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I am totally organised. I keep a file of everything, I monitor my activities, keep my expenses analytically, process my todo list and my projects with different types of gtd. I have an above average IQ in Cattell scale, a university degree, many years of work experience, I speak two languages and continuously creating personal projects. I am a social person and have no fights in a company of 100+ people that I work.

Why am I using binoculars to see success ? Why don't I have a chance to make some money and live by myself with some living quality ? I might have great expectations of myself but I should do. I have read hundreds of stories of people that were succeeded in their lives by owing nothing, no university degree, no money, no family.

Why ?

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I think the down-voter felt your question might come across as too subjective – Josh Jul 25 '13 at 11:53
Maybe it's a lack of interpersonal skills? Also, you can't deny the existence of luck. – Raystafarian Jul 25 '13 at 14:38
Have you acquired a good personal network? Does economy in the place where you stay allow to get the success you are aiming to? Are you sure to know which kind of success you are aiming to? (I don't mean to be harsh, it's just a reflection about "external" factors) – laika Jul 26 '13 at 17:47
you have everything but lack just one thing; the "asshole" character – flow Jan 13 '14 at 20:52
I think that being intelligent/smart is not a straight-line path to making money. I'd even say there are lots of smart people out there living below the poverty line. I won't go as far as saying they are mutually exclusive, but I've met a number of people, "C" students, no degree, who've done well (often in sales/marketing). A variety of factors play into life, including luck. – eflat Jan 14 '14 at 23:50

17 Answers 17

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Steven Covey likens efficiency is climbing a ladder as fast as you can, but views effectiveness as making sure it's leaning against the right wall.

You're obviously efficient - you're organised, intelligent, skilled and experienced.

But are you effective? Are you applying your talents in the right direction?

Your previous questions suggest that you take on a lot of projects. That's fine, but it does suggest that you lack focus on a single over-riding vision. What do you really want to achieve?

In your question, you seem to define success in financial and material terms. I can understand that: who doesn't want more cash and a bigger house? On the other hand, material success is almost always a by-products of another kind of success. This success that I'm talking about happens when several things work together:

  • You're doing the few things you love to do above all else
  • You're using your strongest talents
  • You're working it in a supportive environment
  • You're making a real positive difference in other people's lives
  • You're being rewarded for doing it

I suggest you go back through all your current projects and pick out the areas that meet these criteria. Then, where you can, focus on these areas. Make them grow. Recruit others to help you. Pour all your energy into them.

Unfortunately, I can't promise success, and I'm sure you'll have false starts and failures along the way. Nevertheless, you're sure to enjoy the journey, and this will give you the best chance of achieving your potential, and in doing so, reaping the appropriate rewards.

I wish you success.

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"You're doing the few things you love to do above all else": no, but I have to make some money... – Radolino Jul 26 '13 at 19:06
@RobertoDelgazzo So you do not understand, what Karmii said, is when you will do few things you love above all else you will be doing money out of those things, a lot of them... Not the other way around. – Mateusz Jul 27 '13 at 1:08
Making money out of hobbies needs a lot of experience and work. You have to somehow pay the bills - how can you make some money tomorrow by playing guitar? Not waiting for an answer, I am sure you couldn't. – Radolino Jul 27 '13 at 5:42
A long as you define success in pure financial terms you'll miss true fulfillment. For example, in the long term giving up a good night's sleep won't bring fulfillment - it'll just make you ill. – Kramii Jul 29 '13 at 3:52
They say it takes around 7 years to master something. If you pick a new thing that you think will get you your success, do a few weeks on it, then give up and start on something new, you're not going to succeed. +1 to Kramii for the Focus factor, you need to decide what you want to do, how you will measure your success, and then stick to it. I'm sure @Mateusz wasn't suggesting playing guitar would get you rich tomorrow; following a passion takes time, but is more rewarding in the long run. What is success to you? – CLockeWork Jul 29 '13 at 9:50

Summarizing what I've read in tons of productivity books, the single most important factor in someone's success is grit. Not IQ, not money, not education, not experience. Your final position in life is proportional to how much discomfort you're willing to put yourself through to get what you want.

Many of us aren't working minimum wage jobs because we forced ourselves through school and college. However, most of us fall into the trap of optimistic denial. We studied out of fear that we can't do anything with a minimum wage job. But we're fine living in the middle class, with a good car, good house, good spouse and kids, and a job where we give more than we get (but at least we get something).

