Garrett Gunderson - Blog


It was for a Students in Free Enterprise competition.

I was nervous, and, well anxious.

I was so frightened I wanted to back out and was even getting sick to my stomach.

There was so much stress, strain, and pressure.


Well, to begin there was money at stake and it felt like a lot of money to me.

1,000 for first

750 for second

500 for third.

At 15, I hadn’t been to a University campus before and was

the youngest person in the competition

so in my mind, I was sure the other participants had a better business and more experience than I did.

It began with an application process that selected the top 10 candidates.  My teacher Teri Tubbs brought it to my attention and supported the process brilliantly, helping me get accepted in the top 10.

I made the top 10 and the doubts and questions began.

Who am I to be in this competition?

Am I worthy?

Will I embarrass myself?

Will I lose?

What do I really know?

My mom drove me three and a half hours to Cedar City, Utah to arrive at the R. Haze Hunter Conference Center at Southern Utah University.  Just navigating the campus and finding where this building was (before GPS) required energy and built an increasing heaviness with each passing moment.  It took some time to find visitor parking, which led to a longer campus walk.

When we finally found the building, I reached to open the massive, heavy, wooden door with my palms sweating.  I hesitated.  This door was the height of my house, shit.   I had never been in a building like this before.  It even smelled different.  Like everything was new.  A stale museum quality as the sound echoed.  This building housed “The Great Hall” with a vaulted ceiling filled with massive paintings of past University Presidents.




I followed my mom, and my teacher Teri Tubbs, but stayed silent.

Anyone who would have seen me at that moment would have described me at least as shy, but probably even awkward.  I displayed no sense of confidence, no sense of purpose, I was merely just trying to make it through.  I didn’t think I belonged and it was obvious.

Looking back at those pictures, I could see the stress on my face and in my posture.  I was wearing a boxy suit with a dorky baby blue tie that had a car on it.

This felt like the beginning of a nightmare, only I knew it was real.

I wasn’t going to wake up and it would be over and done; there was only one way out, through.

One of the hosts showed us the waiting room and gave us the time for my presentation.

I looked at the chairs but couldn’t possibly sit, so I paced like a caged animal.

Back and forth, back and forth.

Eventually finding my way to the bathroom to pee every few minutes.

Maybe it wasn’t every few minutes, but my nerves got the best of me, so it was often.

My mom tried to calm me down and have me sit, but that just agitated me more.

Then the dreaded moment came.  I heard a voice say, “Garrett, we are ready for you”.

They may have been ready for me, but was I ready for them?  

Everything became blurry and I don’t remember walking into the room at all.  But I do remember looking up at the panel of judges for the first time.  There was Greg Powell, an SUU professor, smiling at me.  His smile was warm and welcoming, and it brought me a sense of calm.  I looked at Cindy Gilbert, an SUU advocate, and donor, and she was smiling as well.

These were not people out to harm me, harass me, or see me fail, they wanted to support me.  They were giving their time to invest in young entrepreneurs as a way to pay it forward.

Without a big business or a unique name (Garrett Gunderson’s Car Care), and without my business being showy or sexy (car cleaning), it was a start.

My start.

But what led to this day?  6 months before I had my first official customer.

I started this business shortly after my father promised to give me his 1975 Chevy pickup truck if I kept my grades up.   We had a two-car garage, my dad had plenty of cleaning supplies, and I started to clean up his sun-damaged, oxidized, and faded truck.

I learned some of these basic skills when my dad invited me to help him clean surface mining vehicles before the boss came to town.

We weren’t a family of financial wealth.

My dad was a coal miner and my mom worked at the credit union.  My grandparents were coal miners as well.   But one of the many things my family taught me was how to be resourceful.

Regardless of the resources, we found ways to save money, be productive, and be of value.

The investment of time and care into my life showed up as an opportunity.  The opportunity to have a small business, set my own schedule, participate in sports, and earn some extra money.  It was hard to keep a job and play baseball and basketball.  This was a solution presented by my parents.  I am grateful they cared so much and supported this (especially before I had my driver’s license).

My business teacher found this fascinating and really invested in me as well.  Ms. Tubbs saw something in me before I saw it in myself.

