The ONE Character Trait You Need to Succeed (And How to Start Developing it Today!)

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For those of you who listen to the BiggerPockets Podcast, you’ve heard me ask it dozens of time before:

“What do you think sets apart the successful investors from those who never really gain traction?”

This is my favorite question to ask guests, which is why it’s asked each week as part of the “Famous Four!” (Admit it… you just sang that in your high-pitched voice!) I believe one of the best ways to learn how to succeed is by listening to others who have done it give their answer as to what it takes, hence the question.

So being the co-host, no one ever asks me so I figured I would just share my opinion here, now. I don’t claim to have “made it” or found incredible success yet, but I also believe success is not a destination but a journey. (Tweet This!)  (I think Zig Ziglar said that.)

Or another way to phrase it:

Success isn’t a peak that, once reached, awards you an ugly trophy with your name embossed in gold.(Or Tweet That!) (I think I said that. Not quite as poetic.)

Now we could really get into a long conversation about what defines success, and in what capacity, but I want to keep this post a bit shorter than my usual (you’re welcome!)

So for the sake of this post, I’ll define success as living the life you want to live. Whether that’s success in marriage, success in bowling, success in shopping, or success in real estate investing, I think it’s all about the connection between your vision for your life and your present state. Don’t think too hard about that – I’m not a poet. I’m just referring to being happy and content. To me, that is success.

Now, back to success in real estate.   The only thing I claim is to have been on the journey longer than some, thus I can share some insight on what the path behind me has looked like.  I can see the trail behind me fairly clearly, so I feel I can offer some guidance on what the path was like and how I got here. And thanks to the giants who have come before me, I can see a bit of where the path goes on ahead. It’s from this position that I write this post.

Alright, enough existentialism. Let’s get to the meat.

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The One Character Trait You Need to Succeed

I believe the one trait you need to succeed, in any endeavor, is …

to be teachable.

Let me explain.  I believe success comes from learning. Yes, some have achieved success through luck or providence, but we all hate that guy anyways so let’s ignore him.

I’m talking about those who have climbed, fought, sweated, and wept their way to success – and it’s all because they learned.  They learned from what other’s have shared, and lessons from the mistakes that they have made. They learned from books, they learned from mentors, they learned from their own previous successes and previous failures.

However, without the ability to learn, success is nearly impossible. This is why I believe the #1 trait needed to succeed is the willingness to be teachable.

Without “teachability” – growth is halted.

We all know people in our lives who refuse to be taught. They want to do things their own way, ignoring what others have said or done. It drives me absolutely insane.  I even see it over in the BiggerPockets Forums all the time. People jump in and want to start investing in real estate and ask for advice. I generally tell people the same thing: get active!

Engage in conversation, ask questions, offer advice, send colleague requests, and just become a familiar face in this community. I don’t say this for the benefit of the website, I say this because I truly believe this is the way success is found. Out of the hundreds of times I’ve seen this situation play out in the forums, I can count on one hand the number of success stories I have seen.

But when they do… oh, it’s a beautiful thing!

How to Become More Teachable

The following are three ways to become more teachable.  There are probably a lot more, but again, my goal is to be succinct with this post (but at 661 words already, I’m failing!)

1.) Admit That You Are An Idiot

Okay, not an idiot in all walks of your life, but in the field you want to succeed in.  In other words: lower your pride. The first step in being teachable is to recognize that the disparity between what you know and what you don’t know. Trust me – you don’t know a whole lot more than what you do know. For some reason, this seems to work in reverse as you age.  The older you get, the more you realize you don’t know. I remember thinking, as a high schooler, that I knew pretty much everything there was to know in the world.

I was am an idiot.

2.) Cling to the Old Guys

I’m not just talking about age, though it usually goes together. Cling to those who have success and are where you want to be. I’m not talking about the gurus, unless your goal is to be a master marketing genius.  Make friends with those who are in the industry, where you want to be in 20 years.

Hint: The BiggerPockets Forum is a great way to do this, without even needing to leave your couch.

3.) Start Reading

I don’t need to belabor this point, so I’ll just leave you with two resources. The first a quote, the second a link:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

BiggerPockets Presents: The Best Real Estate Books Ever 

Conclusion

I don’t have any proof that “teachability” is what’s going to make you successful. (I’m not even sure “teachability” is a word!) However, I CAN testify that in my own life, I believe it’s been the driving force behind the successes I’ve had thus far.

I’ve learned from some incredible people who are further along the journey then me, and hopefully I can pass on some of that wisdom to people who are walking in my trail.