You've identified that you do have a problem - you're not making money. But do you have the grit to do something about it? Are you willing to spend a few hours every night looking at how to make money? Are you willing to quit your job? Can you face the pressure from family and friends telling you that you're an idiot for giving up a 'safe' job to follow your dreams (assuming you've calculated things to be ok)? Are you willing to stop eating out and stop going on vacations to save up to start a business?

Another secret of success I personally follow is spending 40% of my income on investments and 2.5-10% on charity. If you invest simply by putting your money in some unit trust, that's good enough. You have some money stockpiled. Business opportunities are about timing; there will be a time when gold prices plummet or an unknown, high potential company starts selling stocks for cheap or when you'll find some good land for cheap. If you have no money, you can't take advantage of these easy opportunities.

Charity kicks in by giving you more contacts, who don't try to screw you over. It's there as a reminder that your target of having lots of money is not to buy things that give you better social status. The goal is to get better social status (or just feel better) by helping people. Most people don't donate anything; you instantly put yourself in the top 10% of philanthropists by donating just a tiny amount with a modest salary.

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This is a great piece of advice. I know all that - I haven't thought that one of charity which sounds good. I am not earning too much to give 50% on charities and investments. Don't forget we are passing through recession and we don't have many chances. But for most of what you're saying, you are probably right. – Radolino Jul 27 '13 at 5:40
@RobertoDelgazzo Work towards it gradually. It's not really that you don't have the money for it, but because you're spending a little more than needed on the quality of your house, car, furniture, etc. You can't really cut down on those yet, but as you get raises and finish paying off loans, you should look into investing before spending on yourself. – Muz Jul 27 '13 at 15:32
"almost" true. I have no loans, no raises in 3 yrs of work but I spend a little more for good quality of goods. – Radolino Jul 27 '13 at 16:29
+1 for mentioning grit concept. – kami Mar 17 '15 at 17:15

Those factors you mention in your question may have no relevance to being successful. An IQ of 141 doesn't make you good ad making money, or a successful entrepreneur. It just says you scored 141 on a test.

Similarly, everyone in my industry has a university degree - it is not a differentiator. When I hire, I see degree on a CV/resume as simply an indication that the candidate can learn.

So what do you call successful? Is it having a better job than the guy next to you? Is it calm? Is it raising a healthy happy family? Focus on the goal and you will have an indication of where you need to steer your efforts.

For example - if you are an employee, you will earn an employee salary, getting raises with promotion if you work hard, but your income is never going to match an owner of a large successful business. So if you want a step change, you could find something you can do or sell in the market and start your own business.

Find the difference.

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You got a point here. Actually I am trying to build a road in my mind that by following it I will be driven to success. We don't have many lives to live, so making the right choices is the only way to succeed in the future. I am trying to guess the right movements that will lead me to what I want to achieve. I am not looking into something extremely hard. – Radolino Jul 25 '13 at 12:36
You cannot future-proof your activities. You can try and predict, but really try and prepare for eventualities by getting better in your chosen areas, being open to new ideas and working hard. – Rory Alsop Jul 25 '13 at 12:48
Everything helps. Member, most people plan, are productive and organised. What are you doing different? – Rory Alsop Jul 25 '13 at 13:29
Gtd is irrelevant. It is just a tool – Rory Alsop Jul 25 '13 at 16:38
Maybe you are trying to think too deeply then, if successful people in your company seem less organised than you, maybe you are good at the wrong things. – Rory Alsop Jul 25 '13 at 16:39

The answer to your question is simple but requires a "different" type of hardwork.

First Some Background

Success, or more specifically, succeeding on a relative scale requires doing what other people in your "boat" (e.g coworkers, friends, equally educated/privileged people) aren't doing. Lifehacker had an article a while back on how most people live in a more average manner than they actually realise. We all keep a 9-5, laze about on free weekends and go at our expected paces.

However, you're one of the lucky ones i.e you have discovered that hunger for more, a higher life if you will. This takes vision and a whole lot of intellectual hardwork and dedication.

Thinking is the hardest work there is

You want a better life? well you have to work differently. Do have an idea or a vision that you'd like to see fulfilled in the world? Something you want to change perhaps? That's a starting point. This post might seem trite but what I'm referring to is much more strategic than merely chasing your dreams half-cocked, you need to put things on paper. You need to read outside your field ... way outside your field.

