The question of what allows a person to be successful is a question that has been asked of many people, who have sought the answer that would allow them a long, prosperous life. The answer is rarely simple, since what defines success is difficult to measure. Whether one talks about financial success or popularity or perhaps some other goal they seek to achieve, how one would be able to attain this goal would probably be the underlying definition of what it means to be successful. What creates a successful person? Their innate personality or their environment? To answer that question, one has to look at another old question, often asked in psychology:
Nature or nurture?
Psychology has often debated this question in a person’s development, in terms of seeing how a person becomes the way they are. The approach that many psychologists have taken is that rather than nature versus nurture, that nature and nurture should be looked at as a unified whole that causes a person to become who they are and how they are. In “A Unified Theory of Development” by Arnold Sameroff, it is written that “Researchers need to be aware that they are examining only a part of a larger whole consisting of multiple interacting systems.” Rather than looking at successful people as being who they are because of their personality or their experience and environment, one should look at the development of that person in terms of both factors, taking into account that one’s personality can influence one’s environment and vice versa. Being taught how to be successful is a major part of development. John Broadus Watson, an American psychologist who established the psychological school of behaviorism, had once said that he can be able to train a baby randomly chosen to become any type of specialist Watson wants. This was meant to express the importance of the the environmental influence on a person’s development. So one factor to keep in mind is that experience and education do play a role in success. But it doesn’t end there, not by a long shot.
In terms of traits, many people and organizations have tried to define the common traits that would allow a person to be successful. They mention traits such as determination, optimism, organization, often in phrases that sound similar to those used in seminars that are meant to encourage people to succeed: “Set goals that one can accomplish”, “Never give up”, “Be the change you want to be”. Leadership and creativity are also popular choices in trying to define personality traits for success. People have even tried to define leadership through various subsets of traits. In a study by Shelley A. Kirkpatrick and Edwin A. Locke called “Leadership: do traits matter?” it is said:
Six traits on which leaders differ from non-leaders include: drive, the desire to lead, honesty/integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and knowledge of the business.
Can a person generalize success to be defined as being caused by a series of traits that guarantee this success? One has to consider the possibility that success in different fields cannot be generalized so easily; what constitutes success in the world of economics may not be the same for the field of entertainment or sports.
J. Barton Cunningham and Joe Lischeron have sought to define entrepreneurship and have summed up a few values needed in the job: “…recognizing underlying values, responding to the future, improving management, and changing and adapting.” Even then, this only discussed whether or not traits or experience defined a good entrepreneur, through various schools of thought on the subject. Ultimately, there was no definite answer about which factor trumped the other. It may be true that successful people have different traits or experiences in their environment that allowed them that success, but trying to find a specific factor that determined that person’s success is impossible. This is why an integrated approach is necessary.
This even applies to the other aforementioned trait often cited as necessary for success: creativity. People have argued as to whether or not creativity is innate or if the environment plays a role. The common image of a creative person is someone who harnesses their innate talent in order to produce something often seen as artistic or beautiful. Much like developmental psychology, creativity is examined as involving both the innate and the external. According to “Analysis of the Personality, Motivation, Ability, and Environment Affecting Creativity in Japanese Business” by Hiroya Hirakimoto and Rie Watada: “The factors which affect creativity can be found in any factors of ‘personality’, ‘ability’, ‘motivation’, or ‘environment.” This paper, which described a study on creativity and how it is measured in Japanese businesses, describes both one’s innate qualities as well as how the environment can influence them in order to better develop that trait. Many people’s perception of this supposedly innate trait can be lost in the romantic image of a creative person being entirely separate from their environment during their process of creation. However, the paper suggests that factors such as being monitored and evaluated as well as expectation of concrete rewards such as money can be detrimental to creativity. In the end, no matter how intrinsic creativity seems, the environment is a major influence on it’s expression.
Still, if a person were to be concerned about not having the proper training or education that creates proper behaviors for success, research suggests that this concern is not entirely necessary. Person-organization fit is defined as such: entrepreneurs and leaders, as well as any career a person can think of, is often required for a person to have both the inherent personality traits that suit that particular career (i.e. leadership for political and business careers, creativity for entertainers and writers) and the necessary skills and knowledge, acquired from the environment through teaching, combined with the suitable work environment or organization based on those factors, to achieve success in that career.
According to Gideon D. Markman and Robert A. Baron as stated in “Person-entrepreneurship fit”: “While traditional recruiting manuals emphasize matching a person’s knowledge, skills, and abilities to the requirements of a particular job, the notion of person-organization fit emphasizes congruence in values, goals, attitudes, and personal preferences.” A person would need to be taught the skills and knowledge for that particular career, yes, but gaining the proper education can be something the person seeks on their own, at any time, depending on what they think is a suitable path for them, rather than wondering if they have the innate skills to succeed. A person could even gain the knowledge and experience they need on the job that is suitable to them based on their personality and innate traits, while working. Environment is more than being properly educated by others, after all, though it is crucial toward development.
But what if that person happened to be affected mentally, unable to properly perceive reality? Society has apparently asked itself this question, and the answers it came up with are promising, if not entirely perfect solutions. The notion of programs meant to guide the mentally ill into finding a career and maintaining employment have been put into practice, and they seem to have fairly good results. Tom Burns and many other writers have explored this in “The effectiveness of supported employment for people with severe mental illness,” in which they present the train-and-place model: “Developments in the USA emphasize direct job placements, often in simple entry-level occupations, plus support to patient and employer.” People who suffer from a mental health disorder of some kind can receive training that will equip them to find a suitable career based on their personality traits, while continuing to receive support for their disorder, as needed in order for them to continue to function well enough for their job. The study done for this kind of model showed promising results, as patients receive support through this program could hold on to their jobs for a long time and continue to work, as long as they received the proper support. Success does not have to be denied to people who struggle with mental illness, as they can be rehabilitated to an extent. They are not as invalid as society seems to stigmatize them as.
In the end, the question of whether or not success depends more on a person’s personality or being taught by the environment, however often it is asked, seems to be the wrong question to ask. Rather, it seems that the best way to determine the likelihood of success is to examine both nature and nurture equally, as important factors that influence each other as a whole. Only then can there be proper development of processes and plans that can encourage and guide a person toward success. Naturally, said plan would have to take into account the person’s unique innate personality and external environment, without neglecting either. Only then is it likely for a person to achieve as well as they can. Success is difficult to grasp and hard to define overall, but it is not out of a person’s reach, however it may seem otherwise.