This is the beauty of BiggerPockets and why I obsess so much about jumping into the community.  If you aren’t an active member of the forums – I highly encourage you to do so.  You don’t need to be a Pro to engage, to learn, and to network.

All it takes is an attitude of teachability.

Photo: paojus alquiza

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on BiggerPockets.com. Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.

32 Comments

  1. Brandon. I disagree. It’s not the ability to be taught or learn it’s the ability to want. I remember the time I had two Master grads on staff. Man they could write an email and business solution. However they were dumber then dirt because they had zero desire to achieve.

    I will take Hellen Keller on my red rover team over an over educated lifer all day long because it the willingingness to be great that’s required.

    The only thing success requires is drive. You can be a high school drop out with a six grad education and make millions. Learning is overrated.

    Start doing.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Michael,

      I think we probably agree more than you think! There is a massive gap between teachability from “intellectual” and I agree 100% with you – I’d rather have someone driven any day than someone with a degree or formal education.

      However, drive without direction is just a demolition derby.

      For example, imagine an employee (or a client investor) who was driven to succeed and super passionate and motivated… but they won’t listen to others. Imagine you tell them “you should send 1 yellow letter each month” and they say “No way Michael, I’m going to do it my way and send one white letter and be done with it. If they don’t want to sell today, they never will.” And for the rest of their “driven” life – they never make it anywhere because they don’t learn because of their stubbornness.

      They simply spend money, do their own thing, and refuse wise counsel. All the drive in the world won’t be worth anything unless it’s coupled with a willingness to learn from others and their own mistakes.

      So I think we agree- formal education is nothing and the willingness to “do” is key. However, I think the secret behind successful “drive” is a willingness to learn. Therefore, teachability is the foundation of it all.

      My 2 cents anyways! Thanks for the comment – I always appreciate it!

    • Alan Mackenthun on

      Agreed. You can read BP all day everyday (no offense, it’s the best out there for learning RE investing IMHO), but you’ll never be successful if you don’t do anything. You’ve got to step out and take risks. I’d add that you also have to have judgement. I know someone who’s got an extremely high IQ and has multiple graduate degrees, but who just doesn’t make very good decisions. At least financially, success isn’t in the cards for them.

  2. Winston Risser on

    Good read and reminder Brandon . I like what you have said in one of the
    Podcast and now . Is to have someone that has succeeded in what you want to do
    As a mentor . It is a combination of all these differant traits that we need to slowly improve in as we know better .

  3. Larry Littrell on

    Couldn’t agree more Brandon. I have learned an incredible amount in my first few months on BP. My mother-in-law started texting in her 70’s and bought an I-Pad in her mid-70’s even though she knew nothing about those technologies.In my opinion you are either growing or shrinking, expanding your knowledge or getting dumber. Their is no way to just stand still. it’s not like I can just hang out with cats all day….oh sorry 🙂

  4. Sharon Vornholt

    I really love this one Brandon. There are a couple of things that really hit home for me.

    1. Be teachable. There is almost never a week that goes by that someone that is brand new will ask me a question and then proceed to argue about what I have told them even though they have just told me that they zero experience.

    The other thing is when folks comment in this forum, them proceed to dispute what someone has said that is an expert on a subject they clearly know nothing about.

    2. Be willing to read. I will point people to resources all the time that send me “25 quick questions” they want me to answer. And about half the time, they tell me they don’t have time to read all that stuff. They just want me to do the work and send them the quick answers to their 25 questions on how to make a million dollars next week.

    I hate lazy!

    Sharon

  5. Thanks for the post Brandon! I believe you might take “teachability” even a step further in that the key to success is a “growth mindset” as described in Carol Dweck’s book: Mindset, The New Psychology to Success. (I am in no way affiliated with Carol Dweck, I’m just a believer.) When you define success as “I learned something” it’s much easier to take risks, and thus learn.

  6. Knowledge equals power, the more knowledge one has the more power they will achieved. The keys to success is laser focus with a doable plan and an overwhelming desire to achieve your goals. Without action, it’s just talk.

  7. Just a few weeks ago I had one of those nights where the wheels wouldn’t stop turning in my head. One of the questions that popped in my head was “Why are some people that start a business successful while some aren’t?” I started to reflect back on all the books I had read on sales, organization in business and life, goal setting, running a business, systems and process’s., visualization (think and grow rich), marketing, and the list goes on. While I could possibly rank some of these higher than others, in the grand scheme of things I couldn’t really decide if one was more important than the other. I couldn’t however get over the concept that even if one had all the knowledge that might make one successful, without a passion or strong desire to succeed, then it is all seemingly for nothing. I have had the luck in my life to sit and talk with 2 multimillionaire RE Investors. One hit bottom at an early age growing up in Korea and decided that he wasn’t going to be poor. The other was lucky in the 70’s having purchased a triplex to live in and “make a little extra money.” He cashed out 2x more than what he payed a few years later. That taste of success, albeit accidental, was enough to create a strong passion and desire to repeat the results.