In summary, wanna change your success level? start thinking harder than your peers Cheers :)

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Your reply is really good but seems a little too philosophical for me. Thinking might be the way to achieve success, but that's only a general idea. – Radolino Jul 25 '13 at 12:19
Well, to give a more scientific response will take pages and links but like I said at the start of my answer, the solution is simple but requires you to apply your hardworking nature in a different way. – Josh Jul 25 '13 at 12:21
I got that, but it seems that the connection of my question to this stackexchange is productivity. That means that I believe that I am doing everything related to thinking, organising, planning and I wonder why nothing works to achieve success. – Radolino Jul 25 '13 at 12:29
I can only give "generalist" advice because I have no knowledge of your job, skills, or goals. So my answers will tend to have a philosophical ring to them. – Josh Jul 25 '13 at 12:47
Well, your case is much more straight forward than I thought. Have any startup ideas? you're a developer with management experience (that's founder material). Now is the time to invest in your/a startup. it's only logical - Spock – Josh Jul 25 '13 at 13:09

And I am going to add the upopular truth that to get ahead in any organization you have to play the organization politics game. No exceptions for being a geek or for working in a small company (some of the worst politics are in small companies.)

This doesn't mean you have to be the stereotypical snake who steals other people's work and sabotages anyone in his way. You can play politics effectively without being nasty. I'd suggest you do some reading of books on organizational politics to learn how to position yourself to get those promotions.

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this is a HUGE TRUTH. Thanks for mentioning I will check them out. – Radolino Jul 30 '13 at 17:36

"Why don't I have a chance to make some money"

You are making some money. Your company is paying you a salary. If you think it is not enough for your expectations, you can always search for a better paid job. It is up to you.

"and live by myself with some living quality?"

You are living with some living quality. You probably have clean water, electricity, health services available to you and other kinds of commodities at your hand. Keep in mind that most people in the planet are living with much less than you are. Value what you have. Focus on improving what you feel that needs to be improved.

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Yeah, but I am trying very hard for something better and I am getting nowhere. I see fool people with less experience & less education that make lots of money and live in nice houses... I am not looking into being a millionaire, just having something more than the surface... – Radolino Jul 25 '13 at 10:57
@Roberto By "trying very hard", you mean that you're intensively looking for a better paid job without success? – Daniel Daranas Jul 25 '13 at 11:48
looking for a better paid job, looking for other sources of income, looking for ways to create something unique and sell (a business)... – Radolino Jul 25 '13 at 12:31
@RobertoDelgazzo Then set your priorities and focus on the strategy you choose. You won't have an abstract success - you first need to try something specific, and then see how it works out. – Daniel Daranas Jul 25 '13 at 15:05

No matter what your qualifications are, no one is entitled to anything. Anything that you get has some degree of luck, good qualifications only increase the probability of success but don't guarantee it.

Think about it like this, Harvard rejects about 1000 applicants with PERFECT SAT scores. These "rejects" are more than qualified to attend Harvard, however Harvard only has about 2000 openings so it's inevitable that qualified people must be rejected. These are people that worked hard their entire life and did everything right with a dream to go to Harvard, and yet they still didn't get in. Many of them probably ask the same questions as you do. If they got in then it would be someone else asking the same thing.

There is a good talk about this by Barry Schwartz at Swarthmore.

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As a MIT & Harvard 'non admit' with superb SAT scores myself (they don't use the word 'reject'), the people who do get accepted are more interesting. Many of them do have good grades, but what stands out is what they do with their childhood/teenage years, the personality exhibited in their entrance essays. A lot of accepted people have some charity work in their extracurricular activities, but they don't note this in statistics. Apparently, those are a better indicator of survivability at Harvard. – Muz Jul 26 '13 at 22:13
Good point! +1 A lot of people believe that life can be 'engineered', but there are always things that happen by chance. Both success and disaster may appear at any moment without you having any say in it. – THelper Jul 29 '13 at 13:02
His question is about that people with poorer skill set and motivation than his, do succeed, while he does not. So the Harvard example is irrelevant here. – drabsv Oct 8 '15 at 9:47
I don't see how since my example is about people working really hard and not succeeding. Nor do I see anywhere about him comparing himself to people with a poorer skillset. But even then there are people that enter Harvard as legacy admissions and it can be argued that they have a much poorer skillset then people that are 1st generation admissions. – cspirou Oct 10 '15 at 9:23

It's really simple.

Work smart, not hard.

Most people work "hard" all their lives, rare individuals actually work smart.

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how do you work smart ? – Radolino Jul 26 '13 at 19:00
Check out the book "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Timothy Ferriss. It may give you some ideas. Or better yet, read its synopsis on Wikipedia. – Gruber Jul 27 '13 at 20:45
@Gruber thanks for mentioning the synopsis! I always wanted to read the book but didn't get around to it. – w00t Jul 30 '13 at 21:08

You applied for a job, they told you what they would pay you and you said, "Yes." When was the last time you asked someone for money?

