If you want to get, you’ve got to give. And if you want to give, you’re already ahead in the game of true success.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do at an early age.” -Aaron Walker
The Cheat Sheet:
- When considering true success, it’s important to aim for significance.
- A healthy balance between life and work isn’t some far-fetched myth.
- How can competitors be your strongest allies?
- Why is it important to keep in touch with former colleagues?
- Having an impact on others pays more dividends than self-absorption.
- And so much more…
Aaron Walker came from very humble beginnings to open his own store at age 18, expand that business to include three more stores over the next few years, and sell it to a Fortune 500 company by the time he was 27. He continued to build and expand further businesses over the next few decades and was able to hang it all up and retire at age 50.
But someone as driven as Aaron couldn’t stay on the sidelines for long; now he’s a business and life coach with 36 years of entrepreneurship and marriage under his belt. In episode 434 of The Art of Charm, we talk to him about being successful while helping others and what it means to lead a significant life.
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Aaron Walker knows what it’s like to be broke. During his childhood, he remembers his mom nailing canned goods behind a board in the pantry in the summer so the family would have food to eat during the lean months, and his dad clearing snow to reroof houses in the middle of even the most brutal of winters. This instilled a bulletproof work ethic in young Aaron because, as he tells us, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do at an early age — and that was work like my dad had to.”
As further motivation, his mom’s motto was: “Can’t couldn’t do it and could did it all.” In fact, he and his siblings weren’t even allowed to use the word can’t. “She’d say, ‘you’re going to try,'” Aaron tells us. “‘you may not be able to do it, but you’re going to try.'” He credits this attitude with building the self-confidence to succeed throughout his entire life. Even today, if someone asks him if he can do something, his first response is always yes. Even if he doesn’t exactly know how, he’s confident enough to know he’ll figure out a way to make it happen.
Aaron started working in a store when he was 13. He got his high school diploma two years early by taking night classes and summer school, and opened his own store in suburban Nashville when he was just 18. By the time he was 27, he owned four stores and was able to sell them to a big company that was looking to expand into his area. Rather than resting on his laurels, he bought the store where he’d begun at age 13 and built that into another empire.
This pattern continued over the next few decades, and Aaron was able to retire at 50. But could someone this driven really sit out the rest of his days watching Andy Griffith reruns while the world went by? No disrespect to the comic genius of Don Knotts (RIP), but of course not.
With much encouragement from his wife and colleagues, he interrupted his retirement to return to work — this time helping guide others toward the success that he had enjoyed — with one important addition to the formula.
“Everything had been about me up until that point,” says Aaron. “All the success, the money, the stores, the houses, the cars — all that stuff — was really nice, but it was only about our family. I realized that I had no significance.” After some soul searching and inspiration from Halftime author Bob Buford, Aaron found the fulfilling angle of significance — having a real purpose — that he could share with others.
“Now I’ve gone on a quest since ’01 to teach people that you don’t have to pick either/or — it can be both,” says Aaron. “You can have great success, and I’m all about making money. I hate for people [who have money] to say, ‘money doesn’t mean anything.’ Well, I want to say you’re a liar! It does mean something! It is important! But it’s not our primary aim. It’s not our god. It’s not our focus. But what is important is to provide for your family, have the things you want, but then look outward and have significance in your life.”
It helps that Aaron has a lifelong partner in his wife (they’ve been together since they were 15) who will call him out and keep him focused when he falters. She’s been with him throughout the busy times and the would-be retirements, and gives him just enough of a nudge in the right direction when he needs it. Together, they have two daughters and four grandchildren. “Life is really, really good!” he says, demonstrating that he practices the work/life balance that he preaches. Now, helping others realize the importance of this balance gives him the greatest joy.
“I’ve got to look outside of what I’m doing personally,” says Aaron, “[to] meet the needs of others…to fully engage with people and listen to them intently.” He finds it important to really get into their lives and help them even when they can’t repay him and being available to them even when it’s not convenient. He feels that giving because he wants to trumps any sense of obligation or guilt, and being generous in this way perpetuates itself as it’s passed along to others.
“When you start focusing outward and you reach and touch other people,” says Aaron, “now you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life that will change generations to come.”
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn how Aaron has managed to become content without complacency, how he’s encouraged underprivileged junior high school kids to excel, how he makes competitors into strong allies, his steps to a productive day, and a whole lot more!
THANKS, AARON WALKER!
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