My business and this competition were about progress and expansion.  

This was about learning and growing.

This was about facing fears and discovering new skillsets.

But what it ultimately taught me about was connection.

Connecting with people.

When I thought it was a competition, I wasn’t connecting.  I wasn’t learning.  I was stuck in suffering.

I was trying to predict the worst-case scenario and live it out before it even happened.

In the competitive mindset, the zero-sum game of winners and losers, I wasn’t thinking about value for others, I was only thinking about myself.  And those thoughts were insane and inflating my fears.

Isolation can be a destructive place, especially when it is fueled by fear, doubt, or worry.

So here is a big lesson, small things can make a big difference.

A compliment.  Investing a small amount of time to plant a seed of belief, turn in an application, or share a skill.

In this competition, it was a smile.

The judges smile changed my entire state of being.

They allowed me to take a breath.

They allowed me to be present and connect.

I was able to relax just enough to be present.   I made eye contact with each judge and it felt safe.

Two of the judges later became my professors.

I worked for another my freshmen year.

All byproducts of facing my fear, of starting a business, of my parents and teachers caring enough to encourage and support me to enter the Students in Free Enterprise Rural Young Entrepreneur Program.

In the same room I feared before, in the place I thought was filled with stuffy and judgmental critics, I was at home.  Now that my mindset had transformed from survival to feeling more abundant, connected, and free, the words started to flow from my lips and it was effortless.

Instead of looking at this as a big scary competition where I had to be something bigger and better than I was, I was able to focus on the moment and the people there to support my progress.

Shortly into my presentation…… magic happened.   

I was telling the judges about my money-back guarantee policy.

If a customer wasn’t completely happy with the service I’d keep cleaning until they were or give them their money back.  And I let the judges know of the first (and only) time the policy was put to use (nearly).  One of my neighbors was driving home for the day and saw me still cleaning his wife’s car (I had picked it up before he left for work that morning).  He stopped his car, rolled down the window and said, “You’re still cleaning that thing?”  I responded, well, I’m just working to make sure it is to your wife’s satisfaction.  He responded, “Satisfaction, good luck, I’ve been trying to do that for 13 years and haven’t been able to, I don’t expect you to”.

They laughed.

The connection deepened.

I made them laugh………. and won 500 bucks.

I took third place.

My preconceived notions and judgments were one of comparison and fear.  The facts were still the same.  But my energy changed.  I was only in business for 6 months at that time and my gross income was 841.50 with a net income of 557.06 (great margin-ha).

Let me see, scrub bugs and tar off a car or do an hour presentation for 500 bucks?

I became a speaker.

Third place.  It felt like first, though.

I was elated, ecstatic even.

But do you know what was even better than the 500 bucks at 15 years old?

The knowledge.

The belief of my parents and teacher.

This experience created strength, confidence, and direction.

Facing the fear of speaking created a heightened release of stress AND the world looked different.  My outlook on what was possible expanded as I gained new insights, intelligence, and relationships.

It showed me something critical at a young age.

One, our level of enjoyment and fulfillment has a direct relationship with being willing to be uncomfortable.  But most importantly, I learned firsthand, investing in yourself is the best investment.

What started as detailing cars, became a practical education in business and life.

A new, slightly mediocre, low-revenue business was meager compared to the numbers of several businesses that didn’t place in the top three.  Why?

Connection.  Communication.   Humor.

The connection is what achieved third place, not a robust or amazing business.

Sometimes an overnight success begins decades before.

This was a key experience and ingredient for today’s bio.  


Bestselling books.  INC 500.  Forbes.

Speaking at events with thousands in attendance.

Sometimes the ability to face fear comes when there is less at stake.

I didn’t have bills or a family to support, but the amount of scarcity felt greater than the first time I did a stand-up comedy set (something most people fear more than dying).  It was more daunting than digging out of my leveraged hole of 2008.  This experience was training that facing fears leads to happiness and progress.

The following year (1995), I was able to compete again, but now I had more data on what to do and how to improve.  My personal story changed and enticed others to support me further- local business owners, family members, and other faculty members.

