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What Sam Walton taught me about life

  Mike Michalowicz

Mike Michalowicz is the CEO of Provendus Group, a nationally recognized speaker and the author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. EO

Sometimes the greatest lessons in life come from the least likely of places. For Mike Michalowicz, the Walmart founder’s last words changed the direction of his life and business.


So you’re one of those hardcore, work-until-sunset entrepreneurs, right? You’re a winner! I get it. And I applaud you … or at least I would have five years ago. In fact, I would have done the “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” hand wave dance for you back then. I might have even tried to kiss your feet. But today? None of that. Today, I feel sorry for you.

You see, a few years ago I was that guy. I was dead set on winning the entrepreneurial game. I wore the “workaholic” title like a badge of courage. I put everything I had into my business. And then one day, I had an epiphany. I realized something life-changing: On my deathbed, I won’t be saying I should have worked harder. I will be asking myself if I lived life to the fullest. I will wonder if I fulfilled my life’s purpose, and if I loved my family and friends unabashedly.

This “a-ha” moment occurred after learning of Sam Walton’s final words. By any measure, Sam is considered to be the ultimate entrepreneur. He took a small general store, revolutionized the retail industry and built his business into the mega-corporation that Walmart is today. During his lifetime, he was in regular contention for being the richest man in the world. And yet, it’s what Sam said on his deathbed that gave me pause. His final words were: “I blew it.”

Sam Walton blew it? How could that be? He was a full-time, always-there business man! He would do anything to grow his business, and it gave him immense fame and fortune! But that’s where the problem lies, because when it came to the rest of his life, Sam wasn’t nearly as dedicated. He was never really “there” as a father, husband and friend. He had the wealthiest pockets, but the poorest soul. And in those last minutes of his life, he realized where he had failed.

I wonder if the same would be true for a person who dies after having lived the richest life with family and friends they so loved, yet didn’t have a business success story to define them. I suspect that they won’t say, “I blew it.” The truth is, dying is a fact of life, and it will happen sooner than we want, especially if we don’t start working on the life part way more than the entrepreneurial part. Like Sam, I had made my business my top priority. But after learning how it all ended for him, I knew I had to make a change. I decided to put life first.

Looking back at his legacy, Sam Walton left us with the greatest entrepreneurial lesson of all time: It is better to have an incomplete business life than an incomplete human life. I try to keep that in mind as I work on my business. While it’s still important for me to achieve professional success, I no longer let it define me. Instead, I focus on building loving and meaningful relationships, because I know that on my deathbed, it will be the people I loved who will be there, providing me comfort … not a business or a bank account. Sam Walton is proof of that.

Want to reach Mike Michalowicz? Contact him at mikem@obsidianlaunch.com, or visit www.toiletpaperentrepreneur.com.

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