via Aaron Phillips
After having the opportunity to interview Aaron Phillips, a contestant on Discovery Channel’s hit show Naked and Afraid, it has become very apparent to me that this world needs more people like him.
Aaron is a third generation Florida native, born and raised, and is currently a stay at home dad with some big plans up his sleeve.
He’s traveled all over the world to places like China, Peru and Canada but has never called anywhere else home besides his stomping grounds of Central Florida. He graduated from Apopka High School and is currently enrolled at Rollins College majoring in English and is also the father of a bumbling joyful little boy named Silas. He’s also working on a nature themed book and took on Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid 21 Day Challenge.
Here’s what this nature guru had to say about his experience, his passions and how he plans to make his next business venture based solely on what he loves the most:
How did you get into being a nature man?
I’ve always been involved with nature. When I was about five or six, I got into a program with my dad called The Indian Guides that was sponsored by the YMCA and it was founded back in the 1920’s. It turned into a mentorship type of thing where you learn together about indigenous practices and focus on things like being truthful, honest, fair and loyal and don’t take more than you need type of thing. That’s always been with me over the years.
Growing up, I always fished with my dad and we went camping a lot when I was a kid. When I got old enough to go out on my own, I would always take people with me so for like fifteen years on every New Years, I would take a group out to the woods and we’d go camping. Sometimes we’d have twenty people for 5 days out there. I would coordinate it, get everything we needed together, and we would all build a big camp. We did that every single year for fifteen years.
I’ve always taken people camping, canoeing, kayaking; it’s just, you know, I love doing it. I’d rather be outdoors than anywhere else. And here I am everyday raising my little one but we still get out a lot, more so than I think most people do. So I’ve always been somewhat connected, even when I was working for the mortgage and financing industry. I’d put in my vacation time as soon as I could and run back into the mountains to go hiking or white water rafting.
This is clearly your main hobby. Are there any other hobbies or activities that you’re into?
I write daily. Like 2,000-10,000 words a day on average. Although lately it’s been more like 2,000 words a day.
Wow, that’s impressive. Is this for a blog?
No, however I did that for a long time but I wasn’t faithful to it. It was called “Write Out of Bed,” so I would write right when I woke up and that way I was still half way awake. I took it down after a while because it was attracting a pretty strange audience that, even for me, was a little too strange. For some reason my audience ended up being gay men and middle aged house wives. It was pretty random. I’m not sure if it was a timing thing or if it was the content that I was putting out there or what. So I blogged for a while but now it’s like a daily cathartic experience when I wake up for personal reasons.
When did you start posting your passions to social media?
I started branding myself about five years ago online as kind of an all around good guy I guess. You know, a nature-lover, and apparently it worked. I don’t really know much about branding but I created a name that nobody else had so that it could never be confused with anything else, and then I used the same name across all my platforms and then I just put up different content for each platform and I made sure that I fed it everyday. Because you know, you gotta feed the beast.
I made a YouTube video last year that broke 140,000 views last week. It’s ridiculously stupid. It’s just me talking for like two hours in the woods. I don’t do any editing, it’s not scripted, there’s not multiple cameras shooting from different angles or anything, there’s no music, no credits – it’s just me standing there talking for two hours.
So I’ve gotta ask; is there anything you’re allowed to spill the beans on about being on the show “Naked and Afraid” before your episode airs?
The only thing I can say is that I went to Central America and I took on Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid 21 Day Survival Challenge, which will be airing sometime in the spring.
How did you get in touch with Discovery Channel before getting on the show?
I was found via Instagram for another survival show they were starting. I began consulting on that BBC project at first. From what I was told about the project, the funding was pulled and the project was shelved. A few weeks later, they called me about Naked and Afraid and I said no the first couple of times, but by the third time around I finally said yes, and I’m glad I did.
What advice would you give someone who found themselves in a situation where they were stranded in the middle of nature, miles away from civilization?
Stay calm, positive, and focused.
What kind of work did you do to get you to where you are now?
It’s tough to tell the story sometimes because the jobs that I’ve held have been really cool jobs and not the norm. I was the highest paid, youngest foreman at this company called Energy Air. I moved up ridiculously quick and it was tough because I was really young and I had guys that were working for me that had been with the company for over twenty years. I had people working for me that were older than me and younger than me. It was challenge for sure.
But I have a different approach to things. I realized right off the bat that I wasn’t going to go to service school and become an AC tech and learn how to wire up stuff. I understood the construction process so I knew when the plumbers and the roofers and the concrete guys and the electricians came in. Because I could see the bigger picture, I was able to jump in and say “hey, these guys need to be in here getting this done,” and I could see the progression so I didn’t have to know how to do all the jobs. I just needed to know who was the best for getting this type of job done and when I had to put that guy in there, and so I excelled. Some changes took place in the company and I left.