The next year, the campus felt like a home and an ally rather than an obstacle.  And conveniently the competition was during the state basketball tournament.  I was a junior at the time and mostly sitting on the bench, so it was easy to get away for my first-place, 1,000-dollar presentation.  Yep, earned twice as much in the same time because I knew what to work on, I was less afraid and showed up as the best version of myself.

Throughout the year, I learned about financial statements with one of my mom’s friends and co-workers Patty Rigby.  This time around I had a business plan that included:

Pro formas, Balance sheets (didn’t have many assets) and Income statements (growing but not huge), letters of recommendation, description of the service, marketing plan, business cards, logo, service contract, earnings graph, market analysis, projections, and before and after pictures.

With a full year and taking what I learned and applying it, I had 4,368 in revenue plus my 500 dollars cash reward and 1,624 in expenses.   Net income of 3,224 over the twelve months between presentations one and two.  Still nothing dramatic or sexy, but improved.

During that year I created a rudimentary brand and changed the business name to Details.

By being resourceful and facing my fears, I started a business, then presented that business, leading to an early accelerated education:

I learned how to public speak

I learned to face my fear

I learned to use comedy in presenting and how to better communicate

I learned how to do rudimentary financials

I learned about branded value adds (air freshener, garbage bags, etc) for each customer that made it easier for me to be referred

I competed against higher-priced dealerships by picking up and dropping off the vehicles I created recurring revenue by setting up regular customer cleaning schedules and frequency discounts

Sure, I made money by winning the competition, but only after I let go of the notion of comparison and embraced connection.  I ended up winning the Governor’s young entrepreneur and then SBA Young Entrepreneur in 1996.  Again, merely a byproduct of connecting.

Connection, not competition.  Enjoying the process, not just the outcome.  Embracing the by-products that come from these experiences.  

I don’t always remember and there are times I get stuck in comparison or competition, but that becomes more and more rare.

In my office, podcast studio, and bedroom there are no awards displayed.

No plaques, no ribbons, or new stories.

It isn’t because I don’t have them, it is because they aren’t what is important.   The creation, the process along the way, and loving life are what matter.  If the by-product has a symbol, great.  That is gravy I guess.

That being said, I do however display the crystal eagle for Young Entrepreneur of the Year because it reminds me of this beginning and encourages me to face my fears.  It reminds me of the belief my parents, grandparents, and teachers had in me.

It reminds me that I already won.

That connection is what matters, creation is key.

My walls are filled (Italian style) with pictures of family, epic moments, great times, creative outlets, my first money I made doing comedy, the first check I got for headlining comedy.

Reminders of my heroes.  My grandpa, my great-grandpa, my parents, my kids, and my wife.

There is a hotel in Cedar City with more recognition than my own home displays.  If you ever find yourself in Cedar City, Utah, there are two plaques with my name on them at the Holiday Inn.  1st and 3rd place, yeah my college friends love to tease me about that.

So where have you already won?

What do you enjoy creating and doing?

What did you overcome in the past to have confidence, know your value, and expand your skillset today?


What have you wanted to try but have been afraid of?

What is the best that can happen?

What would it feel like if you were to do what you wanted?

What do you stand to gain and enjoy?

Who can support you?

What would it take?  So, here is a shot of hope, a dose of belief, and a story of humble beginnings that have led to a life of love and fulfillment.

Chose yourself.

Forgive yourself.

Let go of the judgment or story of what you can’t do.

Love yourself.

Be resourceful regardless of your resources and live your value today.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below.

Do you know someone that might benefit from these insights, musings, and stories?

Please share!

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Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

About the author : Garrett Gunderson

My commitment is to radically change the way you look at money and life so you can keep more of what you make and build a life you love. Interested in working with me? Comment below and I will let you know how.


  1. Kurt Saltmarsh June 10, 2023 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you Garrett !! What a great and powerful story & message . Way to often we ( I ) beat ourselves up over some of the goofy shit we’ve done. But we down play the times we excelled ! What a shame, thanks for the reminder.


    • Garrett Gunderson June 10, 2023 at 10:41 pm - Reply

      Glad I could offer some value and a reminder. Thanks for reading.

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