“What’s the secret to your success?”

It’s a favorite interview question for leaders of industry, athletes and innovators who have helped change the world we live in. Whether we’re clued-in to a professional shortcoming that we’ve overlooked or learn a new way to ease some of our day-to-day burdens, learning how successful people operate can provide valuable insight.

President Obama and Steve Jobs famously wore the same uniform every day to ease decision-making fatigue. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University believe who we marry plays a key role in our success, which I’m sure my husband would agree with (as do Mr. Obama, Beyoncé and Mark Zuckerberg). The more unusual answers tend to get more airtime, but there’s some great practical information out there, too. Highly effective people tend to wake up early to get a start on the day’s activities before they can be interrupted by a flurry of emails, meetings and phone calls, for example.

When my son’s kindergarten class integrated five themes into the curriculum last year—empathy flexibility, persistence, resilience and optimism—it got me thinking that someone just starting out in real estate would need the same traits to succeed.

Persistence: For every miracle deal or trophy assignment, there are dozens of leads and pursuits that didn’t work out. Success is as much about hard work and preparation as it is not being deterred. Failure is inevitable, and may even be the key to success. Learn from your mistakes and use them to improve your next effort.

Empathy: Clients want more than a partner who just listens and reacts. The best service providers are the ones that understand their clients’ businesses and anticipate their needs. By combining what we know about real estate with what we know about our clients, it’s possible to develop solutions that they didn’t even know were possible. That’s where you cross the line from being just another face in the crowd to an indispensable asset.

Flexibility: Do whatever you can to contribute. Processing invoices may not be the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, but it is as important as managing tenant improvements and the people you work with will appreciate your willingness to get tedious tasks done. If you establish yourself as a hard worker and a team player, more opportunities will appear.

Resilience: This goes hand-in-hand with persistence, and involves taking criticism and losses in stride. Nobody reaches their goals without setbacks. Success is about recognizing shortfalls as part of the process and pushing ahead with the same motivation. Instead of dwelling, make a conscious decision to keep trying until the win eventually happens.

Optimism: I think it’s unrealistic to say that if you do something you love, you won’t work a day in your life. No matter what you choose to do, there will occasionally be difficult, defeating days. However, you always have the opportunity to choose a positive outlook and surround yourself with like-minded people. When hard days happen, getting through them will be easier if you have made a habit of staying positive.

There are more complicated lessons to learn, but you can never be too good at the basics. Whether you’re pursuing a career in property management, brokerage or a different field entirely, these traits will always be the foundations of success, from kindergarten through retirement. Or as the New York Times recently put it: Want to be happy? Think like an old person.

A mentor, a real estate executive and a mom, Karen spends time all over the map. If she isn’t traveling, Karen is busy with everything from IREM to Virginia Tech’s Real Estate program. When she has a few minutes to spare, she considers it a personal mission to find new homes for all of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue’s four-legged companions. Keep up with Karen on social media @KarenJWhitt.