During the course of eighteen months, I went to work for a concrete company. So within those eighteen months, I had worked three different plants, joined the union, learned how to drive a truck, helped the head mechanic, completely redid their shipping and receiving at the Sanford plant, an worked and ran a block plant — you know, that type of thing. I moved up really quick. Then they started grooming me for a management position, but I got word that we were being bought out. It was a huge multimillion dollar buy out. I chose to get out because I knew they were going to come in and do a huge layoff because you could see the economy slowing down and we had already hit our peak. I could foresee the construction going down so I pulled out and opened a property management and maintenance company.
For about two or three years, we did really well. And again, I saw a shift coming. When I saw that real estate bubble starting to peak, that’s when I closed my business. I sold off all my accounts and walked away. In a lot of peoples eyes, they wouldn’t think that was a huge success, but I kept all the bills paid and food on the table for two families at the same time. I paid off all kinds of debt and we did alright for those two or three years.
From there, I did all kinds of stuff but everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve done the same thing; dig in and try to improve nature. Whenever I leave nature, I try to make it better than it was when I left — if that’s even possible. Maybe it’s picking up trash or something like that so I try to do the same thing everywhere. I try to touch lives, help them grow and change for the better.
Tell me about your new business.
It’s called Life Survival. We did a soft launch a couple months ago and the website should be live pretty soon.
A big part of what we want to do is help people build their self-confidence and their self-reliance by learning basic survival skills. You know, maybe they were a boy scout and they want to build on that. So I’ll take them out and do that all the way to what we call nothing but a knife, which is where you go out for three days with just a knife; no water, no pot to cook in, no food, no shelter, nothing. Just a knife. You start to realize real quick that most of the obstacles that we encounter in life are obstacles that we create for ourselves.
With my business, I feel like I’m connecting with people personally and I get them to go outside. I use the hashtag #GetOutside all the time.
I can’t expect people to be conscious of their resources or the environment if they don’t have any kind of connection with the environment. If someone’s experience with nature is seeing a tree occasionally on their way to work or seeing bird poop on their car, that’s not really connecting. I want people to connect and it does take some time. If I can convince someone to eat their lunch on the park bench outside on break instead of in the cafeteria, then I’ve moved someone one step forward in the right direction, and people really do it. They’ll send me pictures and say “hey, guess where I am? I’m at lunch and I’m outside,” and it’s awesome. Then eventually they’ll want to do a day hike the next few times and they’re like “wow, I went camping one time as a kid. I remember it being awesome, I’d like to do that again,” so it progressively turns into that.
As they start to experience wilderness culture, they start to develop a relationship with nature and they start to gain a deeper understanding of where they fit in. It’s not like nature is over here to the left and humans are here on the right, we don’t have a choice. We both have to work together.
I think this is a more effective approach for me. I feel like I’m really touching someone’s life and physically connecting them with nature. And who knows, maybe five years down the road it’s grown into something bigger for them and it’s had a positive impact on our environment. Anything I can do to connect people with nature and get them outside, especially here in Florida. As much as I complain about Florida and the heat sometimes, it’s f*ckin’ badass. We’ve got some incredible springs and it’s wonderful.
But when it comes to getting people outdoors, there’s something there for everybody no matter what level they’re at. I think it’s important that people know that because people are intimidated by the wild. They don’t know if they can do it and I want to give people that opportunity. I want to get people outdoors in whatever capacity that they’re comfortable with. That’s one of our biggest goals.
What are the most beautiful places in the Central Florida area that you would recommend people go and check out?
I think some of the managed areas are the best because few people frequent them and FWC does a fantastic job of overseeing the properties. Seminole Forest on SR46 between Sanford and Mount Dora is exceptional. You can follow the Florida Trail through a beautiful section there. There are springs, creeks and hardwoods that guide a rolling trail through some of Florida’s most pristine vistas. It really is incredible. I also think more Floridians should get up to North Florida and lay their eyes and paddles on the majestic Suwannee River. We have miles upon miles of rivers, creeks, springs, campsites, rope swings and rapids that few have even seen. Some don’t even realize it flows all the way to the gulf. Everyone should experience the river at least once in their lives.
What does ambition mean to you?
I think it’s different for most people. For some people it may be ego-driven, money-driven. But for me, I’d say it’s a positive drive and your motivating force.