11 habits of successful people

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever to fly the planet, had this to say about success:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again. That is why I succeed.


Photo: sneakerbardetroit.com


I started writing this piece as “11 habits of a stellar cancer patient” with the plan to highlight my husband, Gary, as the perfect example of a stellar cancer patient … until I realized these eleven points are apropos for anyone who wants to be successful in the role in which they find themselves, whether a welcomed or not-so-welcomed role.

Consider these 11 simple habits of a successful patient, caregiver, teacher, parent, athlete, first responder, bridge-builder, widow(er), medical professional, or … (fill in the blank):

1. Show up whole-heartedly

If we’re studying just enough to pass the test, showing up late for the job, always the last teammate across the finish line when running wind sprints — it won’t be enough in the long haul.

Even with cancer, instead of sitting back and hoping treatment is all that’s needed, patients should be as proactive and full-hearted as possible. Because half-hearted attempts at anything are never enough.

2. Get educated

Take those extra certification courses. Volunteer for the job that will give you some great work experience. Seek out a mentor or personal coach. Get a second opinion. Come to consultations prepared with a list of questions, because chances are you won’t remember that important question from last Tuesday.

3. Enlist a co-captain

Who is as interested in your success as you are? Seek an accountability partner. Share your vision map with a friend. Ask a critique group to review your manuscript. Bring someone with you to medical appointments — someone who can take notes and ask follow-up questions and come alongside as you rage against cancer.

4. Recruit your team

The same people who supported us whole-heartedly as Gary was dying, morphed into my widow support posse. I have no family in town, but there are a number of people I can call on for advice, repair work, a hiking companion, people I can offer support to in return. I am more resilient because of these defiantly courageous team members.

5. Apply effective self-care

Determine what works in managing the stress of a challenging situation. Check into a plant-rich diet and physical activity for your circumstances, for your stage/type of cancer.

Because if we’re caring for our physical bodies, if we’re seeing to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health, then we’ll be more successful in managing the strain of running a business; more effective in flying airplanes, and performing surgery, and writing music; better able to manage the side effects of treatment, the challenges of foster parenting or caregiving.

6. Practice gratitude

Instead of counting what will never be the same, try counting all that remains. Pay attention to the simple pleasures that make up a good life. And speak gratitude for those things. Do you have a place to lay your head tonight? Do you know where your next meal is coming from? Can you read this (which suggests you have a brain and eyes that work)? Are there people in your life who think you’re pretty awesome? Pay attention and speak gratitude.

7. Maintain good humor

Gary had a wry sense of humor. When he said something tongue-in-cheek-ish, people oftentimes did a double take: Did he just say what I think he said?!! You may as well laugh.

8. Find meaning and give back

This point, obviously, is dependent upon the time and health and energy levels of the patient, the bereaved, the divorcee, the one providing care for an aging parent. But oftentimes when we notice the hurts and needs of others—and do something about it—it takes the focus off our own stuff.

9. Discuss the elephant in the room

When the bottom line in your business hasn’t been what it should be for some time now, or your teenager’s behavior is getting crazy scary, or cancer enters the picture, then conversations need to take place.

Honest, brave, open-hearted conversations.

Gary and I went a full year after his diagnosis before discussing the unsettledness we kept buried. Partly because my mom was living with us, sinking into dementia. Partly because I didn’t want to bother my husband with my fears. Partly because Gary was reticent about discussing those things that are difficult for men to say out loud. And surely because the words death and dying are fearsome.

But, somehow, voicing our fears and anxieties moved the elephant we had been clumsily waltzing around to a far corner of the room. Still present, but not tripping us up.

10. Keep optimism afloat

I’m the most optimistic person I know. And Gary was born a pessimist. He had the annoying gift of being able to note all that could go wrong with my brilliant ideas before he signed on.

When late-stage cancer showed up, Gary could have given up all hope and started planning a funeral. But he didn’t. He remained a pessimist with courage (he called himself a realistic optimist, which I don’t think there’s such a thing).

I love that he carried hope.

11. Lean into faith

The critical component underlying all this was (and still is for me) our strong faith and relationship with God who is my wash of joy, who daily provides an array of reasons for gratitude, who is my reason for deep contentedness.


Back to Michael Jordan for a moment: Although he missed more than nine thousand shots—with twenty-six of those missed baskets being depending-on-you, game-winning shots—he was considered impressively successful.

You and I will miss shots in life. We’ll fail as friends, students, business owners. We’ll receive rejection letters for our book proposals, grant applications, scholarship funding.

We’ll put money into inventions and investments, and not all of them will pan out. We’ll blow it — frequently, daily — at parenting (complete with reminders from our children).

We’ll make mistakes on the job; we’ll take the wrong fork in the road; we’ll miscalculate. We’ll write poetry and produce movies and create art that will flop.

But here’s the thing to engrave on our hearts and brains:

We won’t make any shots we don’t take. We won’t win any games we don’t show up for.

Which begs the question: What habits are you practicing for success as you manage your challenges?


P.S. If you know someone who needs to take a few more shots, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Such great pointers. For all stages of life. Because we will fall down….and what makes us who we are is how we pick ourselves back up! Thank you. Will sure today!

    • Well said: “…what makes us who we are is how we pick ourselves back up.” Wisdom you’ve learned from experience, Marni. Thank you.

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