Having money, a big house, and a profitable business can lead to a fulfilling life – or so we all think. In this episode, discover what a life of significance truly means as you learn from life and business coach Aaron Walker. Successful in business, Aaron first experienced retirement at the early age of 27, but it did not scratch an itch he thought it would. Learn how pursuing a meaningful life led him to masterminds and a podcast, and his “why” in writing his book, View from the Top.
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Pursuing A Life Of Significance With Aaron Walker
Our guest is Aaron Walker who is a life and business coach and runs masterminds for men. He’s a veteran businessman. He continues to inspire countless entrepreneurs with his leadership skills and his transparent and authentic life. His purpose in life is to mentor men to be better versions of themselves. Having more than 40 years’ experience and more than a dozen startups allow him to lead with confidence. He is the author of View From The Top, Living A Life of Success and Significance. He shares practical insights and wisdom on how you too can find hope and inspiration. He has an amazing real life-story that will challenge your thinking and motivate you to action. Aaron, welcome to our show.
John, thanks for having me.
Would you mind taking us back to your own story of origin? I would love to find out what made you who you are. You can go back to your childhood, high school, college or whatever grabs you.
I’m going to take you way back. I’m almost 60 years old now so I’ve got to go back to when I was thirteen years old. My dad woke me up on a summer morning and he said, “Get out of the bed. We’ve got some work to do. We’re going to go down and we’re going to remodel a pawnshop.” I said, “Can I make any money?” He said “Yes.” I said, “I’m all in.” I didn’t even know what a pawnshop was or know what that was, but I went down and helped him for the summer. When we got through doing that project, I went up to the owner at the time and he was 23 years old. This guy was opening a pawnshop in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’m a native. I said, “I don’t even know what a pawnshop is but I go to school across the street and I would love to work here after school and on the weekends.” He hired me on the spot. I worked every day and then on Saturdays and two years later when I was fifteen years old, I decided this is what I want to do for a living.
People asked me, “You’ve got to be kidding. What did you enjoy about it?” I said, “It’s the people. I love the different people that came in.” I went to summer school and night school for eighteen months. I had enough credits to graduate at the beginning of my junior year. I started working every day and I met a couple of guys with a lot of money because I didn’t have any. My parents were very poor and I didn’t have any money. I went to them one day and pitched us going into business together and they laughed at me. They own the 21st largest insurance agency in the country at the time. I said, “Why don’t we take my pawnshop experience and your money and open a store?”
They said, “Mr. Walker, how old are you?” I said, “I’m eighteen.” They started laughing again. They said, “We’ve never had anybody eighteen years old approach us.” I said, “That’s beside the point. Are you interested?” After two months of negotiation, they agreed to do it. I went and opened a pawnshop when I was eighteen years old. I wasn’t even married. I was still living at home. A year later, I get married to Robin and I said, “We can’t mess this up.” We agreed to pour every dollar back into the business. In 36 months, I paid off a ten-year loan. I was 21 years old. I had a paid-for-business and I said, “I can duplicate that.” I did and then I did it again and then I did it again.
When I was 27 years old, a Fortune 500 came and made an offer I couldn’t refuse and I retired. I was 27 years old and I thought this is the American dream. I go from broke and a convict to making enough money to retire by the time I’m 27. That lasted about eighteen months. I got fat and lazy, I was getting in the bed in the middle of the day and Robin goes, “This is not what I signed up for.” I went back and bought the company I worked for when I was a kid. We spent the next ten years quadrupling that business. As I shared with you a little bit earlier, I had a very serious accident in 2001 where I ran over and killed a pedestrian. It rocked my world when that happened. I sold the business. I took off for about five years and didn’t do anything. We traveled around the world. We built a new house and took a break.
My wife approached me again and said, “You’re getting fat and lazy again.” We go into the construction business. We build a very successful construction company. I turned 50 and I retired. Robin goes, “You’re going to drive me crazy if you don’t do something.” The mastermind members of mine, which is Dave Ramsey and Dan Miller and some of those guys said, “What are you going to do now?” I said, “Nothing. I’m going to retire. I’m going to call it good. I’ve been working since I was thirteen.” They said, “You’re too young.” I started coaching. That led to doing podcast interviews which led to mastermind groups. Now, we have fifteen mastermind groups, 150 men from nine different countries. I’m having the absolute time of my life helping people be successful and significant.
