Self-made millionaire: The ‘most successful people’ practice this skill—it requires ‘defiance’ and ‘belligerence’

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Matt Higgins went from living in “abject poverty” to running boardrooms, he says. The experience taught the self-made millionaire that successful people have one thing in common.

People who get ahead are comfortable with the concept of change, Higgins said at a CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Tuesday. Contrary to popular belief, “blind persistence” doesn’t matter, he added.

“‘Try harder’ doesn’t mean ‘try the same,'” said Higgins, the CEO and co-founder of private investment firm RSE Ventures. “The most successful people in life, if you were to compare their PowerPoint for their initial business [model], it doesn’t resemble anything like what turns out five years later.”

That self-awareness can inform when to stay loyal to your ideas and when to change course, Higgins told Make It in an email. It often takes time for people to accept radical ideas, especially when you’re creating something new, he explained.

“To be successful in life … you have to carry a little bit of defiance, a tad bit of belligerence” until people eventually come around, Higgins said on Tuesday.

How to build self-awareness

Tech executives and Ivy League professors often hail the importance of self-awareness. It’s “the most underrated” characteristic, Harvard-trained neuroscientist Juliette Han told Make It in June.

Similarly, ex-Google vice president Claire Hughes Johnson said it was the “one skill that I looked for in candidates before anything else,” she wrote for Make It in March.

“Sure, your experience and skills matter, but they can be learned,” Hughes Johnson noted. “And when someone is highly self-aware, they’re more motivated to learn because they’re honest about what they need to work on.”

To build self-awareness, start by identifying what you’re good at, what you’re bad at and what’s important to you, Hughes Johnson said. People who repeat their mistakes often haven’t cultivated enough self-awareness yet, Higgins noted at the event.

“People who tend to do the same thing over and over again … it’s because they’re afraid to face their inner demons,” said Higgins, adding: “Focus on your mind [and] train the voice inside your head to be an ally, rather than be your greatest detractor.”

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