“What’s that bigger meaning behind what you’re doing—why do you do what you do?”
– Maria Matarelli
Welcome to the Steve Show. Today, I Have Maria Matarelli here. And she is on the show because I just met her at the National Speakers Association. Many of you know, I was a workaholic and then I transformed my life. And she had the same experience as a workaholic too—she almost died because of it, and she shared her story today.
I invited her to come onto the Steve Show because we were talking about this word—workaholic—which is the title of her little book: A 12-step guide to having a life and getting things done.
Maria’s story is inspiring and full of wisdom, takeaways, and insights. So, I’m going to let the interview do the talking now. Enjoy!
Steve N.: Maybe share a little bit of story of like, let’s go to the beginning part that you were working so hard. I mean, I just looked online just a little bit. I think you said you are 12 accreditations.
Maria M.: Way too many of that story.
Steve N.: That means that you were working your butt off to get certified and all those things and then that created demand for you to go speak and teach. Tell me a little about those days, what was that like working so hard and then how it shifted?
Maria M.: Yeah, I think it really started when I was younger. My parents we were always—what I like to say—lower class posing as middle class. Because you have people that charge up their credit cards or they buy things they can’t afford.
There’s a whole group of people that are living outside their means. And we always had humble beginnings and lived very simply. And my parents sacrificed to send my brother to a private school when they could barely afford it. But they wanted us to have a good start.
But I grew up with my parents always fighting about money and arguing about that, and it led to them divorcing. And that crumbled my world when I was a teenager. And I made the decision I never wanted to struggle because I didn’t want to end up like that.
I didn’t want to not be able to provide for myself or my family or have my family crumbled because of that. I wanted to work hard and be successful because I thought that’s what we’re supposed to do. And I worked three jobs to pay my way through school because in college, no one else was going to pay for me to go. And by doing that, I started developing these habits and I noticed years later that I never took a vacation day. And I never had a day off because, I mean three jobs and school full time—that’s a lot.
What I realized? —it’s not about working for the sake of work. It was like I was trying to fill a void, it was like this insatiable thing, this hole. And it was my family falling apart, and me not wanting to be ever struggling. I worked so that I would never have that or have my life fall apart.
Steve N.: Yeah. It’s like to a way to ignore something else or fill your time.
Maria M.: Yes. That’s why you got to ask, “What’s that bigger meaning behind what you’re doing—why do you do what you do?” (Number 11 in my book) And that’s on the positive and the negative. Why do you have these unhealthy habits—why are you driven? Why do you want to make an impact or inspire people for myself? And I had to really look deeper into that.
Steve N.: I just want to point out, that’s awesome that you know what your number 11 is.
Maria M.: Yeah—it’s a ‘why’ that’s like a place holder why. It’s like to fill the void. You have the why of: I want to help people inspire people so I’m building my business to do that. But then, the why behind it of the endless working nonstop. I think a lot of us are moving so fast, we don’t stop to think about that.
Steve N.: No, you’re in it so you can’t stop or feels like you can’t.
Maria M.: It does feels like you can’t. And for me it was, I didn’t want to face what I was running from—those feelings I never dealt with. I put it away in a box and said, “I’m just never going to think about that pain again.”
Steve N.: Right, right, right, yeah. Then what was the turning point then? Was it a slow evolution or was it like a fast? What made the transition?
Maria M.: It was a can of tuna. So, I’m downtown Chicago living right downtown. I’m doing consulting, good consulting. I’m traveling, speaking, but I’ve got a client downtown Chicago.
One morning I woke up, the lights were already on. I was fully dressed in what I wore to work the day before, and I was on top of the covers in bed, had fell asleep again with my laptop on my lap. Now, that wasn’t the shocking part. I was like, “Oh, it must have been like 2:00 AM, I’m working until I just passed out.”
It was this lone can of tuna, I looked to my right. There was this loan can of tuna sitting there with a fork hanging over the side. That was my dinner. And I looked and I thought, “How sad, that is the saddest thing that one could have.” And I realized that was a defining moment. It’s a silly moment, but it’s a moment where I knew I had to make a change. I cannot live like this and this isn’t going to go anywhere good.
