Michael Sterling

Two Elusive Traits for Success


What makes someone successful? In a sense, success is a puzzle we all must assemble. Piece-by-piece we put together the elements necessary for professional success.


If you’ve ever put together a puzzle, you know it’s essential to create the framework first. Once the framework, or foundation, is in place it’s easier to fill in the pieces necessary to complete the picture.


For professional success, the foundation is built with ‘Three E’s: education, experience and exposure. Education takes many forms – formal and informal. It begins at home and continues through high school, college and, for many individuals, through graduate studies. Education and learning should be on-going. We layer education with experience – the opportunity to use what we’ve learned in real-world, hands-on situations. Our exposure to various types of experiences, as well as people and places adds depth of knowledge. The more exposure we have, the more we grow and the more we are able to offer.


Throughout this process, we develop soft skills. Skills such as leadership, communication, and resilience are as important, or more important, as our technical knowledge. In my work as a career coach and recruiter for public accountants, I’ve outlined the Six Soft Skills Every Public Accountant Needs.


Two Elusive Traits for Success


While the Three E’s are keys to success – they are not a guarantee. There are two elusive traits for success – which just can’t be taught. Without these pieces, there are gaps in the puzzle.


Caring. You must truly care about your work. No one is triumphant thanks to apathy. Do you love what you do? Does the product or the result make a difference to you? If your heart is in your job, you strive to do your very best every day. Details matter. You aim to learn and grow daily. Colleagues and clients are important to you. If you don’t care, the impact is felt and seen by everyone around you – internally and externally.


Work Ethic. Quite simply a work ethic is a set of moral principals which govern your professional conduct. A strong work ethic means you are responsible, accountable and act with integrity. You demonstrate a passion for quality, show a high-level of discipline and have the ability to self-assess and self-correct as necessary. You see the big picture and are dedicated to the good of the whole and not just yourself.


During my years as a career coach, I’ve found these two traits simply can’t be taught. It’s up to each individual whether they embrace and offer these qualities. Like the old adage says – you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink. The best mentors and coaches can show the way and model the methods – but ultimately every person must own their success. No one is going to hand it to you.


If you don’t feel success is within reach, it’s time for a change.


As always, I welcome your comments. Connect with me on LinkedIn.


Interested in more career nutrition? Check out the Career Wellness section of the SterlingFreeman website. 


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