How to succeed in the vet practice and in life

Find out the differences between successful people and unsuccessful people from author MaryEllen Tribby

Few things make me happier than when someone I mentor has an aha moment.

Recently, one of my nurses had an epiphany. She had found a pictogram that lists traits of successful and unsuccessful people. She knew that some negative attributes were entirely true, and she recognized a few important characteristics that she knew she had to develop better in herself.

When we looked for the author of the pictogram, I was pleasantly surprised. The author is MaryEllen Tribby, someone I have followed for years. Her latest gig is WorkingMomsOnly.com. She has met and studied countless uber-successful business owners, which helped her create the document.

She writes: “This chart was inspired and composed after meeting and working with some of the smartest, most successful entrepreneurs in the world, many of who are dear friends. … I compiled characteristics, traits and behaviors of successful people vs. unsuccessful people.”

Let’s go over the various behaviors, quoted from her chart.

  • “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” Some entrepreneurs swear that one key to their success is to write in a daily gratitude journal. This forces you to recognize how fortunate you are. It takes only a few minutes a day.
  • “Successful people forgive others. Unsuccessful people hold a grudge.” Many people say they couldn’t move on with their lives until they learned to forgive someone who hurt them physically or psychologically. Nobody said it was easy.
  • “Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others for their failures.” Sadly, many technicians know exactly what this refers to—inside or outside the OR.
  • “Successful people compliment. Unsuccessful people criticize.” Say “Nice job,” “Thank you” and be generous and sincere with compliments.
  • “Successful people read every day. Unsuccessful people watch TV every day.” This statement may be politically incorrect, but it happens to be true. On the same topic, Robin Sharma, a Canadian leadership expert, said: “Ordinary people love entertainment. Extraordinary people adore education.”
  • “Successful people keep a journal. Unsuccessful people don’t keep a journal.” Again, I have heard this comment from entrepreneurs. They swear that keeping a journal allows them to reflect, take a step back and analyze events. It also allows them to log ideas, quotes and things they might need to recall later on.
  • “Successful people talk about ideas. Unsuccessful people talk about people.” There is a variation on this quote: “Unsuccessful people talk about people. Successful people talk about events. The most successful people talk about ideas.”
  • “Successful people want others to succeed. Unsuccessful people secretly hope others fail.” I suspect this is the reason why only successful people mentor others. If you need a mentor, ask someone who is successful.
  • “Successful people share information and data. Unsuccessful people hoard information and data.” There are two ways to look at the world: People with a scarcity mentality see the world as a pie with a predetermined number of slices. Others work at enlarging the pie. This applies to knowledge, information and patients.
  • “Successful people keep a ‘to be’ list. Unsuccessful people don’t know what they want to be.” This is an interesting idea. Rather than creating a “to have” list, you could write a “to be” list. This allows you to acquire new skills—you might wish to be more diplomatic, more engaging or more in shape.
  • “Successful people exude joy. Unsuccessful people exude anger.” It always fascinates me what people say in response to a benign question such as “How are you doing?” Listen to how others answer that question, and pay attention to how you answer as well.
  • “Successful people keep a ‘to do’ list. Unsuccessful people fly by the seat of their pants.” One universal suggestion to become more effective is to write a to-do list, ideally the day before. There are many variations of that theme, but it’s a good start. Trying to remember everything you need to do is a sure way to forget half of it, or to only work on the “urgent” rather than the “important.”
  • “Successful people set goals and develop life plans. Unsuccessful people never set goals.” In the same vein, Tribby could have written: “Unsuccessful people set New Year’s resolutions. Successful people set yearly goals.” A goal should be specific and should have a deadline. This is the difference between “I should lose weight” and “This year I will lose 1 pound a month by eating three healthy meals and working out for 30 minutes a day.”
  • “Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear change.” No comment.
  • “Successful people give other people credit for their victories. Unsuccessful people take all the credit of their victories.” This is a great point to remember for practice owners, managers and associates alike.
  • “Successful people operate from a transformational perspective. Unsuccessful people operate from a transactional perspective.” Transactional leaders use rewards and incentives in exchange for performance. It’s a give-and-take economy; it’s merely a transaction. Transformational leaders use ambitious goals and motivation to encourage their team to excel. Their reward is personal and professional growth.
  • “Successful people continuously learn. Unsuccessful people think they know it all.” It never ceases to amaze me that some people have not opened a nonfiction book or journal in years.

Learn the Difference

MaryEllen Tribby’s “The Success Indicator” identifies the characteristics of successful people and unsuccessful people.

Successful people:

  • Compliment
  • Have a sense of gratitude
  • Forgive others
  • Give other people credit for their victories
  • Accept responsibility for their failures
  • Keep a journal
  • Read every day
  • Talk about ideas
  • Want others to succeed
  • Keep a “to-be” list
  • Share information and data
  • Exude joy
  • Set goals and develop life plans
  • Embrace change
  • Continuously learn
  • Keep a to-do/project list
  • Operate from a transformational perspective

Unsuccessful People:

  • Criticize
  • Have a sense of entitlement
  • Hold a grudge
  • Take all the credit fo their victories
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Say they keep a journal but really don’t
  • Watch TV every day
  • Think they know it all
  • Fear change
  • Fly by the seat of their pants
  • Operate from a transactional perspective
  • Talk about people
  • Secretly hope others fail
  • Hoard information and data
  • Don’t know what they want to be
  • Exude anger
  • Never set goals

In Conclusion

What do you think? Are you offended? Or do you find some truth to these statements? What can you do to become more successful?

Tribby writes: “If you are ready to kick up the success meter a bit, make a conscious effort to eliminate the traits on the right-hand side of the chart.”

In addition, she writes that “none of us is perfect, but as long as we recognize and identify where we need to improve and continually strive to get there, greater success will follow.”


Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

Originally published in the September 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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