This takes many forms. I'm not talking about begging.

  1. A pay raise or bigger bonus.
  2. Volunteer for a charity and get involved in a fund drive.
  3. Sell something on ebay, the classified section of your newspaper or put a sign out in front of your house.

If you don't ask, you rarely get. In the modern world we can lose touch with the basics of commerce: Find, evaluate, ask for money, be willing to say No, negotiate, repeat.

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I think most answers given here are quite good, but I especially like the answer by Krammii (focus on your strong points and what you love, not solely on making a lot of money) and the one by cspirou (life cannot be 'manufactured', a lot of things are outside of your control and for somethings you just need a portion of good luck).

However, there is one thing that is missing in all these answers, which is: expectations kill joy!

For example, if somebody has seen an incredible good movie and recommends you to go and watch it, chances are you are going to like it but nothing more than that. If on the other hand, you discovered the very same movie yourself by chance you'd probably thought it was an incredibly good movie.

The point I'm trying to make is if you expect something to happen, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Either it happens just like you thought and you will feel content about it but nothing more than that, or it doesn't happen and you are disappointed. Much more joy comes from the unexpected good things that happen to you. If you learn to take life as it is, you'll find yourself being much happier.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't set goals and try to go forward. By all means set goals, set them high but realistically, try to achieve them, but it is often the path to your goal that will make you happy, not reaching the goal itself.

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That working hard makes you successful is something the rich people want you to believe - since you are earning their money. Being seriously rich has more to do with luck, being born into a rich family, and rather evil personality traits like ruthlessness, which you don't want to have if you want to be happy.

The hard truth is: if you are unhappy now, you will be unhappy even if you get more money or success. Happiness is about being happy with what you have. If you desire more, you will still desire more when you get more - that's just an unfortunate personality trait you might want to change. If you treat yourself as a workhorse, you'll be unhappy - unless, of course, you have that exceptional kind of work that just makes you smile when you think of it.

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It has already been mentioned, but luck is very important. Not exactly the common meaning of luck, something that is outside of your control, but luck in the way Richard Wiseman explains it

Wiseman studied lucky people to see if luck really existed and he basically found the main differences between lucky and unlucky people. Lucky people step out of their comfort zone, or probably don't have that concept at all, this leads to serendipity and lucky chances (have you heard the old saying that it is not your friends that get you job offers, but your friends's friends? It is based on the same principle)

Unlucky people rarely go with people they don't know, or places or events they don't already know they'll like, this means they are always doing the same things with the same people.

Lucky people rarely say no to any invitation, they meet people that have nothing to do with them, they go to places and events that are not within their likes, and so meet people of all kinds and professions, thus leading to lucky people moving, and changing jobs more frequently, and unlucky people calling them "lucky" because they get chances they don't get.

It is a very broad summary of Wiseman's findings, of course, but I guess you get the picture.

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You made yourself ready. Now use your readiness

  • You ARE successful. If you cam manage yourself and have many interesting things to do, you can do what you want and you have wishes to fulfil. 99% people don't have this. You are strong. And this strength is your own win. You have the level with which you can overturn the Earth.

  • The main task of our life is to find what are you to do in it. Do you want somebody else to solve it instead of you? Do you want to deprive yourself of the sense of your own life?

  • If the problem is only money, you should think about your surroundings. Are you sure you are using your strength in the correct country? Company? Society? Project? Maybe you are afraid of changing something yourself and are waiting for somebody to change your life instead, as a payment for you being so excellent? Such things happen in fairy tales only.

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Even though you are right in a way, you know what I mean. Check a random article… for people that didn't have a college degree. I am questioning myself: "What did they have that don't?" - not in a narcissistic manner ("I am the one best/perfect/unmistakable person in the world") but just wondering for a reply. – Radolino Jan 16 '14 at 16:05
@RobDel Sorry, but if we let alone people who had simply stolen their money, the people who win were those, who did what they desired to. It seems, that you have prepared yourself excellently and continue to prepare yourself. But what about to start something you really love? And don't forget, that 99% of people who follow their dreams, ARE successful, but aren't rich. Had you invented something that millions of people want to use? Or several very rich people/companies? Or some nice joke, for which 10 millions will pay a dollar? – Gangnus Jan 16 '14 at 16:31
Some extremely talented or even genial people work hard all they life and don't become rich at all. (but notice, they were in their life much more happy than 99% of millionaires could even imagine.) Don't believe in the crowd fallacy of the "American Dream"! It is a whip for the weaker people, you don't belong to them. – Gangnus Jan 16 '14 at 16:35
nowadays you see people become millionaires after creating an iphone application, with very little knowledge of programming - a useless application, very easy to program. They did not solve a real life big problem, they did not follow their passion until they die working day and night. They simply made the right choices, either accidentally or by intelligence. I can understand accidents, but the part of intelligence and right-choices is what I search for. – Radolino Jan 16 '14 at 16:53
People have succeeded with no money, with no university degree, living in villages in degraded country areas around the world and with no "smart idea" in mind. The question is simple, what am I doing wrong ? – Radolino Jan 16 '14 at 17:00

