You Make a Living by What You Get; You Make a Life by What You Give

I’ve been coming to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on the tip of the Baja peninsula since 2004. What brings most people to Cabo is the weather, the whales, the scenery, and even the nightlife to name just a few. For me, those are all perks. But what keeps bringing me back are the young men I have the privilege to work with, through the American Leadership Academy ( In 1991, the son of ALA’s founder, Jerry Nelson, brought some fraternity brothers of his down to his father’s house in Cabo for some fun in the sun. Instead, these 18 to 20 year-old, young men spent the majority of their Spring break peppering Jerry with questions. At the time, Jerry was well on his way to building his empire of over 40 companies, including a few you might have even used yourself like Ticketmaster. Well, to say these men were interested in what Jerry was saying about business, and life, would be an understatement. Jerry found their interest “interesting” but didn’t give that much more thought to it. That is until the next year came, and even more guys showed up wanting to hear even more of what Jerry had to say. The idea for the American Leadership Academy to “Train tomorrow’s leaders today” was born, and 20 years later I find myself here in Cabo, in Jerry’s house, now part of what he created. Jerry’s fond of saying “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” At 83 years young, Jerry is still doing plenty of living!

Jerry Nelson giving the kind of wisdom that only comes from living!

2008 is the only year I’ve missed getting to Cabo in the last ten, and I missed it greatly. Aquascape was reeling at the beginning of the downturn. I was focused on saving what I built, not giving back what I had. Never again! I have Jerry to thank for that, and many other life lessons. The question for you is, are you focused on keeping what you get, or giving back what you learned getting it?! A lot has changed since 1991, the year the ALA and Aquascape both humbly began. But one thing has not. The next generation is equally as hungry for the knowledge, and wisdom, that can’t be found in textbooks, and only comes from real world experiences. I for one feel honored to have the ability to share what little I have learned, in hopes of helping someone else navigate the minefield of life.

What started out in a living room now occupies an entire hotel.


The young men of The American Leadership Academy. They are as hungry today as they were in 1991.

One thing I heard this week that succinctly stated the obvious was “you never find any self-centered jerks serving in the soup kitchen line.” I think it’s easy for any of us to get focused on our own problems, or our own needs, and desires. Yet we’ve got it in reverse when we do that. Putting others first puts our problems, and circumstances, in perspective. That perspective is the very perspective we need to have when life’s “problems” seem overwhelming.

So, the next time you’re focused on what’s overwhelming you at the time, think about all the overwhelming stuff you’ve already been through, and somehow overcome. Then go help someone else overcome what’s overwhelming them. Because “You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.”

Giving back by building a new home for a pastor in Cabo who has been giving back to the community for the last 7 years. When you give, you get (sometimes literally!)