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The Key To Success Is Much More Simple Than Most Realize

Michael de la Maza

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When I started my career in my 20s, I was completely focused on feeling accomplished, being well-respected, and making money. 

But by the time I became an agile coach 13 years later, all I cared about was money. 

For a while, I aimed to look exclusive by sending notices when I was available and choosing my clients based on the highest pay rate. It didn’t matter what the work was, whether or not I was happy, or if I was making a measurable impact.

After several miserable projects working this way, I realized I cared about more than money.

Now, decades later, I view success differently. Ninety percent of my professional decisions are not about money—they’re about the impact I can have. I frequently volunteer my services and work with low-income clients because, to me, that’s where I can have the largest influence. For example, while working on the Path to Coaching program, I was paid $30/hour—well below my standard rate. 

Today, money doesn’t carry as much weight as it once did because I’m helping thousands of people. To me, that alone is success. 

What does personal success look like to you? 

Defining the key to success for yourself means being specific, strategic, and intentional in your process. 

I would probably still be making ridiculous money while being miserable if I hadn’t stopped and asked myself, “Wait, what actually makes me happy?” 

When I noticed in my 20s that taking a job that paid well—but didn’t make an impact—wasn’t making me feel successful, I developed a checklist to sort out my priorities. I figured out the rate to charge clients so I could still make rent and pay bills. And I also learned what the trade-off in my own happiness was for taking lower-paid work that helped more people. 

But I had to sit down and take the time to intentionally specify what was and wasn’t worth it to me. 

If you’re finding yourself at a similar crossroads, try this exercise to help sort out your definition of success: 

  • Ask yourself, “What really matters to me?” Be ruthless and demanding of yourself with this answer. 
  • Ask yourself, “Why?” five times after your initial answer. If you were to say, “What really matters to me is to have a million dollars in the bank,” then you would need to answer “why” to that statement. You may reply, “Because I want to have a Ferrari.” Why? “I want to go to the club and have all sorts of people talk to me.” And so on and so forth until we’ve reached the core point of your initial answer—you really want love in your life, close personal relationships, or a romantic connection. And one way to do that might be to have a million dollars, get a Ferrari, and go to clubs.
  • Write down what you truly want. This is now your intention. With that as your key focus, you can begin to craft a plan to successfully get there. 

By knowing your deepest intentions, you’ll suddenly have a wealth of options in front of you—and not all of them will be tied to money. And when you’re not focusing on only one particular path to success, you’ll find there are endless ways to achieve what you want.  

Taking practical steps toward that success is entirely up to you.

Again, we come back to specificity and intention. 

Moving forward along the path to success doesn’t come without taking a few steps on your own, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. So you need to break things into actionable portions. 

Start by writing down three to five things you want to accomplish over the next six to twelve months. This helps you know your immediate goals. But you then want to journal about those goals every morning. Meaning you write one or two sentences on your thoughts, who can help you accomplish those goals, or what you’ve done recently to see progress. 

I also encourage you to look at what successful people have done in their career paths and take notes. Map the patterns of success and find a way to apply them to your own actions. 

Whatever your definition of success is, being intentional and taking the right steps can help you achieve it. What exactly those steps are, what your unique path looks like, will differ. Along the way, simply look for a sense of achievement and fulfillment—those feelings usually mean you’re on a journey of self-defined success.   

If this topic resonated and you’d like to talk about it together on your podcast, let me know!

Here are a few other articles you might find helpful:

6 Exercises To Improve Team Collaboration, Co-Founder Synergy, And Employee Happiness

Self-Care Is The Single Most Important Thing You Should Prioritize

Break Free Of The Maze: How To Believe The Impossible And Promote Greater Solutions Within Your Team

Co-founder, DemingWay.com. We help people learn agile more effectively and at a lower cost. Previously VP of Corporate Strategy at Softricity (acquired by Microsoft in 2006) and co-founder of Inquira (acquired by Oracle in 2011).

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