Jackie Gingrich Cushman

As parents of two middle schoolers (eighth grade and sixth) my husband and I spend time attempting to help them develop characteristics that we believe are useful and good.

Looking others in the eye when talking, a firm handshake and the ability to carry on a conversation are just a few of these skills. We encourage them to work hard and do well in school. We put emphasis on them working hard and doing their best, rather than the outcome or the grade itself.

Like most parents, we want our children to be successful. A recent New York Times article, "What Drives Success," by two Yale Law School professors and the authors of the forthcoming book "The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America," has given me pause. Are we helping them develop the traits that will lead to success?

According to Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, three key traits drive success. While all Americans might have equal opportunity to become economically successful, the authors point out that the statistics of group success (and failure) provide evidence that opportunity does not necessarily translate into a given outcome.

"Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure (roughly $90,000 per year in median household income versus $50,000). Iranian-, Lebanese- and Chinese-Americans are also top-earners. In the last 30 years, Mormons have become leaders of corporate America, holding top positions in many of America's most recognizable companies. These facts don't make some groups 'better' than others, and material success cannot be equated with a well-lived life," they wrote, "But willful blindness to facts is never a good policy."

"Jewish success is the most historically fraught and the most broad-based. Although Jews make up only about 2 percent of the United States' adult population, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates," they point out.

"It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex -- a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite -- insecurity, a feeling that you or what you've done is not good enough. The third is impulse control," they conclude.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.