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What Do Young People Need to Know
About Becoming Rich and Successful?

Introducing Irwin

It was September 4, 2005. I was in a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, eating dinner with a group of people prior to going to a Brian Wilson concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The restaurant was dark and gloomy, the food was mediocre, and the conversation was desultory. I found myself restless and bored and, as the meal wound to a close, I wondered how long it would be before we could leave for the concert. And then a voice caught my ear.

It was Irwin Dubinsky, someone I knew only slightly, but whom I remembered as always having something interesting to say. At the time, Irwin was retired. However he had, for many years, run his own successful business. What I heard took me by surprise. I sat up and looked at him. "What was that you said?"

Irwin turned toward me. "I said, I can talk to a young person and tell you if he or she is going to be successful."

"You can?"

"Yes," he replied. "Once I get to know a young person, it's easy for me to tell if he is destined to become rich. I've been in business a long time, and I've hired a lot of people. Over the years, I have observed which ones did well and which ones never seemed to really make it. So when I meet a young man or woman, it's not hard for me to predict whether or not he or she is going to be successful."

I thought about this. "So you're telling me that you can talk to a young person and then tell me if — many years from now — he is going to be rich?"

"That's exactly what I'm telling you," said Irwin.

As you can imagine, I was intrigued. What, I wondered, did Irwin know that I didn't know? How could he size up a young man or woman so early in life, before his or her career had even started? Was it really possible to predict whether or not someone would become rich later in life?

I asked Irwin to explain, and for the next half hour I listened carefully and took notes in the margins of a piece of newspaper, as Irwin described the 12 qualities that lead to success in life. By the time he finished, I realized that what he had to say was important, in fact, so important I felt obliged to share it with as many young people as I could.

So with his blessing, here is Irwin's advice for young people on how to cultivate the characteristics that, ultimately, will make you wealthy and successful.

The 12 Qualities That Make You Successful in Life

1. Explain your ideas well, in a logical manner.

According to Irwin, if you learn how to talk well, you have an enormous advantage. After all, how can people appreciate what you have to say if they have trouble understanding you? By explaining your ideas in a rational manner, you demonstrate clear thinking and good communication skills.

2. Do not allow yourself to become intimidated by people of wealth, position, or power.

In a general sense, people are much more alike than they are different. If you are a young person who sees others as being similar to yourself, you will not be awed by someone just because he or she is rich, important, or powerful. This gives you an enormous advantage. Conversely, as you become more important over the years, you yourself will not intimidate others, making you more effective as a peer and as a leader.

3. Know how to negotiate.

There is no part of life in which negotiation is not important. After all, time, money, and resources are always limited. Thus, you should realize that, ultimately, you get what you can negotiate, not what you deserve. Remember this, because it is a much more rational belief than hoping that, one day, the rewards to which you are entitled will magically drop on you from heaven. However, you must also realize that negotiating well means more than simply pleasing yourself. Being a good negotiator requires you to work hard at meeting the needs of all parties — a lesson that is best learned young.

4. Be knowledgeable about what you are trying to do.

It only makes sense to find out about something before you make a decision or formulate a plan of action but, according to Irwin, such foresight is in short supply. Look around and you will see that successful people take the time to really understand what they are doing. For example, when Irwin sees a young employee who does research before buying a new car, he keeps an eye on that person.

5. Be willing to control your spending; use your money thoughtfully, not impulsively.

Some people say "Easy come, easy go" but, according to Irwin, such habits do not bode well in the long run. After all, success and wealth take years to build. Learning to spend wisely helps you become the type of person who is able to create the steady, dependable habits that, ultimately, lead to success.

6. No matter what you make, save something.

Saving some of what you earn, every time you are paid, is a habit that will repay you handsomely over the years. Even if your salary is low, save something: it forces you to think about the future regularly, a characteristic that is necessary to build wealth.

7. Invest wisely and conservatively, not impulsively. Control your investments, even when they are small.

If you save regularly, you will soon have something to invest. What Irwin has found is that, when you demonstrate wisdom and care in your investments, you tend to bring those same qualities to your work. And, if you learn how to manage money and invest wisely with small amounts, it will be a lot easier to handle the large amounts that come later in life.

8. Ask a lot of questions. Be inquisitive about everything you do.

Irwin finds out which employees have natural curiosity by noticing who asks the questions. He respects young people who always want to know more about what they are doing, because he knows they are the future innovators and leaders. What's the best way to be inquisitive? According to Irwin, "You learn the most by asking questions and then listening."

9. When mistakes are made, don't place blame.

There is a Japanese saying, "Fix the problem, not the blame." When something unexpected happens, you are best served by refusing to spend even a moment worrying about who caused the problem. Concentrate instead on making things right, no matter what it takes. If your boss is like Irwin, he or she will notice.

10. Don't be afraid to fail. Be willing to try new things and go into them optimistically.

No one becomes successful without taking risks, so Irwin looks for the type of person who is not afraid to try and not afraid to fail. Do your homework first, then jump in with energy and optimism. Not only will you get results, you will inspire the people around you, an important characteristic if you want to be successful.

11. Find people who are wiser and better than you, and then delegate. Don't be afraid to work with people who are strong enough to disagree with you.

No one becomes successful — or rich — all by himself. Have the confidence to realize that your success depends on the efforts of others. Once you understand this principle, you will naturally want to work with the very best people you can find. When someone can do the job better than you, let them. And when someone who knows what he is doing disagrees with you, listen to what he has to say. (The secret is to not take it personally.)

12. Be generous in deed and in spirit.

Irwin has found that, over the years, people who strive to be generous enjoy significant opportunities that would otherwise not be available. Generous people invariably find they receive a great deal in return for their generosity, including feeling good in a way that comes only from the understanding the needs of others. When you are generous in your deeds, that is, when you perform generous acts, you minimize the friction that arises from people around you who would otherwise be competing over scarce resources. When you are generous in spirit, by considering the needs of the people whom your decisions affect, most everyone will like you and want to do business with you.

So that's it. The 12 qualities that will make you successful in life. As Irwin puts it:

"What you do when you are young is practice for what you will do when you are old. In my experience, the only people who became rich and successful as they grew older were the ones who formed good habits when they were young and poor."

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