Paths to success

“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.”

So say Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld in an opinion piece in the New York Times. In a take that’s not surprising for Amy Chua, success is defined largely as financial success, decorated with other external signs of achievement: the authors note all those Jewish Nobel laureates and Mormon CEOs.

Further down, they note — in kind of a surprise move for Chua — that Asian-Amerian students have the lowest self-esteem of any group. The authors even quote Amy Tan describing her inability to please her parents as “a horrible feeling.”

In the end, despite messages to the contrary proclaiming that you can have it all, you will inevitably make compromises in life: current happiness at the expense of later financial security, current education at the expense of more time with family, etc.

Finding the priorities that are right for you is no simple matter, but it’s worth thinking broadly about what success means to you. What is your big win? A fat salary? Recognition in your field? Following your bliss? Security? It’s a lot easier to succeed when you know what you’re trying to succeed at.