Many good points here. Yes, you must learn to deal with politics, but it's a skill that can be learned (and not particularly difficult, compared to some other interpersonal skills). You must also apply your talents in an effective direction (more on that below). And you must be careful not to become a prisoner of your own - or others' - expectations.

Beyond these, there are a couple of key issues: developing an effective strategy, and then learning to grind things out day after day. You will have ups and downs, but consistency is essential to success.

Strategy means finding a path that builds on little successes in a non-linear way. For instance, if you can swing it, it's better to go to school and then work, you'll make a lot more overall. So putting things in the right sequence - prioritizing - both on a day-to-day and longer-term basis, is a key skill.

Think through where you are really trying to go and ask, how can you get there most effectively? If you have to work a dinky job to stay in college, who cares, it's only for a while. In the same way, if you can't find the ideal job, take something else and keep looking. Each step along the way you'll be in a stronger position.

Once you settle on a basic strategy (no plans are ever carved in stone), you still have to execute. This is where it gets confusing for young adults. When you were a kid, you could sense progress almost every day, certainly every few months. It was like swimming across a kiddie pool. College was more like grueling laps in an Olympic pool, but you could still tell you were getting somewhere.

The adult world, however, is more like swimming in the ocean. You can't always sense progress, and sometimes waves come and push you back, or even under. And there are strong currents that you really do need a strategy to counter. So you need to keep focused on your long-term strategy, but break it down into medium-term goals. This medium-term goal-setting area is the most tricky and where many fall short. What skill should you learn next? Which area of your life should you shore up (make stronger) next - better car/job/housing/etc?

In grinding it out day to day executing your strategy, bear in mind you are looking to constantly move toward greater advantage, and distinguish leading and trailing indicators. Money is very much a trailing indicator, and it can be a huge mistake to focus on that. Focus on improving yourself and your relationships, figuring out where you can make your best contribution, and gradually handing the rest off to others.

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First thing, you need a specific definition of success. Otherwise, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? There’s nothing wrong with changing your definition halfway through the game, but if you define success as having a happy family and kids, and instead you end up a single multi-millionaire with four divorces under your belt, you’ve failed.

From your self-description, you’ve got a full toolbox, which should help you reach your goals. But as to why you haven’t reached them yet, the vagueness of your question provides a hint. What exactly are you trying to succeed at? Set yourself a specific long term goal, like ‘I will increase my annual income by $20,000 by the end of the decade’. And within that goal, set up milestones to celebrate. Celebrate when you hit $1000, $5000, $10000. Don’t treat it as an all or nothing thing.

Once you know what your success will look like, figure out how you will approach the problem. What are the steps along the way? Maybe you need to improve your skills until you are worth that much to an employer. Maybe you are already worth that much, but need to improve your negotiating skills so that you can convince others that you are as valuable as you think you are. Or maybe you have hobbies outside of work that can morph into something you can sell (either skills or products).

Once you’ve figured out the steps, set goals to reach those steps. You say you set yourself projects. Make those be projects that work towards your goal. If you want to sell your services as a translator between your two languages, have a project where you set up a business plan, then another where you contact 20 or 30 people who might want your services, then a third where you set up a system to keep administrative overhead low for your new business.

The path to success is not to have a big pile of achievements to put on a resume. Instead, you need to first know where you’re going, and then know how you’re getting there.

Personally, I met with a lot of failure my first few years out of college because I had only a very vague idea of what I wanted to do, and no clue how to start achieving it. It’s only in the past three or four years that I’ve learned to work effectively towards small, specific goals, rather than taking on random projects with no thought to where they lead, if anywhere.

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Most important of all, you should focus on solving people's issues. You can be really good at something that solves needs which aren't people's problems. A big part of it is looking at our species' current state and trying to better things.

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I think you should find the answer of"Why do those other people, less capable than myself succeed more than I do" first and then seek the the answer for your original question.

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