Steve N.: Right.
Maria M.: Some say that writing this book was a cry for help. If you have a can of tuna next to you, there is hope.
Steve N.: Okay. So, what did you do after the tuna?
Maria M.: Months had passed, and I started to realize that I needed to work smarter, not just brute force harder. And I felt like I was bashing my head against this wall, trying to push forward, trying to make stuff happen and launch my business.
You may be familiar with the ups and downs of the business owner. And I remember I had steady income, and then I dipped down to zero a couple of times as I was trying to move forward with my business because I realized that when I was consulting, I kept thinking I’m getting paid too good to quit. I couldn’t bring myself to truly do what I wanted to do because I have this other thing, and I was comfortable.
And then after a couple of years, that contract ended and I realized I could have jumped into another contract, but I didn’t. And I didn’t because I thought I’m going to make my business happen and I must put the attention toward that. And those were the zero depths trying to figure out what to do.
It wasn’t until about a year later that I figured out how to get my business moving forward. And it was through focusing on a niche, it was many of the principles and concepts you talked about. And what I found was that you don’t have to put in that much work when you’re doing the right things.
Steve N.: That’s it, it’s working smarter, not harder. Throwing dirt all over doesn’t help when you just need a little bit of dirt right there or whatever it is. And it sometimes takes outside perspective to notice or just doing it enough times. You bang your knee on something enough times, maybe you decide to move that item. About a year later, is that when you wrote the book or you kind of figured out and then you’re like, “You know what, I’m going to write these steps?” How did you come to the 12 steps?
Maria M.: Right. The first step is always admitting you have a problem.
Steve N.: Okay. So that was the first step.
Maria M.: And I started looking at, well, what are the other things? Well, setting boundaries, delegating, getting a hobby. There’s a dedication in here to a couple of good friends of mind, Laufer and Schlitz. And I had to reach out to them because they’re fellow workaholics. And I said, “Guys, help me on this part,” because as I was writing the book, I was struggling with a couple of the chapters. I’m like, “Hobbies, let’s talk about this. “What is a hobby?” In each step, there’s a definition of the word, assuming you might not know what it is.
Steve N.: Right, yeah. Or it’s so far you haven’t been there since you were a kid. I haven’t had time for a hobby—it’s like you had to re-learn.
Maria M.: Oh, yeah, kind of, but also like it’s the perspective, it’s the perspective of how you look at what you do and where you spend your time. And it’s a conscious choice. And we don’t realize that sometimes when we’re in the mix of the business.
Steve N.: This is amazing, so then what happened? You get steps, you’re being inquisitive and learning all these steps and finding from your friends, then what happened?
Maria M.: Well, you’ll appreciate the introduction of the book because I talk about the moment where I recognized I had to make a change. I’m trying to figure out, well, how do I do that? And I started thinking, my background is project management, I do project management consulting. I thought, “Okay, I just need to identify the steps. I can articulate it clearly, then I can see them, I can visualize it then I can take them.”
Steve N.: Because you’re a super step by step girl.
Maria M.: Yeah. And then as I do that, I’m encountering more and more people that have the same challenge. I said, “Well, if I write them down, if I share them through a book, then I can help other people. And then through that, as I’m doing it, I can learn myself and I can heal too.” And then I realized I took sort of the task of working less and I turned it into a project of writing a book. It became work. Therefore, I think that I might still be broken is how the intro goes because it’s an ongoing thing. We start to fall back into what’s comfortable and what feels safe and what’s helped us in the past.
Steve N.: What would be the one thing or what’s the starter that you suggest to people?
Maria M.: What I would suggest is you have to pause—take a step back and reflect. Because when we’re in the mix of it, we can’t see stuff the same as we could if it was someone outside of us or third party.
It’s like you have a friend that’s going through a bad relationship. You can clearly see why they shouldn’t be in that relationship, but they don’t see it and they keep going back. It’s that clear. If you can pause and reflect, and you might have to ask someone else for help with this to say, “Hey, help me look at my situation.”
What I would encourage people to do is look for the 80/20 because it’s that rule that we hear over and over where 20% of the effort gets 80% of the results.