That is quite a lot to unpack. I love the story of the fantasy that, “I’m going to retire at 27. I’m going to retire at this age.” There’s something about not being relevant and not giving back that I think you are probably more equipped than almost anyone else because you’ve gone through this multiple times. It’s almost like in the Wizard of Oz when you go behind the curtain and you say, “That isn’t it. That’s the fantasy.” You work hard to get to this place where you don’t need to work and then you can find a life of significance. You’re saying it isn’t the answer.
It’s not the answer at all. I thought it was, and I want to warn people, if you’re working to stop, quit doing that because it doesn’t scratch the itch like you think it’s going to. I thought by being a poor kid that I was going to have enough money, this big fine house, a vacation home, nice cars, that I was going to feel meaningful and purposeful and I was going to live a life of leisure. Quickly, I discovered that it’s not what I thought it was going to be. Don’t hear me wrong, John, I want to make this clear. I hate when people with money go, “Money is not important.” I want to go, “You liar.” It is important but I don’t want you to make it your only focus. I don’t want you to make it your God. Focus on why and your purpose in life, then you have something that’s tangible that you can hang your head on.The Facebook persona, for the most part, is just a lie. People don't really share the things that are going on in their families. Click To Tweet
Aaron, what motivated you to write your book, The View From The Top? The thing that I love about this is not just success but success and significance.
To be totally honest with you, I didn’t want to write the book and let me tell you why I didn’t want to write the book. As I said, I’ve been in a mastermind with these guys that are here in Nashville. We all live in Nashville, Tennessee for decades now. Sitting on my left for ten or twelve years was Ken Abraham. Ken is probably the most noted ghost author on the planet. If you look him up, you can see he’s written over 95 books and some of the biggest name people on the planet. He’s written their books. He had sold millions and tens of millions of copies of books and sitting on my right was Dave Ramsey.
They’re all good friends of mine. Anyway, Dave has written a dozen books and sold millions of copies and Dan Miller sat across the table from me. He has 48 Days To The Work. He’s written seven or eight books. I said, “Who’s going to read my book?” I’m in this group, with all these people that are very successful, who’s going to read my book? Ken Davis did my mastermind group and Ken wrote a book called Fully Alive. He’s traveled all over the world. He’s a keynote speaker. He’s an amazing guy. He said, “Aaron, you’re writing the book for the wrong reason.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “When I wrote Fully Alive, the first year it came out, seventeen people wrote me an email and they said, “Mr. Davis, I didn’t commit suicide because I’ve read your book Fully Alive.” He looked at me and he said, “Aaron, if you can change one life with your book, will it not be worth it?” I said, “You’re right. It’ll be worth it.” I’m going to write that book because now the reason is different. Now, I write the book to help people uncover for themselves what’s important in life. I teach them how to be very successful financially, all the while being significant. That’s the piece that people are missing.
I have loved this concept. My own personal mission is to help as many people as possible get off this self-esteem rollercoaster where they only feel good about themselves if they’ve gotten a certain amount of success or book sales or whatever it is, likes some social media. What I hear you saying is when you let go of that attachment of how many books did I sell and that is it more than this person and comparing yourself to other people, you are free to create something with a very different purpose without the attachment to the outcome. Would that be an accurate summary?
100% and first of all, you’re never going to win in a comparison game because I even almost did it at the beginning myself when I looked at Ken Abraham and Dave Ramsey. I said, “How could I ever compare to this?” I couldn’t compare. After the book first came out, a guy that was in my mastermind group, his young son picked up my book and read it and there was a life transformational experience for him as a result of reading this book. He got onto a different path. He was on some substance abuse and he couldn’t get off of it. This book helped him reframe his life. I got a phone call from him and said, “Thank you for your book because it’s radically transformed my life.” I went in and told my wife, “If nothing else happens, if I don’t get any speaking engagements, if I don’t get anything, if nothing happens, it’s changed this one man’s life, his family tree.” It was worth the effort. It was worth the time.
