You probably know that if you want to retire young and live a life of leisure, you’ll need to get an early start on saving, land a well-paying job or both. Less intuitive is the fact that being tall can lead to higher lifetime earnings or that being conventionally attractive can help you land jobs in coveted fields.
The effects of these weird, external factors can be substantial: One study about the relationship between lifetime earnings and height estimates that each inch nets you an extra $800 annually. Stretched out over a 40 year career — and invested in funds returning 5% annually — an extra two inches of height could account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra earnings.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about your height, or whether it’s raining when you show up for an interview — which could doom your chances. But there are a number of other surprising factors to your success, with which you do have more control. Here are three key ones to consider.
1. Do you love risk?
People are surprisingly consistent in their desire to take on risks over time, suggesting it might a personality trait, according to a study published last month by European researchers published in Science Advances and Nature Human Behaviour. That study used a combined 39 assessments for risk tolerance and then gave the subjects a similar series of tests six months later, to see if their desire to take on risks had grown over time.
What they found was that although your desire to take risks may vary over time, it is subject to a general factor, which the authors compare to human intelligence: “Like the general factor of intelligence, there is also a general factor of risk preference,” Renato Frey, one of the paper’s authors, said. “Your willingness to take risks may vary across different areas of your life, but it will always be affected by the underlying general factor of risk preference.”
What does risk have to do with success? A lot, it turns out — especially if you’re so risk averse that you keep all your money locked in the bank instead of investing it. A recent Wells Fargo survey found that 53% of millennials said they would “never feel comfortable” investing in the stock market, even though the opportunity cost of not doing so could add up to more than $3 million over the course of a 40-year career.
Takeaway: You need to understand your risk tolerance to get rich.
2. Are you a spender or a saver?
One of the most important factors in whether or not you spend or save money is how much you need the cash to begin with. But somewhat less intuitively, whether or not you perceive yourself to be a saver is an important factor as well, according to a new paper from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
That study looked at household spending data from 29,000 households in the wake of stimulus payments the government sent out to try to kick start the economy after the 2008 financial crisis. The average payments were around $900, and sent out on a random schedule based on the recipient’s Social Security numbers.
What the researchers found was that, as you might expect, households with less cash on hand were more likely to spend it quickly than ones who had some money saved up. But self-perception also appears to be a strong factor in determining whether or not people save.
People who said they prefer to spend rather than save actually dropped three times as much cash in the first week as those who said they’d rather save their cash for the future. It suggests that personal preferences account for more of our spending behavior than we previously realized.
So ask yourself right now, are you a spender or a saver? If you cop to being a big spender, that’s all the more of a case for automating your accounts.
Takeaway: If you’re not a natural saver, consider automating stashing money away or you won’t have much in the bank come retirement.
3. How do you feel about yourself?
Narcissism is not exactly something you’d want to list on your resume, but studies suggest that some self-love can really help you in your career: Applicants who score high for narcissism also tend to outperform in their job interviews, according to one 2014 study from researchers in Canada.
There’s a few reasons why narcissists seem to ace their job interviews, the study found. They’re more likely to talk about themselves, make jokes, maintain eye contact and, perhaps most importantly, to ask lots of questions.
Luckily there are lots of ways you can tap into your inner narcissist’s sense of swagger — without becoming a self-obsessed jerk. Since failing to ask any questions at the end of your job interview can make you look both unprepared and unexcited about the gig, try to make a list of prepared inquiries at the end of your job interview. If you freeze up, consider simply asking the hiring manager about the company’s culture and why they like working there.
Another thing narcissists do right? That eye contact signals to their interviewer that they’re engaged in active listening. Other examples of nonverbal listening skills include remembering to uncross your arms and orienting your shoulders so that you’re facing the speaker. Finally, don’t forget to try to mute the thoughts in your own head.
Takeaway: Some people are naturally disposed to being good at job interviews; if that’s not you — lean in to your inner narcissist.
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