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The Key to Success

The Key to Success

What are the factors that determine success in life? Genes? Hardwork? Luck?  Are some people destined at birth to experience success in life? Does working hard predict how successful one will be in life? Is it a matter of one’s biological makeup directing how successful one becomes in life? The question of what determines one’s success in life has lingered on the minds of researchers across various disciplines at different points in time.

Some researchers such as Belsky et al., (2016) have conducted studies to investigate how genetic makeup influences an individual’s success. Belsky and his colleagues focused on understanding if genetic factors which influenced educational attainments were also linked to any outcomes outside of education. Their study was based on a previous study conducted which identified molecular-genetic predictors associated with educational attainment. Employing a longitudinal study, individuals born between April 1972 and March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand were recruited. The many genetic variants previously associated with educational attainment were checked for each participant and summed up to give what is called a polygenic score.

Are genes the sole determinants of success in life?
Image source: sciencemag.org

Outcomes of the study indicated that individuals with higher polygenic scores attained higher degrees compared to those with lower polygenic scores. Also, those with higher polygenic scores were more successful socioeconomically by midlife. They owned more assets, had more prestigious occupations and were less dependent on social welfare benefits. This indicates that individuals with higher polygenic scores did not only succeed in their education but were also successful in their professions and economic capacities. In fact, findings from the study indicate that those who have high polygenic scores are able to plan their finances better, considering investments and retirement.

Findings from such researches do not downplay the role of environmental factors in development and outcomes of life. Although their study identifies an association between genes and life outcomes, Belsky et al. (2016) also indicate that genes are not the only determinant of life outcomes.

The life of individuals such as Dr Ben Carson, a renowned American Neurosurgeon who conducted the famous surgery in 1987 to separate conjoined twins (The Binder twins), points out the fact that hardwork plays a huge role in one’s success in life. In his book, “Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence”, Dr Ben Carson recounts memories of his childhood. He and his older brother were single-handedly raised by a single mother with their father out of the picture before their early childhood ended. His mother could be described as one of a low socioeconomic status. She was an illiterate and catered for her children by taking on two or three menial jobs at a time.

Dr Ben Carson performed the first successful separation of conjoined twins who were attached at the back of the head.

The turnaround for Dr Carson and his brother came when their mother discovered that they were struggling academically. Their mother, Sonya Carson, established a new routine where they were allowed to watch only two preselected television programmes in a week. They were to spend majority of their time doing their homework and reading two books from the library each week.  A routine that gradually started to pay off with a steady rise in the boys’ academic performance. With the emphasis made constantly by his mother on the importance of hardwork, Dr Carson was motivated to always do better. Through his hardwork and focus, his SAT college admission test scores got him ranked somewhere in the low 90th percentile, making the news in Detroit as the highest SAT score made by a Detroit public school student in twenty years.  After earning a Psychology degree at Yale University, he also enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School and then enrolled in the John Hopkins University School of Medicine neurosurgery programme for further training in neurosurgery. After further training and years of practising as a neurosurgeon, Dr Carson was appointed as the John Hopkins University’s Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. He became the youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery in the United States of America when he was 33 years.

“Talent is never enough. With few exceptions, the best players are the hardest workers”.

-Magic Johnson

In the words of Tim Notke, a high school basketball coach, “Hardwork beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Having the potential to succeed is not a guarantee of success. The individual must take considerable steps towards succeeding. This might require one letting go of unhealthy habits or relationships, developing a routine for whatever purposes, investing in the craft or field of interest by taking courses, reading or interacting with people in the field. Famous basketball player, Magic Johnson opines, “Talent is never enough. With few exceptions, the best players are the hardest workers”.  

We cannot fully rely on genetic dispositions to explain or understand life outcomes. Psychologists and researchers across various fields continue to emphasize on the interplay between genes and the environment and their resultant influence on various life outcomes.


Belsky, D. W., Moffitt, T. E., Corcoran, D. L., Domingue, B., Harrington, H., Hogan, S., … & Poulton, R. (2016). The genetics of success: How single-nucleotide polymorphisms associated with educational attainment relate to life-course development. Psychological science, 27(7), 957-972.

Carson, B., & Murphey, C. (1992). Think big: Unleashing your potential for excellence. Zondervan.