Entrepreneurship Grit l Aaron Walker
“Can’t couldn’t do it, but could did it all.”
Growing up in a 600 square foot house, watching his mom squirrel away cans of beans in the back of the cupboard for winter, and his dad sweep the snow off roofs so he re-roof houses through the winter, Aaron Walker knew that he didn’t want that. He didn’t want to work in a physically demanding job, and he didn’t want to work for anybody else. Aaron’s mother had instilled in him a sense of determination, saying, “Can’t couldn’t do it, but could did it all.”
Armed with nothing but grit, Aaron launched his first business when he was only 18. He found investors and opened his own pawn shop. Later he took out what seemed like a huge loan at the time—$150,000—to buy out the investors and be the sole owner. But the key decision that he and his wife made early on made all the difference. They took all of the money that they made and put it back into the business, sacrificing their own comfort to do so.
It seems like an alien concept to many people today, but this delayed gratification—living in a tiny apartment on rice and beans, and working 24/7—is what allowed Aaron and Robin to pay off their loan in three years and invest in a new store. They kept repeating that formula and eventually owned multiple stores. By the time Aaron was 27 they sold the businesses to a Fortune 500 company and retired!
Yes, you read that right. Retired at the age of 27.
An Inch Wide and a Mile Deep
Aaron has now owned 14 businesses—mostly in construction—and gained insights that can help anyone in any business. In our conversation he noted that too many entrepreneurs are an inch deep and a mile wide. He urges people to be intentionally focused on one thing. “Hone in on your knowledge. Be an expert at that one thing, and you will be twice as successful as you are today.” As Greg McKeown put it in his book Essentialism,“Be an inch wide and a mile deep.”
You have heard that before. Many times. So time to do something about it, right? Stop trying to do it all, find that one thing that you do best, and do it.
An Abundance Mindset
One really cool thing Aaron shared—which totally resonated with me—is that if you’re a giver, you’re going to get back more than you give. The practical example is a group Aaron formed with his competitors in construction to share best business practices. Yes, his competitors. They ended up sharing vendors and subcontractors, and pooled their resources to get discounts, making everyone involved more profitable.
Thanks to this simple idea they were able to rake in millions of dollars in business.
But this doesn’t just apply to construction—any group can do that.
In all of this, patience is key. As Aaron noted early in our conversation, you can’t compare your beginning to other people’s middle or end. You will get there. With focus, patience, willingness to take advice, and the desire to be a giver, you will have success.
Aaron put it like this: “Develop an abundance mindset, not a scarcity mindset, and things will come back to you 10X. You can’t get if you’re not willing to give.”
Prioritize your Priorities
In our conversation, we talked a lot about Aaron’s book The View from the Top. In it he doesn’t so much tell you what to do as tell you how it’s been for him and his wife Robin. They’ve been very intentional about how they live their lives. They “prioritized their priorities,” as he puts it. This means that they “put the big rocks in first.”
For Aaron those big rocks are: faith, family, relationships, and business, in that order. Everything else follows.
Aaron likes to say that your success is directly proportional to your mindset. He keeps a growth mindset, ready to learn, determined to push through his challenges, and above all not be afraid to get help.
This was another key—Aaron emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with trusted advisors who can help with your personal growth. Relationships in which you can make yourself vulnerable and transparent really allow you to grow. I love the way he phrased it: “The enemy to excellence is isolation.” —But he made the point that these should not just be a bunch of yes-men who agree with your every word. Surround yourself with people that have had different life experiences, have different filters, and are in different situations, because their different perspectives will open your eyes to many possibilities.
I can’t stress enough how true this is. Whether you’re in business or not, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, if you want to be excellent at what you do in life, you’ve got to surround yourself with exceptional people who are going to push you and hold you accountable.
Guest Bio: Aaron Walker
Aaron Walker is a life and business coach and a serial entrepreneur who began as a pawn shop broker at 18 and retired for the first time at 27. He has always done things his own way, ignoring the naysayers. Aaron runs an accountability group called Iron Sharpens Iron Mastermind, in which he aims to teach men not only to make money and be successful, but to use that money to live an extraordinary life of service to others. Aaron’s book View from the Top: Living a Life of Significanceis an honest, real, and enthusiastic account of how he has created opportunities where there were none and overcome incredible challenges with a mixture of faith and perseverance.
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Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson