By Jeff Haden—Inc. 3 minute Read
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, they’re more talented. More skilled.
Or just more successful, whether professionally or personally.
But that may not actually be the case. Depending on your definition of success—because everyone’s definition of success should be different—what might appear to be red flags can actually be signs you’re more successful than you imagine.
Here are a few examples.
1. You have only 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. Plus, 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 just having a few close friends leads to a 50% better chance of survival than not.
So while you might want to have more friends, what matters is the quality of your friendships, not the quantity. It’s 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 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
2. You tend to think you’re wrong
We all know people who take a position . . . and then proclaim, 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 a 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? Are 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.
And there’s still a lot you want to find out.
3. You don’t feel rich
Money matters. But where feeling successful and happy is concerned, money doesn’t matter nearly as much as you might think.
As a 2009 study published in the 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 for 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, satisfied, and happy. Work that allows you to control, as much as 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 . . . 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 happiness and fulfillment.
Not its fundamental nature.
This article was originally published on Inc., and is reprinted here with permission.
Jeff Haden is a keynote speaker, ghostwriter, LinkedIn Influencer, contributing editor to Inc., and the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.