We can see patterns in exceptional people’s behaviors when we study how they became who they are. The finding: greatness is not limited to a single quality. There isn’t a single trait that we can emulate exclusively to unlock our inner Achiever and become great.

Despite this lack of “defining quality,” there is a formula that can be a starting point for understanding what it takes to become the crème de la crème.

Depending on your chosen profession, 50% of your achievement is genetic and comes from the innate abilities you are born with. Michael Phelps has the torso of swordfish, the legs of a man 8″ shorter than him, a disproportionately large chest, a wingspan 3″ longer than his height, hyper-extended joints, and size 14 feet – the perfect, Olympic swimmer body. Your own gift might be your IQ, linguistic ability, musical talent, charm, wit, work ethic, or stress tolerance. Your success depends on identifying and building on your natural strengths.

25% of this formula (some would say more) comes from intense effort and the hard work you put into improving your abilities. Honing your strengths and improving your weaknesses. You either enhance your natural gifts or let them waste away. Hard work is more easily recognized in domains such as education, sports, or music, where you can see the inputs and the direct output. Every great person has devoted years of their life to getting better at and mastering their craft.

The final 25% comes from a set of “enabling factors” that drive extreme success. 5 enabling factors are common to every exceptional human, including:

  1. An environment that is supportive, full of other high-achieving people, and has a culture of striving and excellence.
  2. A deep belief that they are capable of performing at the highest level. Unwavering belief and confidence in themselves.
  3. The ability to learn from others by borrowing ideas, utilizing mentors, and a set of honest people to rely on for learning and support.
  4. A focus on the small details that others tend to ignore and an understanding that the compound effect of mastering these is incredibly meaningful.
  5. Discipline and steadfast commitment to their goals.

You can’t choose your genes, but you can certainly decide how hard you work, the characteristics and skills you want to develop and hone. That’s half the equation.