12 Things Successful Women Do Differently

Every woman has her own definition of success. But there are certain traits that most successful women share.

I spend a good part of my work day reading and writing about women who have achieved great things — and I make it a point to surround myself with women who are well on their way to doing so.

Here are 12 things I’ve learned that successful women do differently:

1. They are deeply passionate about what they do.
“Without passion, all the skill in the world won’t lift you above craft,” wrote dancer Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit. If you don’t love what you do, you’re probably not going to be motivated to go above and beyond, to innovate and to stand out in the workplace. But if you’re passionate about your career, it will make putting time and effort into it pleasurable, not a chore.

2. They don’t expect perfection — of themselves or those around them.
Research has shown that wasting time and energy trying to be “perfect” only leads to unhappiness. Successful women know that that they can’t do everything well all the time. Beating yourself up for your perceived flaws will only dampen your abilities at work, not to mention your mental health. “We each, if we’re lucky, will have our chance to leave a mark on the world, but we are trying too hard to be perfect,” wrote Barnard president Debora Spar in an op-ed for Glamour magazine. “So don’t emulate Wonder Woman; think about what’s wonderful to you instead. Then boldly, audaciously, joyfully, leave the rest behind.”

joanna coles

3. Often, they become the boss.
Many successful women have figured out that if you’re the boss, you can set your own rules. As editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Joanna Coles said at the Third Metric Conference in June: “The higher you go in a corporation, the easier it is … The truth is you get more control.” And when you’re in control, you have the ability to create a more sane, happy and balanced workplace for yourself and your employees.

4. They marry well — or not at all.
Successful women know the value of a true partnership. As Sheryl Sandberg observed in Lean In: “I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully — and I mean fully — supportive of her career.” And many successful women forgo marriage all together. Despite not being wed, women like Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice and Diane Keaton seem to be doing just fine.

sheryl sandberg dave goldberg

5. They believe that they will be successful.
Not to go all “If you build it, he will come,” on you, but believing in your own success — no matter how crazy your idea might seem — is integral to achieving it. Kay Koplovitz, founder of the USA Network, echoed this sentiment in a July interview. “You have to be comfortable that you can think your way through and actually execute your way through to the desired outcome,” she said. “I expected to be successful.” Bottom line? Confidence — and faith in yourself — is key.

6. They’re not afraid to take risks.
Sheryl Sandberg says that all women should ask themselves the question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Affecting change — in your career and beyond — requires the ability to stop playing it safe every once in awhile. Successful women don’t make reckless decisions, but they do know how to take a calculated risk. Sandberg took her own advice, and wrote the bestseller, Lean In.

jk rowling harry potter

7. They know that failure goes hand-in-hand with success.
Failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success,” was the advice given to Arianna Huffington by her mother, Elli Stassinopoulos. Successful women know that you can’t excel all the time, and that an inevitable part of taking leaps in your career is falling down sometimes. For example, 12 publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book. But that didn’t stop her from continuing to send it out.

8. They take care of themselves physically.
“My morning run is when my head is most clear and when I synthesize all of the things that are going on in my head,” Jessica Herrin, founder of Stella and Dot, told The Huffington Post. Many successful women have spoken about the value of regular exercise — not because they are trying to be thin, but because they know that exercise relieves stress, releases endorphins and increases energy. “If I didn’t run, swim, or lift weights, I almost certainly would have killed someone by this point in my life,” wrote Debora Spar.

katie couric workout

9. They know that their to-do lists will never be completed, and they’re okay with that.
Sometimes you can be more productive by accepting that you’re simply not going to get everything done. Learning to let go of certain goals, responsibilities and tasks can be difficult, but freeing. Arianna Huffington has spoken about how finally allowing herself to cross unrealistic goals off her lifelong “to do” list — in her case, learning German and becoming an expert skiier — relieved her of a huge burden. “Getting rid of the anxiety of perpetually unmet expectations was so great,” she said.

10. They make sure to schedule alone time.
Research has shown that women tend to prioritize domestic responsibilities such as housework and child care over themselves. Successful women know that they need to schedule alone time the same way they plan meetings, family dinners and networking events. “I’ve found if I don’t literally put pen to paper (or create a Google calendar appointment) and carve out an hour for myself, it never happens,” Mary Kate McGrath, editor in chief of PureWow told The Daily Muse in March. “So that’s what I do. I literally invite myself to manicures or an extra 20 minutes in bed, and I’ve been known to take myself out for a Manhattan once in a while, too. (I’m a great date.) And my new rule: I’m not allowed to cancel on myself.”

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11. They know how to foster genuine relationships — and keep them strong.
Having a support network is key to being successful. Keeping up your friendships and forming new ones at every place you work makes you happier and helps your career later on. In 2009, Diablo Cody told the New York Times about the importance of her relationships with fellow female filmmakers Lorene Scafaria, Dana Fox and Liz Meriwether. “They helped me be excited for things when I was kind of shellshocked,” she said. “They were the ones who had to literally take me aside at the ‘Juno’ premiere and say: ‘This is fun. You will never forget this. Please enjoy yourself.'”

12. They express gratitude to those around them.
No woman’s success happens in a vacuum. Wildly successful women acknowledge those that support them every day — both in their home lives and at the office. And that graciousness not only makes them better people, but fosters loyalty from their employees. Oprah is one powerful woman who understands the value of appreciating her employees. In 2009, she took her entire staff and their families on a Mediterranean cruise.

