The One Trait that Defines your Student’s Future Success

Updated: Feb 18

And no, it’s not good grades or a varsity jacket.

It’s natural to want the best for your student. They’re unique, smart, and have their own

individual strengths, and, as a parent, you know this best!

But pushing students to get perfect A grades or score a hundred points or sing the highest and the loudest will not set them up for success. Successful individuals like Richard Branson, Jon Snow (the journalist), Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Al Gore all received average grades and left school early, before going on to become the influential household names they are.

Athletic points and artistic achievements show specific abilities and are often reflective of their environment: a student can be the best cricket player in his city because of his coach but travel a few miles north and perform poorly under a different coach. The famous Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge was an excellent actor in high school and obtained a coveted spot at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the best drama school in the world, but failed many classes because she didn’t click with many of her teachers or the curriculum. Michael Jordan, the world’s most famous basketball player, was cut from his high school team before his career took off.

Academic grades and high IQs—what used to be the hallmark identifier of future success—evaluate and quantify a student’s ability to regurgitate information. A student’s ability to use the information they learn is unquantifiable.

The truth is, school and extracurricular achievements only encompass a brief time in a student’s life. Good work habits and an amiable personality, on the other hand, last forever.

Individuals who value the process of learning over perfection, who can forgive themselves and others for mistakes, and who constantly work to improve and center themselves, are the ones who often have a lasting impact as leaders and as people.

Ready for it? The trait that defines a person’s success?

Their sense of humor.

Particularly a self-deprecating one!

Surprising but also not surprising.

And research backs it up.

Laughter and Leadership Skills

In recent years, an individual’s EQ (emotional quotient) has proven to be a better predictor of their mental health, professional success, and relationship stability than the IQ or the Big 5 Personality Tests.

The Emotional Quotient is made up of 5 components including self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation. Self-awareness is the #1 trait most people want in their leaders. And, according to Anne Gherini at, the most visible way leaders demonstrate self awareness is by genuinely poking fun at themselves. Funny, self deprecating people tend to be more logical, candid, and confident.

Interestingly, laughter is directly related to intelligence. Reader’s Digest reported that a dark sense of humor is correlated with a higher IQ, reduced negative feelings, and lower aggression.

Take it from Bill Gates, one of the most famous genius billionaires: he’s known for his Reddit jokes and has a killer meme game.

Laughter Will Make you Live Longer!

Jennifer Hofmann at the University of Zurich told The New York Times that laughing at oneself “is the hardest humor skill.” It’s hard to cultivate that habit, especially if your student is already particularly serious by nature. But, like anything, a little bit of change can go a long way!

Developing a sense of humor begins at home. Encouraging kids to make mistakes and notice what they’re good at or need improvement with can help them become more self aware and confident.

Watching comedic movies and reading jokes together is great for improving your student’s physiological and psychological health. Doctors often prescribe joke books to ease muscle aches and increase pain tolerance prior to a procedure, and in one psychological study, participants who thought of a funny memory were able to keep their hand in freezing ice water for longer periods of time than those who thought of a neutral or sad memory.

Humor is about Acceptance, NOT Comparison

It is important to remember that, like anything, comedy should exist in moderation. Humor has positive effects when it encourages us to make light of our flaws, accept them, and move on.

Too much teasing and making fun of oneself can result in negative comparisons. Kylie Smith at NYU, a member of the irony-humored Gen-Z, pointed out that sometimes self-deprecating humor can be a defensive action, a way of “beating people to the punchline” about the things we don’t like about ourselves. Remind kids that honesty, humbleness, and self deprecation are good, but that affirming oneself is equally important.

Developing a sense of humor should help lighten a student’s mood and allow them to see that their flaws are not permanent. All individuals are works in progress, and humor helps us to realize that. Smith thoughtfully advises that “It’s important to be aware of how we talk to ourselves in order to reach self-acceptance.” A self-actualized individual is more likely to take on leadership roles and earn the trust of their colleagues.

Good leaders, like your student, understand that humor shouldn’t be used to make fun of others or themselves. It’s meant to bond us together!

Take it Sleazy

The great thing about the Internet is that we have access to such a variety of information. YouTube videos, TikToks, memes, allow us to find the niche jokes that we personally enjoy.

Encouraging your student to take things in stride and realize life is a marathon, not a race. It’s important to enjoy the little moments along the way and laugh at them.

Work to help your student understand their blunders, and allow them to tease themselves a bit.

A plateau is the highest form of flattery.

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