“We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us.” ~Marcel Proust
1.) They have a vision:
“But by my love and hope I entreat you; do not reject the hero in your soul. Keep holy your highest hope.” ~Nietzsche
The high achiever inside you is the hero trying to climb out. Your soul holds the compass for your heart. Let it guide you. Its vision is True North. It will direct you toward the right path. It’s like a tuning fork of sorts: redirecting, reorienting, self-correcting. The path is twisted not linear, but that’s okay. That’s the way of it.
High achievers have always discovered a path of their own. Even while others are telling them they are on the wrong path, they stick to their own. Because it is deeper than merely walking a path. It’s pursuing a dream. It’s seeking adventure. It’s heeding the call to the Hero’s Journey. It’s the full realization—balls to bones, ovaries to marrow—that life is only worth living when one has a purpose, when one has discovered a meaning that drives them toward greatness.
They further realize that this greatness can only flower from their uniqueness. Real power is emboldened uniqueness. Everything else is moonshine. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. They focus on what makes them unique, what makes them come alive. They split the smoke. They shatter the mirrors. They let their authenticity boldly blast through it all.
2.) They take responsibility for both their successes and their failures:
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ~George Bernard Shaw
Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes it’s more up than down. Sometimes it’s more down than up. Either way, it’s a veritable rollercoaster ride out there. Better to be prepared for the worst than to expect the best. Best to take responsibility for both the power of being up and the pain of being down.
Setbacks, tragedy, bad luck, they’re all a part of life. It’s going to happen, a lot. Ultimately it comes down to how you respond to tragedy. Is it cry, cry, cry? Or is it laugh, laugh, laugh? Is it adapt and overcome? Or is it remain inert and overwhelmed? Similarly, it comes down to how well you respond to triumph. Is it me, me, me? Or is it we, we, we? Is it hubris and power? Or is it prestige and empowerment?
High achievers find a way to both outshine the darkness and see through the blinding light.
They mine diamonds in the roughest rough. They break “Elder Wands” and toss them into the abyss. They transform the millstone of life into a whetstone that they sharpen themselves against. They expiate their power. They use the setbacks in life—the slings and arrows, the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations—to make themselves stronger, more resilient, more robust, and even antifragile despite the fragile culture they were raised in. They transform pride into prestige.
3.) They practice self-discipline and self-development:
“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” ~Frank Outlaw
The high achiever inside you is craving discipline. It yearns for it with a primal thirst. Honor it. Give it direction. Self-preservation is overrated. Gift it the process of self-development instead. Gift it the means to cultivate a catalyzing character. As Heraclitus said, “Character is destiny.”
Pain should not be avoided at the expense of self-improvement. Self-improvement should be embraced at the risk of pain. High achievers understand this.
They realize that too much self-preservation is just as much a trap as safety, security, and comfort. While most people merely preserve the self through the same boring routine, high achievers improve the self by having the discipline to break away from routine and reroute it into a new routine, again and again.
They go from merely surviving to vitally thriving. They reroute routine. They un-habit old habits and then re-habit with healthier habits. One must self-improve to get ahead of comfort and routine. Getting out of survival mode and stepping into thrive mode is a way for high achievers to do precisely that.
Exploring the unknown requires the ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome. High achievers are adept at adaptation, impresarios at improvisation, and self-overcomers par excellence. They understand that there is more meaning in a spoonful of hard-earned self-improvement than in an ocean-full of self-preservation.
4.) They read a lot:
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” ~Plutarch
Books are kindling for your mind’s fire. Let it burn. Burn through history. Burn through the arts. Burn through philosophy. Turn it all into a nest of ashes, where the Phoenix of your self-overcoming can forever rise, forever fall, forever burn.
Knowledge is not meant to be memorized and regurgitated. It is meant to be assimilated, reimagined, and transcended. It’s meant to be taken into deep consideration and then discarded on the funeral pyre of muscle memory. The knowledge which does not die inside you can never truly come to life, it lives only to kill your progress, stagnate your creativity, and close your mind in a prison of pretend truth. Let it die so that it may be reborn into higher learning.
