity. Like what I think of as “3 a.m. friends” People who, if you call them at 3 in the morning because you need help, will come, no questions asked.
The key is to have two or maybe three really, really good friends… and then, of course, plenty of people who aren’t necessarily friends but are fun to be around. Or share common interests. Or create a mutually beneficial relationship
You don’t have to be less friendly. But if you nurture the most important relationships in your life, you’re successful.
2. You tend to think you’re wrong.
We all know people who take a position, and then proclaim and bluster and pontificate while totally disregarding differing opinions or points of view. They know they’re right, and want you to know they’re right.
Their behavior isn’t an indication of intelligence, though. It’s the classic sign of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a type of cognitive bias in which people believe they’re smarter and more skilled than they actually are. Combine a lack of self-awareness with low cognitive ability and boom: You overestimate your own intelligence and competence.
As Dunning, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, says, “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. The skills you need to produce the right answer are the very same skills you need to recognize the right answer.”
Or as my grandfather said, “The dumber you are, the more you think you know.”
But there’s a flip side: People with high ability tend to underestimate how good they are. They underrate their relative competence, and at the same time assume that tasks that are easy for them are just as easy for other people.
Don’t think you have all the answers? Don’t automatically assume you’re right? More likely to say, “I think…” rather than “I know…”?
That likely means you’re smarter, and more accomplished, than you think.
Because wisdom — and success — comes from realizing that while you might know a lot, there’s still a lot you don’t know.
3. You don’t feel “rich.”
Money matters. But not, where feeling successful and happy is concerned, not nearly as much as you might think.
As a 2009 study published in Journal of Positive Psychology found, affluence is a weak predictor of happiness. And according to this famous 2010 Princeton study:
Beyond $75,000 … higher income is neither the road to experience happiness nor the road to relief of unhappiness or stress.
Perhaps $75,000 is the threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.
The $75,000 target is a little like the 10,000 hours to mastery rule; accurate in the aggregate, maybe, but not so much in the specific. Your number may be $100,000. Or it may be $35,000.
Instead of defining success by a finish line — a number, a metric, a certain house or certain car or certain public profile — define success by whether you get to do work you enjoy. Work that leaves you feeling fulfilled, and satisfied, and happy. Work that allows you to control, as best possible, your own destiny.
And then by whether you have the opportunity, at least occasionally, to make positive choices. To spend a portion of your income on things that you want to do. Investing. Recreation. Supporting a cause. On whatever makes you feel more fulfilled and happy.
If you can do that, you’re successful. Having even more money will only change the degree of your success — not its fundamental nature.