We’ll be watching a blue moon rise in the sky tonight.  It’s a lunar event that happens roughly every 3 years, but the phrase has come to represent something rare.   It’s a perfect time to look at rare traits of high achievers who seem to have more than “once in a blue moon” success.

These 13 Unusual Traits of High Achievers may surprise you.  But then again, they may describe you…

1. Tried, tried, trying again

Richard Branson sold Christmas trees and re-purposed roof gardens.  Mark Cuban sold trash bags and taught disco lessons.  Oprah Winfrey was a grocery clerk.  Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s) drove a cab, was an ER clerk and delivered pottery wheels.

Humble beginnings and multiple changes are not necessarily indications of a humble ending.  High achievers try, learn and explore.  Don’t fear trying something new.

2. Over 40 when they got it right

Henry Ford was 45 when he created the Model T.  Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50. Colonel Sanders was 62 when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.   Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first “Little House” book at 65.

It’s never too late to pursue your passion and make dreams a reality.  If you’re willing to do the work, later suits many high achievers very well.

3. Practicing scales for hours

Condoleeza Rice is a classically trained pianist.  Warren Buffett loves his ukelele.  Venture capitalist Roger McNamees is in a rock band.  Paul Allen (billionaire co-founder of Microsoft) played guitar.

Hours of practice may not be what most kids do, but musical training correlates with academic success.  Did you sing?  Practice scales on an instrument?  Go ahead and toot your own horn… you’re in good company.

4. Breaking things (especially rules)

Success and fortune rarely come by playing it safe.  Game changing requires questioning and sometimes breaking the rules.  Bill Gates is a college drop out.  Richard Branson quit high school.  Sam Walton said, “I always prided myself on breaking everybody else’s rules, and I always favored the mavericks who challenged my rules.”

It’s hard to argue with their success.  Maybe it’s good that you don’t follow the crowd.

5. Staying curiously hungry

High achievers are curious.  Pervasively, hungrily curious.  They ask questions, explore and learn.  While others complain about a problem, they investigate and look for a solution.  They imagine, create and innovate from that place of hungry curiosity.  Imagine if Elon Musk of Tesla hadn’t taught himself programming at age 12…

Stay hungry, my friends.

6. Leaning forward, not backward

Successful entrepreneurs and leaders are focused on potential, opportunity and growth.  They lean into the future rather than lean back on their past successes or failures.  They know past failures don’t limit future successes.  And past successes don’t guarantee future relevance, growth or profits.  It’s what they do today that matters for tomorrow.

Had a rocky past?  It only determines your future if you let it become a limiting factor in your own thinking.  Let it go.

7. Not working for the money (only)

High achievers work hard and take their endeavors seriously.  They crave satisfaction and fulfillment like everyone, but that doesn’t usually come from the money.  High achievers learn to measure worth in more than dollars.  For many, it’s measured in freedom, change, impact, and giving back.  Highly successful people don’t chase dollars.  They know that money is a tool they can use to pursue real value.

If you’re not just in it for the money, that’s good.  If you want to solve problems, help others and make an impact, that’s even better.  Money is a means, but it’s not the end.

8. Shooting straight

Eric Holtzclaw, author of Lean Forward, says, “One common trait I observe in very successful people is their candidness. They are to the point, fearless, and frank in what they say to others — strangers and those they know well.  Their direct and honest approach doesn’t hurt them. Instead it furthers their success.”

Clear, direct communication becomes a necessity with the demands that come with high levels of business success.  Unclear communication wastes time and energy.  It can complicate processes and ruin deals.  If you “shoot straight” and are direct in your communication, it may ruffle feathers occasionally, but it can work to your benefit overall.

9. Self-reliant, no excuses

Pace-setters in success are responsible.  They don’t make excuses and shift blame to others.  They squarely face mistakes and failures, expecting to learn, adapt, make decisions and move on.  Complaining about challenges, difficulties or failures only wastes time.  It delays growth and progress, which is very costly – financially and emotionally.

If you make a mistake, own it.  But don’t beat yourself up.  Course-correct & move on!

10. Hooked on change

Most people are likely to accept what comes their way.  The status quo is comfortable – like well-worn shoes.  High achievers question what comes at them.  They routinely challenge systems, rules (#4) and break barriers before others.  They are ready to change the world, and can find a deep sense of joy (and sometimes adrenaline) with a breakthrough concept, solution or strategy.

Do you question everything?  It may have driven your mom nuts, but it’s a gift.  Unwrap it.

11. Serious about fun

High achievers play at work.  They understand the importance of working in the zone where their brilliance and satisfaction converge.  Following the 80-20 rule (Pareto principle), they strive to spend the majority of their time in tasks that are enjoyable, productive, fruitful and satisfying.  Delegating  and deleting other tasks frees their minds and time for problem solving, strategy and other high-level activities to fuel growth.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. — Confucius


12. Happy to say NO

They’re passionate, dedicated and creative.  They work hard and accomplish a lot.  How do they do so much?  They start by saying, “No” to a lot of other things.  They understand the value of their time and expertise.  They also refuse to over commit and bring insanity into their very full lives.  Most entrepreneurs rank freedom as their highest motivator.  If you don’t say no, you lose your freedom.

To be creative, focused, self-reliant, authentic and visionary… you need TIME.  Be selective with what you say ‘yes’ to.

13. Quitting’s not in the DNA

Recently, I was speaking with Gene Hammitt, a successful entrepreneur, author, coach and contributor to publications like Forbes & Entrepreneur.   He made me laugh out loud when he confessed, “I’m a true entrepreneur.  I’m not even employable.”  His sentiment rings true across the board for high achievers.   They left the J-O-B (or avoided one at all) for a reason.  They’d be the last to want a job again.

When things take a turn for the worse – as they do sometimes in business – high achievers dig deep, pull on every strength they’ve got and find a way forward FAST.

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.
— Douglas MacArthur

Today’s a “once in a blue moon” day.  NASA and the news crews will all be looking up at the sky.  I challenge you to look inside yourself instead.  Find your own high-achiever traits, and unleash them.  You might just change the world.


Cindy is the founding President at 17blue Digital Marketing. She's passionate about helping businesses reach their goals and impact their communities.