You touched earlier on the pedestrian fatality that you didn’t intentionally cause, but it did happen. A lot of people would not be so transparent and authentic about that and yet you are. I want to bring that up for people to take a look at that blind that we’re only as sick as our secrets or people can always tell when you’re trying to hide something. People who haven’t experienced something like that, we all have something that we have trouble forgiving ourselves for, I would imagine. I know someone who that happened to him as well. He did it as a young boy. First of all, I have several questions about it clearly. I want to acknowledge and applaud you for your authenticity and transparency because when you are willing to do that, you inspire other people to do that. My first question around is what made you so confident to do it and tell that story?
First of all, by being around very successful people and coming to discover early on in my career that the Facebook persona, for the most part, is just a lie. We don’t share the things that are going on in our families. Everyone sees is the nice house, they see the nice car, they know you have this job and you’ve got 2.3 kids and you’ve got 3.7 cars and you’re living this thing. They’re not privy to the conversation that’s going on inside of the home. Inside of the home, one of the partners is working more than they should and they’re doing it at the expense of their family. They come home one day with a pocket full of money to a house full of strangers. What I’m teaching people to do is to prioritize your priorities and focus on what matters. The only way that you can do that is to be authentic and transparent and vulnerable with a few people.
I’m not saying go out and air your dirty laundry to the world but I am saying that you need a group of people around you such as a small group, an accountability group, a mastermind group or a connect group. You can call it whatever you want to call it, but you need an environment where you can go and go, “Things are not going so well right now. I’m struggling in my relationship. I’ve got a child that’s gone wayward. My job is on the bubble. I’m not even going to have an income a few years from now. I’m not making my mortgage payment. I’m wrestling with these trials and tribulations in my personal life and I don’t know where I stand as an individual and I don’t have this self-esteem or this hyper sense of awareness to myself and I’m getting myself in trouble.”
The reason that I am so authentic and transparent is that’s where strength begins. When we address who we are as an individual to a group of non-biased, trusted advisors, they then can help us. If they’re giving us advice on things that we’re telling them that’s not reality, how in the world could we ever get good advice to go forward and build on a solid foundation? I’ve had the privilege of experiencing that with a number of very successful people. That’s why I come forward with telling my story.
Authenticity and transparency are where strength begins. That’s such a powerful way of combining something that people think, “It doesn’t seem like you’re coming from a place of strength at all,” but in fact, it is. Was it hard to forgive yourself and any other insights from that experience?
It’s been eighteen years and the first five years were very difficult. I had to go to a lot of counseling and talking to a lot of trusted advisors to help work me through this. First and foremost, I do want to mention, it was not my fault. It wasn’t an error of judgment. He didn’t see me. He was 77 years old. He was crossing the street to catch a bus and we found out later he couldn’t see good and he run right out in front of me. It was a very horrific automobile accident. Still, he was somebody’s father, somebody’s husband, somebody’s brother and it took me years to work through that.
What I come to realize working through that is how fragile everyone’s life is and in the book, View From The Top, the chapter that I talk about this, I call it Blindsided. We all can be blindsided. There’s not a person listening to my voice right now that a phone call might not change your life. Something could happen that’s devastating to your life. You may get a message or a note or a phone call that you never saw it coming. What I discovered through this accident was that we had had tremendous success early on but it was all about me and my family. What I started thinking about was my legacy. I said, “What would my legacy have been?” My legacy would have been, “A poor kid from Nashville, Tennessee makes enough money to retire at age 27 and nobody cares.” I said, “That’s not what I want. What I want is I want John’s life to be better as a result of having known me.” That’s the reason I share this.
That leads right into the never-ending power of a mastermind. You were talking about how you started your own and now you teach other people how to create them. Tell us the journey of masterminds and how people can either possibly start their own or join yours to find out.