    How does one get this desire? I don’t believe there is a formula that works. It is an individual thing, but it usually can be attached to a strong emotional backing. Things WILL get tough, and without that pain/pleasure emotion to pop up and remind you why you are pushing forward, then it becomes too easy to succumb to mediocrity.

    That is my 1.37 cents. I had to force myself to stop before i created a blog post in the comments 😛

  8. There is always hope for improvement, or even transformation is one is teachable.

    At the end of the podcasts when you ask the guest what’s the one thing that makes the truly exceptional investor standout from all the rest?, I hear “persistence” more often than any other answer. I haven’t listened to all the shows yet, maybe there’s an article there, or maybe tis is the article?

    Think Abe Lincoln. He lost many elections, but kept running until he won the top election.

  9. Kristin DiPasquo on

    Hi Brandon,

    Great article! I really love your definition of success. I feel that we are often brought up with a very narrow definition of success as something like making the most money or having the most high paying job. I’ve never felt connected with this definition, but the idea of success being living the life you want to live really resonates with me.

    Also, I am new to real estate investing and the constant references to learning, reading, etc, really attracts me. I’m a nerd at heart who always wants to learn something new. My challenge is more with the sticking with it and follow through.

    Finally, this is my first comment on BP. I love the site and the podcasts and you and Josh and other participants are always saying to jump in and comment, so here I am! 🙂

    Thank you for being a key contributor in this awesome learning community.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Kristin thanks so much for the comment! Seriously, it’s because of comments like this that I love writing. So comment anytime! And yeah, I don’t like the idea of success meaning just making money or having a top position at a job. Cause those people can be just as miserable!

      Thanks again for the comment and keep in touch!

  10. Rhodaline Arthur on

    As a newbie,I found one of the barriers to learning from others was that I just wanted them to skip over the stuff I thought I knew and move on to stuff that I thought will be beneficial to me. I have now learned to just shut up and listen and not explain what I think know!

  11. The teachability angle is food for thought but I have to fall back on “TENACITY” (not perseverance, which makes me think of a dead fly lying at the bottom of a window sill) as being most important. The tenacious fly bumps his head a few times on the glass then promptly looks for another way to obtain the objective – freedom. Knowledge without action is useless. Action without knowledge is perilous at best but by doing something you will quickly learn what you don’t know and can then seek answers. Kind of a “Which came first? The Chicken or the Egg” conundrum You can’t fault a man for not knowing what he doesn’t know, but, if he knows how to fish (which we all do in one occupation or another) and just doesn’t want to fish then I say let him starve. Also, I think the chicken came first. Some chicken, somewhere, had to be doing something, to get that first egg laid!

  12. Hey Brandon,
    Though I totally agree that you need to be teachable, I believe that there is one trait that
    trumps it all. You must be fearless! Take action constantly and don’t let negative input from
    others slow you down. I own several rentals, and have done some flips. But I am still struggling because I have a wife who is afraid to take action and stands in the way most of the
    time when I do. I know that we could clear all of our debts and be done with the struggles if we just sold more of the property we have picked up and got into multifamily. I am tired of nickle and dime.

  13. Before, at a time when I was doing network marketing (which I don’t do anymore), I learned that becoming these 3 things would be a factor in your success: coachable, teachable, trainable. I learn everyday, I read everyday, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Thanks Brandon

  14. I agree with a lot of the sentiment that drive or persistence or whatever you want to call it is a big factor and probably without it nothing else can really over come a lack of desire.

    That being said I think that is more of a prerequisite to get in the game and what you are talking about is what the driven people need to attain the success they so desperately are seeking!
    I think we have all seen people that have a real drive to make something great of themselves but haven’t gotten there because they don’t stick with things. I’m not talking about the wannbe investors that half heartedly try something for a month then quite after not being millionaires and say that “This stuff doesn’t really work.” I mean those people that really go ball to the wall with something but don’t get that quick of results then decide to move on to another opportunity, totally undeterred and no negativity to what they had been doing.

    Drive without direction doesn’t get you much farther then lazy!
    However these people WILL be successes once they realize they need to slow down a little and learn things and be a little more patient. I think that is where you were going with this, at least in my mind. 🙂

  15. Jim Biggs

    What sets apart successful real estate investors and the ones who never make it? The ability to do the things that make you uncomfortable. Learn to do the things that other people don’t (or won’t) do.

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