Do You Have The Success Factor?

with Ruth Gotian


Ruth Gotian is the Chief Learning Officer and Assistant Professor of Education in Anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine. She’s been hailed by the journal Nature and Columbia University as an expert in mentorship and leadership development. But what’s really remarkable about Ruth is that she is an expert in what it takes to be successful. In 2021, she was selected as one of the 30 people worldwide to be named to the Thinkers50 Radar List, and she recently won the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Radar Award, ranking her as the number one emerging Management Thinker in the world to bridge theory and practice. She’s also a semi-finalist for the Forbes 50 Over 50 lists. There is so much to learn from her!

Back to the Basics:

Ruth’s path was anything but linear. As a child, she dreamed of being a soccer player and then began her undergrad studies as pre-med. It didn’t take longer than one 40-minute chemistry class to realize that pre-med was not the degree for her, so she switched it up and got her undergrad degree in business. For some time, she worked in banking before recognizing that she loved students. So, she went back to school and ended up teaching college-level courses in academic medicine. The program she worked for only accepted the highest caliber students, which is when Ruth realized there was just something different about these students, and she wanted to know why. So, at the age of 43, while raising her family, Ruth earned her doctorate and has been studying the science of success ever since. She’s even written a book about it called “The Success Factor” and earned a position as Chief Learning Officer.

The Success Factor

Ruth began her research about success by studying and interviewing the most successful physicians of our time. She eventually expanded this research to other fields as well and began interviewing top performers of all kinds–NBA stars, astronauts, CEOs of major corporations, and more. What she began to realize was that all of these successful people had 4 traits in common with one another.
They have Intrinsic Motivation. They’ve found what they love to do and they do it.
They Strategically Outwork Everybody. They don’t necessarily work more hours, but they leverage their peak performance hours, are not shut down by setbacks, and are always adding the word “yet” to the end of any challenge.
They have a Strong Foundation. What they did early in their career, they will do later as well.
They are Continually Learning. They read books, learn from podcasts and webinars, and have mentors to teach them new things to make them better at what they do.

Learning About Success from Olympians

What would you do if you won an Olympic medal? Most of us would want to flaunt it, wear it around the house, or display it in a trophy case. But Ruth says she was surprised that all the Olympic athletes she’s spoken with have kept their medals in the most unexpected places–sock drawers, safes, brown paper bags, and so on. When asked why this is, many of the Olympians responded that the medal was just one chapter of their life, not the whole story. It is also important to note that for an Olympic-level athlete, every success and failure is on a public stage. That’s why they record everything, watch the tapes, surround themselves with an entire team of coaches, trainers, and support–they need it to overcome missteps, and the successes only spur them to overcome the next challenge or break the next record. In essence, success at one thing only opens the door for the bar to be set higher and overcome again.

The Critical Importance of Mentors and Friendtors

Just like Olympic athletes need a team of coaches to help them, we all need a team of mentors and what Ruth likes to call “friendtors” to help us achieve success. We cannot do it on our own. Mentors are there to teach us and coach us in our careers, but also to act as cheerleaders and encourage us when we are faced with setbacks or discouragement. A friendtor is similar, but on more of a peer level. They are friends who are doing life with you, serving as one another’s teachers, coaches, and encouragers. It is so important to have a friendtor, because peers rise together. If one of you is achieving success, the other is likely to follow as you challenge each other, encourage each other, and help each other. They’re going to be the ones celebrating all of the small wins between starting and getting public recognition for your work. Because if we wait to celebrate wins until that big, public moment of a gold medal or nobel prize, we may get so discouraged we never actually get there. Friendtors will help you celebrate all of those little wins along the way.

Defining Success

The definition of success is an ever-moving target, Ruth shared. The definition changes based on who you ask, and it’s not all about getting public recognition or a prize. There are plenty of successful people who have created a paradigm shift or done something notable in their field that most of us don’t know about. But what is most important about defining and achieving success is emulating successful people’s mindsets, not their habits. We have all heard of the people who wake up at 4:00 am and do their best work then, but if you’re a night owl who goes to bed at 1:00 am, you just won’t be able to wake up at 4:00am. And that’s okay! To emulate the mindset of a successful person means to figure out when YOUR mind is at its peak cognitive performance and do your deepest work at those times–whether it’s 4:00 am, 3:00 pm, or midnight. We all have the ability to be successful in our own fields and circles, we just need to learn to leverage our natural work styles and strengths.

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