I appreciate that and I want to touch if I may on some of the reasons that I think being in community is so important. You call it accountability mastermind. You can call it whatever you want to call it. We weren’t designed to be in isolation. Isolation is the enemy of excellence. We’re designed to be in community and we need people around us at all times. First of all, for accountability purposes. If you think about it, we need people calling us out. We need a sense of encouragement today. We need people to come up to us and say, “John, I believe in you. I know you can do this.” We can find that in the community. We need relationships which I think is the most important asset that we could possibly have. We all have blind spots and a lot of people are unaware of those. We need people to call us out and say, “John, I’ve noticed that you’ve saved this. I noticed that this is going on frequently in your life. This is going to catch you if you’re not careful.” We have people pointing that out.
I also say that masterminds give us access. It allows us to be in other spheres of influence. We talk about the insight that it can give you. We talk about perspective. What it gives me more than anything is the ability to see things differently. There are so many things like that that we have insight, different things that we need in our life that we would never have in a million years. It’s the insight that it can give us. There’s spiritual health that we need. There’s vision, there’s mission, there are values, there’s so much that this community or mastermind can give us.
That’s the reason that I am on such a quest to be sure that everyone is involved in this. People call me regularly and they call me big A. They say, “Big A, how in the world have you scaled masterminds to the level that you have?” We developed a program called the Mastermind Blueprint. What this is, it’s teaching people if you’ve never even had a mastermind how to start it, how to grow it and how to run it. A lot of people want to scale it to the heights we have. Other people just want one or two groups. If you start thinking about your sphere of influence and the impact that you could have on other people’s lives, you could start a mastermind and impact and have life transformational experiences for the people you know.
Yours is called Iron Sharpens Iron. What a great visual that is. Describe how you came up with that as a name.
I’m a Christian by faith. A biblical proverb is Proverbs 27:17, “One man sharpens another just as iron sharpens iron.” I’ve had the privilege to be in these groups where they call you out. They call you out and say, “I’ve heard you say this or I’ll watch you do this or you don’t do this.” In order for you to get better, these are the things that you’re going to have to do. It’s not for the faint of heart. We need people in these groups that are willing to call one another out and we just decided that if we’re going to help other people accomplish their dreams and goals, there have to be some sparks flying. That’s why we call it Iron Sharpens Iron.
What a great analogy. You’re only focused on men. If there are women that are reading and say, “I would like to start a mastermind for women,” could your program work for them?
Let me explain that a little bit. Some women get offended by this and let me explain and hopefully you won’t be offended. Women have become our biggest advocates because they say, “Big A, you’ve done something with my man. What have you done? He is not the guy now that he was when he joined ISI.” There are women’s groups out there. Michele Williams has BVU, Better Version of Yourself, a mastermind for women and does the exact same thing. I can introduce you to Michele. I’m happy to do that but our course is gender-neutral. If it’s women, if it’s man, if it’s mixed, it doesn’t matter. We can walk you through the process. We give you two and a half years’ worth of content to teach you and to help you along the way. You don’t have to create anything. We give you the lead magnets. We walk with you for six months, twice a month. You have support from us that gets you up and going. We don’t leave you. Once you buy this, we walk with you through the whole process.Isolation is the enemy of excellence. We need others to help us break our upper limits because we all have blindsides we need help seeing. Click To Tweet
For people who might not understand the distinction, can you compare this to mastermind versus a networking group?
For group coaching or things like that, this is a whole different level. This recaps what I’ve been talking about the whole interview. You can do group coaching, you can do networking but you just deal with the surface level when you’re talking about networking. I’m talking about something that’s life transformational, personally and professionally. I’m talking about people that walk with you on a weekly basis to help you accomplish your goals, your dreams and to hold you accountable, to connect to you and to give you the resources that you need in order to be successful. I could stand up here for an hour and give a dissertation or I can lead a group coaching but that is not going to have the same impact if you get in a group and you’re meeting with the same ten trusted advisors week in, week out, month after month, year after year our people have in our groups. We’ve had people to double, triple and quadruple their business. We’ve had people that have absolutely transformed their personal lives because they have this close-knit community, their board of directors that walk with them every single day.
