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7 Ways Someone Becomes Unforgettable

Seven characteristics that will make you unforgettable and successful.

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People who are highly successful are usually unforgettable. That should come as no surprise. What surprised me, however, was when I discovered that many highly successful people were unforgettable before they were successful. They possessed certain traits that seared them into other people’s memories. Indeed, becoming unforgettable seemed to predict becoming highly successful.

For 45 years I’ve had the honor of being a faculty member at some of the finest universities in the world. Over the years, and even now, I’ve assumed the role of educator, researcher, and, yes, even career “coach” to my students. I must quickly add that my students have not always been the traditional college student. Rather, they have been graduate students, entrepreneurs, business executives, physicians, nurses, attorneys, veterinarians, and medical students—and yes, those who would become the rich and the famous.

Even though the universities at which I’ve taught had excellent career counseling services, I invariably would get questions about the “secrets” of success. I would frequently get the same question from audience members after presentations I give on human resilience and leadership. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned—not only as an interested observer of highly successful people, but frequently as a coach, a confidant, and a friend, as well.

Seven Factors That Make You Unforgettable

With time and over the course of many experiences, I’ve seen a rather consistent pattern of characteristics emerge which contribute to one becoming unforgettable and highly successful. Let’s take a brief look.

1. Optimism

The human brain is wired to be negative. We anticipate threats. We exaggerate threats. We sometimes see threats that simply are not there. It’s protective, but it’s also burdensome. When we meet someone who is upbeat and optimistic, we remember them. You know the type: They see the glass as half full, while the rest of us see it as half empty. Their optimism can be contagious. We feel better just being around such people. Compared to the pesimist, the optimist is a brilliant light in the darkness. Optimists may confuse us, but they are unforgettable.

2. Reliability, Trustworthiness, and Taking Responsibility for One’s Actions

Sadly, many people say one thing but do another. They make promises, but then find reasons why they can’t keep the promises they made. When these people make mistakes, they spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to avoid responsibility. Sound familiar? There is, however, a minority of people who actually show up when they say they will. They do what they say they are going to do. They take responsibility for their actions, especially their mistakes. Rather than cover up their mistakes, courageously, they are the first to point them out. In doing so they earn our trust and admiration. They take our breath away. They are unforgettable.

3. Tenacity

For most endeavors in life, tenacity is the single best predictor of success. Success in athletics, business, and even academics is predicated upon tenacity. You’ve heard the stories of many famous people who failed time after time only to persevere and emerge from those failures successfully. Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Col. Harland Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Al Neuharth (USAToday) and Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) all suffered repeated failures before they changed the world. President Calvin Coolidge once said that compared to talent, genius, and education, tenacity is omnipotent.

But it’s not just about winning and success. We remember tenacious people whether they win or lose. One of the best golf movies ever made was Tin Cup, starring Kevin Costner. It’s based upon the actual experiences of professional golfer Gary McCord, who, on the last hole of a major tournament, refused to play it safe and repeatedly chose to hit the more difficult shot—unfortunately poorly hitting his golf ball into the water. He scored a 16 on the par 4 hole. So memorable was McCord’s tenacity that a movie was made about it. Even though he failed, we admired his tenacity. Sometimes the process is more important than the outcome. McCord's actions made him unforgettable.

4. Self-Confidence

We remember people who have confidence. Confidence is “magnetic.” We are attracted to people who exude confidence. We want to be like them; perhaps we hope some of their confidence will transfer to us. Research over several decades has shown that self-confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy predicting happiness and success. It makes us unforgettable.

5. Respectfulness

George Santayana once said those who fail to respect the past are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, the demands upon us are so great that many of us only have time to respect ourselves and the here and now. It seems schools spend less time teaching history yielding to demands to spend precious time on other subjects. Yet this is short-sighted. I have seen many instances where younger colleagues have claimed to have made a significant "advance" in their field only to discover that same advance was made 30 years earlier. Harvard professor William James once said the deepest craving of human nature is the desire to be respected and appreciated. Take time to read history and to consider others, especially the contributions they have made. If we respect others, in turn, we will earn their respect. And we become unforgettable to them.

6. Interpersonal Connectedness (It’s Whom You Know)

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Each is a piece of the

continent, A part of the main…

Each man's death diminishes me…

These lines on the connectedness of humankind come from John Donne. Research tells us that loneliness predicts heart disease as powerfully as does cigarette smoking. Research also tells us that interpersonal support is the best predictor of human resilience. We go through life hoping to find someone who will have our backs in times of turmoil. When we find them, they become unforgettable. If we are there for others in times of need, asking nothing for ourselves, only to help, then we become unforgettable and invaluable.

7. Resilience

Resilience is the reactive ability to bounce back from adversity. The legendary creature known as a phoenix is said to arise from the ashes; so, too, can we arise from adversity. In doing so, we become unforgettable. But recent research from Johns Hopkins has discovered another type of resilience that we shall refer to as resistance. Think of resistance as a form of psychological immunity. With reactive resilience we become unforgettable. With psychological immunity, we become invincible.

(C) 2019 George S. Everly, Jr., Ph.D.

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