High achievers understand the vital importance of not remaining in the master’s shadow. They seek the shoulders of giants, but they never settle, they never plant themselves, they never cut themselves off from the shoulders of other giants.
Don’t underestimate the power of reading. Books are magic elixir gleaned between worlds. Cherish them. Read them, absorb them, take them into deep consideration, pummel them with the power of No-mind. But then move on with your Zen.
For you must create your own momentum. Don’t be afraid of becoming an autodidact. Read a lot. Connect the dots. Seek the shoulders of giants—not just to learn, but to see further than they did. Seek help, expertise, guidance, and wisdom from others, but then you must take responsibility for your own improvement. Stay curious. Be Curiosity.
5.) They take risks:
“You want to get your fear behind you where it’s pushing you forward instead of in front of you where it’s stopping you.” ~Jordan Peterson
Fear is fuel for the fire of high achievement. Fear is motivation. Fear is providential impetus. As Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Risk-taking implies fear, but risk-takers strategically ally fear with fearlessness. They take risks because it is dangerous. They take a chance because it is difficult. As Spinoza said, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” Likewise, all high achievers are as excellent as they are rare, and so they dive headlong into difficulty. They relish the challenge. They honor the danger. They realize the high probability of failure. But then they do it anyway.
As Jonathan Lear said, “To be human is necessarily to be a vulnerable risk-taker; to be a courageous human is to be good at it.”
High achievers choose adventure over comfort and embrace failure as a conduit to creativity. They tap into that juicy spot between chaos and order, between courage and comfort, between adventure and banality. So that entropy doesn’t erode their potential for living life well. So that they don’t fall into the trap of the “unexamined life” that Socrates warned us all about.
The high achiever inside you is begging you to take more risks. For the most dangerous risk of all is not taking any risks. Transform fear into fuel for fearlessness instead. Be a strategic risk-taker. Sacrifice a little comfort, security, and familiarity for a little discomfort, insecurity, and otherworldliness.
6.) They persevere:
“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Setbacks are steppingstones. Deep wounds are just procrastinating sacred wounds. Failure is future fortitude. Millstones are just whetstones that high achievers sharpen themselves upon to discover the Philosopher’s Stone.
The fire of life will eventually consume us all. High achievers don’t balk at this mortal prospect. They walk into the fire instead. They join forces with that which burns. Because they understand that they are fire. They realize that they must become the fire if they are to burn bright.
Non-achievers are the moths circling the fire, desperate, clingy, aimless, codependent. They fear, and their fear controls them. High achievers, on the other hand, are the fire itself, detached, flexible, purpose-driven, independent. They fear as well, but their fear is fuel for their passion.
Human flourishing, Eudaimonia, doesn’t just happen. It takes work. It takes transformation. It takes perseverance. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. Before you can get better at anything you have to suck at it first. You must be willing to be the fool before you can withstand being the master.
Through perseverance the “unlived life within” becomes self-actualized, despite resistance. The obstacle becomes the path. The journey becomes the thing. ‘Now’ becomes a tug-o-war rope between the fool and the master. Perseverance is simply pulling yourself toward that future. Hold on tight.
7.) They do what they love:
“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet.” ~Tom Robbins
You are a time traveler: The future is your art; your art is the future. Fall in love with it. Fall as fast and as hard as you can. Art is not about using love to avoid pain; it’s about creating love out of pain.
Life is too short not to spread your wings and fly straight into your passion, whatever that is. Figure out what you love and then let it “kill” you. Dive headlong into it, despite the naysayers. Do it with unmitigated moxie and unshakable aplomb. Just be strategic. Be artistic. Make it your magnum opus. And if you’re having trouble finding what you love, do as Rumi suggested: “There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.”
Somewhere within the silence, between the clatter of society and the chatter in your head, is a voice full of wisdom. It knows what you love. It knows what makes you tick. It knows what draws you upward, what makes you uniquely you, what makes you come alive. Heed that voice. Feel it in your bones. Let its thunder rise from root to crown. Then get out there and do something about it.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (7 Habits of High Achievers) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.