How to Make a Million Dollars Mining Gold in Alaska: Three Leadership Lessons from a Teenager

Some of you may or may not be familiar with the runaway hit show on Discovery called, “Gold Rush.”  I stumbled onto this show in the first season in a hotel room in Washington, DC on a business trip and since then I have been hooked.  During the fourth season of the show, which just ended, Parker Schnabel, a teenager who skipped college and went to the Klondike region of Alaska to mine for gold, recently made over a million dollars last summer mining for gold.  This is quite incredible in my view.


How did Parker do it?  How did he make over a million dollars through gold mining?

1.  Legacy & Place

Parker comes from a family where he grew up around his grandpa, John, who has mined gold in Alaska throughout his life.  You are who you hang around right?  Parker is a great example of someone who was influenced by who he was hanging around.  I am sure Parker spent many summers at his grandpa’s mine and learned much about how to mine gold in Alaska.  His grandpa, John Schnabel, is an amazing man, who, at age 90+, still helps Parker out with advice and motivation.  More on that later.  Parker was born into a great family with a legacy of hard work, and affinity for gold mining.  This is a big part of his success.

2.  Mentors & Coaching

During the second and third season of Gold Rush, Parker took over his grandpa John’s Big Nugget Mine near his hometown in Alaska.  He mined out this claim and had a big decision to make this year, whether he would go to college or find another place to mine for gold.  What did he do?  He got connected to a mining legend in the Klondike, Tony Beets.  Tony owns many plots of land that can be mined in that region.  Tony and Parker worked out a deal where Parker would give Tony a percentage of whatever gold he was able to pull out of the ground.

Parker then also received mentoring and coaching from Tony Beets throughout his time mining in the Klondike.  Tony did not pull any punches and told Parker what he needed to hear at the right time during the season in order for Parker not to settle and keep pushing towards his gold of 1,000 ounces of gold.  Tony is a fantastic example of someone who cares but gives tough love when necessary.  Parker did not surround himself with people who would tell him what he wanted to hear, but rather what he needed to hear.

Parker also relied heavily on advice from his grandpa John as well.  If you want to be successful at something, ask people who have been successful at something for a long time, do not reinvent the wheel, learn from the best if you hope to be the best.  At one point near the end of the mining season Parker is looking to find ground he can mine that has a higher content of gold, and his grandpa John comes to visit, points him towards to some ground, and Parker finds the richest gold of the season.  Learn from the best, ask their advice, do what they say.

3.  Hard Work

All of those things are important, but so is the fact that Parker worked his tail off all season to figure out ways through problems of finances, dealing with his crew (all of whom were much older than Parker), and a myriad of other obstacles on his way to finding over 1,000 ounces of gold.

He worked hard.  I am sure he was working non-stop and pushing his crew to do the same.  I never once saw Parker ask someone to do something he himself was not doing, or would do.  He was leading by example and his crew followed.

You want to make a million dollars mining gold in Alaska?  It is a tall order, but I think the example of Parker can apply to anyone who wants to emerge as a leader in any field.  Understand your natural built in advantages from your legacy, find great mentors who will not pull punches, and work your tail off.  I have no doubt Parker will continue to be successful as a gold miner because he has set himself up for success.  My hat is off to Parker, color me impressed.

What do you think are the most important things for emerging leaders to do in order to be successful?  What did you do that worked, or that you wish you could change?


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