You talk about that isolation is the enemy to excellence. Many people don’t realize the importance of having a tribe or not doing it alone all the time. Can you speak to why isolation is the enemy of excellence?
If I don’t fess up and I don’t tell you, then there’s no one checking in. If I don’t push the ball down the field, no one knows. Brian Moran wrote a great book called The 12-Week Year and we’ve implemented that into the very fabric of what we do. You focus each and every day on these lead indicators. You focus on the task. You have weekly accountability meetings related to the objective that you’re trying to accomplish. You repeat that every twelve weeks. Procrastination is the enemy also. We continue to procrastinate and this doesn’t allow you to do that. We have people around you and that surround you, make sure that you focus on the task at hand and then the goal takes care of itself.
The reason that the isolation is the enemy to excellence is if you don’t tell anybody, they don’t know. If you don’t share your troubles, you can’t get over your Achilles heel or your blind spots. When you have people surrounding you, they can encourage you, they can help push you through these upper limit challenges. We all have upper limits challenges. It doesn’t matter who you are. We all have a threshold that we bump up against the ceiling and these people can help take you to a different level. It opens doors and possibilities that you never dreamed possible. I would just suggest that if you want to excel, you have to get involved in some topic community so that you can be all that you were called to be.
We all have upper limit challenges and it’s from our childhood and our belief systems. If we’re not associating with other people who can hold us accountable, show us where we’re limiting ourselves, whether it’s a belief or a behavior that needs to be changed, then we will just stay at our own upper limits there. I imagine that part of this successful mastermind is the quality of the people that are in it. Can you speak to what criteria you use when you help people develop their own mastermind?
When we first started doing mastermind groups, if you had the fee you could get in and I quickly saw that wasn’t going to work well. We developed an application process that we go through and we do an interview. We vet every single person that comes in and we turn away a number of people because they’re takers, they’re not givers. What we are trying to do is to fill up a room full of givers because in the natural reciprocity, you’re going to get all you need. When somebody is interested in themselves, they only want to come in and get out of it, if it’s only beneficial to them, that’s not how you grow. That’s not how you build relationships.
We take a look at the motivation of why you want to be into groups. Once we establish that you are the giver, then we go through a series of questions. There are about 25 questions. How we can help you? More about your family. What you’re trying to accomplish? What your long-term goals and aspirations are? It’s a very lengthy process and then once we worked through each and every question, we determine whether you’re a good fit for this group or not. When you’re very careful vetting this many people, getting the right person in the right seat, as Jim Collins says, on the right bus, there’s the magic that happens when you have that level of synergy.
You certainly are walking your talk and hats off to you for that. Then taking it one step further and allowing people to not just hear about it but learn how they can start and run and scale their own mastermind. I haven’t seen or interviewed anyone else who’s doing that and you’re taking your own success and not just showing people, “Here’s some fish, learn these life lessons.” You’re teaching them how to fish, which is such a great gift because you’re scaling the scaling.
Someone asked me, “Why do you do this? Why don’t you just continue to add mastermind groups, other facilitators?” There are seven billion people on the planet. We have 150 people in our mastermind. I have an abundance mindset. If you have an abundance mindset, you’re willing to show your cards. I don’t hold them close to my vest, I’m like, “First of all, I live it and I do it and you teach it.” We’re at the stage in our career where now we’ve lived it, we’ve done it and now we’re teaching it.
How can people follow you? I know the website is ViewFromTheTop.com. If someone has been motivated and said, “I need to learn how to start my own mastermind,” what’s the next step?
The easiest way is to go to ViewFromTheTop.com and I make myself very accessible. My phone number is there. My email is Aaron@ViewFromTheTop.com. Reach out and send me a note and I’ll personally give you a call and we’ll talk through it. I’d love to be able to share with you more as well.
I can’t thank you enough for sharing your time, your wisdom and your passion. You are someone who I’m glad to have in my world.
Thank you, John. I certainly enjoy being with you.
- View From The Top
- 48 Days To The Work
- Fully Alive
- Mastermind Blueprint
- Iron Sharpens Iron
- Better Version of Yourself
- The 12-Week Year
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