What are the habits of highly successful people?
I asked myself that question as Pam and I left the Brown Theatre in downtown Louisville Friday night. We went there to see the veteran humorist Jeanne Robertson. And, we were not the least bit disappointed. Jeanne was terrific. We laughed non-stop for almost two hours.
The next morning, I went to the local chapter meeting in Kentucky for the National Speakers Association. Again, Jeanne Robertson was making an appearance there before leaving our city, having agreed to give some of her time to the local chapter members of the NSA. This gave us an up-close-and-personal conversation with her, as in the picture here, as well as the opportunity of picking up a few tips to enhance our own speaking careers. After all, who better from whom to pick up a few tips than Jeanne Robertson? Her highly successful speaking career has spanned several decades?
If you know Robertson, you also know we did a lot of laughing Friday evening and again Saturday morning. Jeanne is funny. She may be seventy-one but she looks twenty years younger. Although she has been a favorite entertainer and storyteller of seniors and boomers for years, the Millennial generation is discovering her, too, and with an equal degree of enjoyment. Many of them are being introduced to her on Sirius radio.
At a time when many would be settling back to coast through their retirement years, Jeanne Robertson is going strong. She may be three score and eleven, but age will slow neither her drive nor her ambitions. She travels twenty-five days a month crisscrossing America, always refining her craft, looking for the humorous, finding it, and then sharing it in her clever way to audiences on stages and corporate events across the U.S.
So I’ve been thinking. What makes highly successful people so enduringly successful? What are their habits? Practices? Disciplines? They must have some.
I think they do. I found myself thinking about this as Jeanne spoke to those of us gathered Saturday morning to listen and talk to her. Here are some of the habits I identified as she talked. I am pretty sure these six habits would be shared by other highly successful people.
1. Successful people have the habit of staying focused.
If you have ever heard Jeanne speak, you know she is funny. What you may not know however, is just how focused she is as well. Jeanne knows who she is and has developed the habit of knowing herself better and better over the years. While most of her invitations today are from people such as event planners who know who she is and what she does, it was not always like this earlier in her career. For example, some of those who initially invited her did not know exactly what she did. Consequently, they might ask her to lead a seminar or give a talk to a group of leaders on leadership.
Her response was always the same. “I don’t do ‘leadership.’ However, I’ll gladly talk about the importance of humor in leadership. I’ll gladly make your leaders laugh. And, if your leaders need to know why it is important they develop a sense of humor or they want to know how they might develop a sense of humor, I can do that and would be happy to do so, too.”
This has been Jeanne’s habitual practice for decades. She stays clear and focused on who she is and what she does. By never straying from that, she has developed a reputation, as well as achieved a level of success, unparalleled. Highly successful people know who they are and they habitually work at staying focused on their own uniqueness.
You cannot be everything to everybody.
2. Successful people are habitually disciplined, too.
Early in Jeanne Robertson’s career as a humorist and public speaker, she decided that, not only did she see humor everywhere, but she was naturally gifted at telling the story of the humor she witnessed. Consequently, she began training herself to look for humor everyday. In fact, she so disciplined herself in looking for at least one funny thing every day, she would not go to bed at night until she had recapitulated her entire day finding that one humorous encounter.
That methodical, disciplined practice Jeanne Robertson has not changed for decades. And, the payoffs have been enormous. This explains why, even at seventy-one, she is regularly recording new material so her stories remain fresh and funny. Of course, there are some stories she has become widely known for and one character in particular is her husband, to whom she affectionately calls “LB.” That’s short for “Left Brain.” In spite of her funny stories and even the very familiar ones, by maintaining the habitual discipline of finding at least one humorous thing each day, Jeanne Robertson has managed to keep her material fresh and funny.
3. Highly successful people have developed the habit of staying current.
Jeanne Robertson appears strong, a blessing for which anyone at seventy-one is likely to be grateful. That much is obvious, as I sit only a few feet from her at the Saturday morning chapter meeting.
What may not be so obvious is that Jeanne, instead of allowing the times to pass her by, has made it her habit to stay current. In her presentations, for example, as well as in her interactions with fans who follow her, she uses social media, Facebook, Sirius radio, just as effectively as he has the older but more typical mediums of communication, such as tapes, DVD’s CD’s, print, television and radio. Jeanne Robertson not only is learning and utilizing the advancing technology but, because of this, she is enjoying a success today as great or equal to any other time in her career.
Staying current is an absolute for any highly successful person who wishes to remain so.
4. Successful people laugh at themselves and with others.
The ability to laugh at herself is one of Jeanne’s signature skills. She has mastered the habit of observing her own screw-ups and, by not taking any of them too seriously, she has found ways to endear herself to audiences who identify with her sense of humor and her candid humanness. She works her personal failures into her routines, making herself all the more accessible to audiences and endearing herself to them in the process.
Highly successful people do not take themselves too seriously. They have left long ago the need for ego gratification and recognition and are able to admit their own failures and to do so with a smile.
Highly successful practice the art of self-awareness and do not mind self-deprecating admissions. Do this, as Jeanne Robertson has done and continues to do, and make it your practice to observe your own thoughts and actions, as well as your successes and failures, and then learn from those experiences what you need to learn. Find the humor in all of it, too. It is waiting to be discovered and shared.
5. Highly successful people make it their habit to nurture and care for themselves.
I have done a lot of traveling myself. But, frankly, I was amazed to hear that Jeanne, even today, travels about twenty-five days a month. That is an incredible schedule for a young adult.
I did not ask Jeanne Robertson whether she had developed a habitual routine of exercise because I’m pretty sure she must do something in order to stay healthy, fit and attractive. Had I asked her, however, I suspect I would have heard something like this: “I stay active; I watch my weight; I try to eat right; I regularly exercise and do my best to practice good habits of healthy living, even and especially when I’m on the road.”
I wish I could make a similar claim.
As a frequent traveler myself, I know first hand how hard it is to stay mindful about the nurture and care of one’s soul and physical condition. But I’m pretty sure that successful people do not wait until a health crisis to listen to their inner voice and practice proper habits to maintain health and vigor.
6. Finally, highly successful people have mastered the habit of making others feel more important.
I think this was one of the most impressive things I observed about Jeanne Robertson. She demonstrated interest in each person with whom she spoke.
Highly successful people are free of ego. As my leadership mentor, John Maxwell, loves to say, “Real leaders instinctively follow a three-fold path – they listen, they learn, and then they lead.”
Jeanne Robertson was asked many questions in the two hours we spent with her. Sometimes, a question would lead to a story, one always filled with humor. But, respectfully, Jeanne always returned to each questioner and gave them her undivided attention and the best response she could.
I was impressed.
But then, all great leaders do this, just as all highly successful people do. And, as a leader, trainer, humorist, and now I can say, new friend, Jeanne Robertson was a delight to meet and observe. I’m so glad Pam and I got to see her perform on stage at the Brown Theatre. I am equally glad to get to meet her up close and observe for myself six of the habits of highly successful people lived out through one funny lady, Jeanne Robertson.
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, and a spiritual teacher. As a leadership guru, interfaith activist, and popular author, Steve is an expert in the fields of self-development, human happiness, and spirituality. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire countless followers, as well as hundreds of leaders in the business, non-profit, and religious world. Dr. McSwain is a professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky and an interfaith activist as well. His interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith and diversity respect, or charitable living (www.SteveMcSwain.com).