And what is your 80/20? Because for a long, long time I was doing the 80% of the effort to get 20% of the results—focusing on the wrong things. If you can pause, take a step back and look at what’s going on—what’s the real outcome that I want? And how could I get there smarter? Often, there’s something you could do differently that when you can find that 20% that gets you the 80% of the results, that’s going to free you up to not have to work all the time.
Steve N.: That’s the magic right there.
Maria M.: Stop, do something different.
Steve N.: Yes, reflect and get outside, just like you said, get outside advice. I think that is beautiful, that is beautiful. It’s amazing, and just sharing. I guess as we get close to the end here our time together, now, what’s the results? I know you’ve had iterations of this with all your travel, you were sick, but maybe tell us a little about where you are now. Are you still in the thick of it or are you coming out? Where are the things now?
Maria M.: Yeah, great question. Fast forward from that time, probably dipped down to trying to figure out what to do. I then figured out everything clicked. I put enough work in, I did the right adjustments and got to a point where I had vertical revenue. I went from hitting the ground, being account going negative to skyrocketing over 50 grand a month. And that’s the type of thing that we all want as we’re starting a business like when’s it going to break right? When can I take off and be successful?
Fast forward, I’m running an international consulting company doing training for the largest companies in the world, Fortune 100 from IBM, Microsoft Bank of America, Disney, traveling from Sweden, Vancouver, Morocco, Istanbul, Shanghai, Singapore, all over. I wasn’t working any longer just to fill that void, which was what was originally happening that I recognized, but something else happened.
About three and a half years ago, I got rid of my home. I started traveling one-way tickets around the world looking for more opportunity to make a bigger impact. And I started to get very sick a couple of years ago, and I was in the hospital three times. My blood count dropped very low. A normal person’s hemoglobin count or blood count is 12 to 18. I fell to 7.6, then 5.8, each time going to the hospital for an emergency blood transfusion. And then after that, I figured out what was wrong. I had three tumors growing inside of my stomach. And the largest one got this big, and I was still traveling and trying to keep my business going.
I didn’t want it to crumble and nobody would know this. Nobody would know this from social media—only a small group of friends are aware of this because I didn’t tell the world. I thought people won’t hire me, they won’t hire my company, and everything I’ve worked for is going to come crashing down. I could have died.
Steve N.: And you’re still working during this time?
Maria M.: Oh, I was traveling through airports in wheelchairs and speaking from a tall chair in the front of the room. I almost passed out teaching in front of Microsoft in DC a couple of years ago. I had to call another trainer friend to help me because I had to go to the emergency room. It was one of those things where it was out of my control. How can you control if you have cancer or if you have a tumor? It’s not something that you necessarily cause, some could say it was related to stress, that’s possible, but you can’t just make it go away. What do you even do for that?
That was a really challenging thing for me because all I know is how to push and how to work harder, and how to make what I want happen. And when you can’t move and you have no energy, and you can’t stand. And I was in a wheelchair for half the year. And I’d be off the road for months.
I realized I must slow down. And finally, when I was healthy enough to go in for surgery last year, I didn’t even feel the same afterward. A couple of months, and even when I did go back to training, I was flying other trainers to meet me in the cities because the first place I went was Nova Scotia because IBM calls, I’m like, “Oh, I got you.”
I realized my capacity, and I couldn’t do it. And I found out I had adrenal fatigue, which as much as you rest, you’re not truly rested. What I learned from all of that is what you said a moment ago, “When something is hard, stop. When you’re pushing against something, that might not be the direction you should go.”
I believe that when there’s a challenge, that’s a change urge. Conflict is a change urge. I believe that the lesson here is that we need to be mindful. I love what your mission is, and I love your message because it’s for all those business owners. And I realized that as the founder and president of an international organization, I have a limit. And if we don’t take that seriously, you hear the phrase, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
Steve N.: It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful.
I hope you’ve gained value from this post. In fact, why don’t you let us know, what was the most valuable insight you gained? Maria and I are active on social media. Why don’t you let us know what if any that you want to know more of?
Until the next episode…
Choose Gratitude Create Freedom
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