Suc­cess traits that drive us

The Covington News - - OPINION - JACKIE CUSH­MAN COLUM­NIST To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man, and read fea­tures by other Creators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www.

As par­ents of two mid­dle-school­ers (eighth grade and sixth), my hus­band and I spend time at­tempt­ing to help them de­velop char­ac­ter­is­tics that we be­lieve are use­ful and good.

Look­ing oth­ers in the eye when talk­ing, a firm hand­shake and the abil­ity to carry on a con­ver­sa­tion are just a few of th­ese skills. We en­cour­age them to work hard and do well in school. We put em­pha­sis on them work­ing hard and do­ing their best, rather than on the out­come or the grade it­self.

Like most par­ents, we want our chil­dren to be suc­cess­ful. A re­cent New York Times ar­ti­cle, “What Drives Suc­cess,” by two Yale Law School pro­fes­sors and the au­thors of the forth­com­ing book, “The Triple Pack­age: How Three Un­likely Traits Ex­plain the Rise and Fall of Cul­tural Groups in Amer­ica,” has given me pause. Are we help­ing them de­velop the traits that will lead to suc­cess?

Ac­cord­ing to Amy Chua and Jed Ruben­feld, three key traits drive suc­cess. While all Amer­i­cans might have equal op­por­tu­nity to be­come eco­nom­i­cally suc­cess­ful, the au­thors point out that the sta­tis­tics of group suc­cess (and fail­ure) pro­vide ev­i­dence that op­por­tu­nity does not neces- sar­ily trans­late into a given out­come.

“In­dian-Amer­i­cans earn al­most dou­ble the na­tional fig­ure (roughly $90,000 per year in me­dian house­hold in­come ver­sus $50,000). Ira­nian-, Le­banese- and Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans are also top-earn­ers. In the last 30 years, Mor­mons have be­come lead­ers of cor­po­rate Amer­ica, hold­ing top po­si­tions in many of Amer­ica’s most rec­og­niz­able com­pa­nies. Th­ese facts don’t make some groups ‘bet­ter’ than oth­ers, and ma­te­rial suc­cess can­not be equated with a well-lived life,” they wrote, “But will­ful blind­ness to facts is never a good pol­icy.”

“Jewish suc­cess is the most his­tor­i­cally fraught and the most broad-based. Al­though Jews make up only about 2 per­cent of the United States’ adult pop­u­la­tion, they ac­count for a third of the cur­rent Supreme Court; over twothirds of Tony Award-win- ning lyri­cists and com­posers; and about a third of Amer­i­can No­bel lau­re­ates,” they point out.

“It turns out that for all their diver­sity, the strik­ingly suc­cess­ful groups in Amer­ica to­day share three traits that, to­gether, pro­pel suc­cess. The first is a su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex — a deep-seated be­lief in their ex­cep­tion­al­ity. The sec­ond ap­pears to be the op­po­site — in­se­cu­rity, a feel­ing that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is im­pulse con­trol,” they con­clude.

The su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex pro­vides the be­lief that suc­cess is pos­si­ble, and in­se­cu­rity is the en­gine that drives the be­hav­ior to work harder than oth­ers. The com­bi­na­tion of the two is pow­er­ful. Im­pulse con­trol al­lows for con­tin­ued fo­cus on the end re­sult (whether com­ple­tion of a task, a project or achieve­ment of a goal) rather than be­ing dis­tracted into do­ing some­thing unim­por­tant.

The au­thors point out that th­ese traits not only drive suc­cess in in­di­vid­u­als and groups, but also in na­tions. “The United States it­self was born a Triple Pack­age na­tion, with an out­size be­lief in its own ex­cep­tion­al­ity, a goad­ing de­sire to prove it­self to aris­to­cratic Europe (Thomas Jef­fer­son sent a gi­ant moose car­cass to Paris to prove that Amer­ica’s an­i­mals were big­ger than Europe’s) and a Pu­ri­tan in­her­i­tance of im­pulse con­trol.”

It’s not only our her­itage as a na­tion, but our con­tin­ued be­lief in our ex­cep­tion­al­ism as a na­tion, that pro­pels us for­ward. Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion has its own form of in­se­cu­rity based on the ex­ter­nal threats from other na­tions.

The one trait that seems to be the most use­ful is the abil­ity to con­trol im­pulses. Im­pulse con­trol is a self-re­in­forc­ing mech­a­nism, if hard work is ac­tu­ally re­warded with a good out­come. It’s harder to ac­quire this trait if hard work is not re­warded, or if no work is re­warded.

If th­ese traits are im­por­tant to driv­ing suc­cess, how might they be in­stilled in more peo­ple? Is it pos­si­ble for mul­ti­ple groups to be­lieve that they are su­pe­rior to the oth­ers? In­stead of in­still­ing a sense of fair­ness and equal­ity, and en­sur­ing a con­fi­dent child, should we in­ten­tion­ally in­still a lit­tle doubt, to make sure that in­se­cu­rity drives them to work a lit­tle harder?

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