Even though everyone defines success differently, for most building wealth is an important factor.

I have studied information in publications I have worked on that have gleaned from the 400 individual tax returns reporting the largest adjusted gross incomes, which shows how the top 400 earned their money in 2009.

(To you and me, 2009 was a long time ago but to the government it’s pretty up to date.)


Of course information found on tax returns can be just one version of reality. A report compiled by the Spectrem Group on the 132,000 people in the U.S. with a net worth of over $25 million details how the wealthy say they made their money.

So to what do they attribute their success?

  • Hard work: 87%
  • Education: 78%
  • Smart investing: 72%
  • Taking risk: 63%
  • Frugality: 59%
  • Being in the right place at the right time: 56%
  • Luck: 53%
  • Running a business: 46%
  • Guidance offered by an adviser: 35%
  • Inheritance: 30%

Obvious conclusions:


    • Hard work means everything. Nearly every wealthy person credits hard work for his or her success. (Bad news for the “live on the beach while you generate passive income” crowd?)
    • Education is also incredibly important. The study doesn’t differentiate between formal and informal education, but clearly people who succeed place a high priority on constantly improving their knowledge, skills, and experience.
    • Risk is the mother of reward. Over half of respondents say taking risk contributed to their success. Of course there’s a huge difference between blind risk and intelligent risk–which is where education and experience play a key role.
    • But so is holding onto what you earn. Over half also cite frugality. (While the last two might seem contradictory, risking capital on a startup could generate a significant return; splashing some cash on a Lamborghini will not.)
    • Luck matters. Good fortune and being “in the right place at the right time” were both credited by over half of respondents. Even so, it’s possible to make your own luck–you can’t be in the right place at the right time unless you’re actively seeking opportunities. (The “right place” is never on your couch waiting for something lucky to happen to you.)
    • Inheritance matters a lot less. Fewer than one-third of people with over $25 million in assets credit inheritance for their success. That means two-thirds went out and created their own success.
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Let’s see: hard work, education, taking risks, prudent spending, being in the right place at the right time, and working hard to create your own success.

Sound like a plan?


Sure does.

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