The Huffington Post/by Emma Gray

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The Importance of Belonging

You are not alone.

You belong.

And it gets better.

These are a few of a handful of powerful messages that an elegantly designed “belonging intervention” by social psychologist and Stanford assistant professor Gregory Walton conveys to study participants who are going through a difficult period.

In a series of ongoing studies, first published in 2007 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the belonging intervention uses a technique known as “attributional retraining” to help people shift blame for negative events from “It’s just me” to “I’m not alone, and there are others going through it.”

The goal is to convey to the subjects that when bad things happen, it doesn’t mean they don’t belong in general.

Why is this important?

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.” So began a stunning meditation by Marina Keegan, a 22-year-old Yale graduate who died in a tragic car accident May 26.

What is the opposite of loneliness? Is it belonging?

Because as humans, we need to belong. To one another, to our friends and families, to our culture and country, to our world.

Belonging is primal, fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being.

Belonging is a psychological lever that has broad consequences, writes Walton. Our interests, motivation, health and happiness are inextricably tied to the feeling that we belong to a greater community that may share common interests and aspirations.

Isolation, loneliness and low social status can harm a person’s subjective sense of well-being, as well as his or her intellectual achievement, immune function and health. Research shows that even a single instance of exclusion can undermine well-being, IQ test performance and self-control.

Walton’s earlier studies demonstrated that a sense of social belonging can affect motivation and continued persistence, even on impossible tasks. That is, if you don’t feel like you belong, you are both less motivated and less likely to hang in there in the face of obstacles.

Even outside a research setting, these are valuable lessons we can all draw from as we navigate life’s difficult circumstances. Though Walton’s research has involved only students, his work has powerful implications for the workplace and other contexts.

According to Rajita Sinha, the head of Yale’s Stress Center, stress itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But stress that is sustained, uncontrollable and overwhelming, in which people can’t figure out options to solve their problems, wreaks havoc on us.

Walton’s belonging intervention has the potential to downgrade uncontrollable stress by allowing people to put a narrative around their traumatic experiences.

It places those experiences in a box, he says, “with a beginning, a middle and an end. As a consequence, the meaning of the negative experience is constrained, and people understand that when bad things happen, it’s not just them, they are not alone, and that it’s something that passes.”

So what exactly does the belonging intervention involve?

In a broad sense, storytelling.

Walton and his colleagues enlist the study subjects as experts to help “others” who may be similarly situated and going through a difficult time.

The researchers provide subjects with statistics, quotations and stories from upperclassmen about their experiences — how they struggled at first but eventually got through it — and ask participants to use that information to write about getting through their own difficulties and how it gets better.

The participants, who believe they are writing for the next generation of incoming freshmen — an audience many of them relate to and care about — begin to engage with the material and use it to reflect on their own experiences, ultimately coming to the conclusion that no matter how bad they feel, they are not alone.

This is particularly powerful in settings where people have a looming alternative explanation, as in the case of minorities, women and gay youth.

Even though the belonging intervention is a mere 45 minutes, its outcomes have proved to be significant and lasting. In Walton’s studies, the intervention increased subjects’ happiness, improved their health and reduced cognitive activation of negative stereotypes for several years after the initial intervention. It also prevented them from taking many daily adversities personally and interpreting them to mean that they didn’t belong in general.

Walton’s research has had a particularly dramatic effect on students’ achievement, especially for minority students and women in overwhelmingly male-dominated majors, who may suffer from the dreaded minority achievement gap: the disparity in academic performance that often persists between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts. That may be because these groups, who may traditionally feel more marginalized and less valued, may more readily attribute difficult circumstances to their minority identities and a sense of not belonging.

In one study involving African-American and white college freshmen in a predominantly white university, the intervention, delivered in the first year of college, changed the trajectory of minority students’ achievement by steadily improving their grades all the way through senior year. Over the three-year observation period, the African-American students who took part in the study had higher grade-point averages relative to multiple control groups, and the minority achievement gap overall was reduced by a dramatic 50%.

The study participants’ change in social construal — people’s perception and interpretation of the world — was key to this success. During the first week after the intervention in freshman year, students were asked each day about the good and bad events that happened to them and how they felt they belonged at that time. Walton found that the intervention reduced the degree to which students correlated bad days with not belonging by providing them with a nonthreatening framework for interpreting daily challenges.

In a second study involving women in a predominantly male engineering setting, the intervention increased women’s ability to handle daily stressors. They had higher and more stable self-esteem and developed more friendships with their male colleagues.

The idea of writing for others versus themselves is important because it steers study subjects away from the sense that the belonging intervention is remedial. “We are not telling people that ‘we think you need help, and here is the help we are going to give you,’ ” says Walton.

Walton observes that in general, people are misinformed about the state of others like them.

“We often operate from very biased information. We have our own experience and can only see others from the outside. Many of us are having these same difficulties, but no one is showing it, and so we can feel isolated and depressed.”

It is in those circumstances that you may wish to wield a pen, to reflect upon and write the story of your experiences. Even rewrite your story, perhaps. Place it within a larger framework. Give it a beginning, a middle and a hopeful end.

And recall some powerful truths about being human:

It’s not just you.

We are all struggling in one way or another.

Do not judge your insides by other people’s outsides.

“It’s not quite love,” Keegan wrote, “and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together.”

And so we are.

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