Rory Vaden observed something peculiar growing up in Colorado, one of the few places in the world that has both cows and buffalo. When storms came, they would form in the mountains of the West, and then migrate out to the plains in the East, where cows and buffalo roam the same space. Cows try to outrun the storm by heading East, but the storm quickly catches up with them. They can't' outrun the storm, and end up running with the storm–a decision that lengthens and maximizes their pain and frustration. They make the storm last longer, in other words.
Buffalo, on the other hand, wait for the storm to crest over the mountain, and then they charge directly into it. By running straight through the storm, they effectively shorten the storm and minimize the amount of pain they experience.
It’s a great metaphor, because in life, we all deal with storms, both professional and personal. We don’t get to choose whether or not we have challenges, all we get to choose is how to respond to our unique storms. Vaden's point is that we would all be better off if we dealt with life’s storms like the buffalo–head on–and that if we do the hard things now, life will be easier in the long-term.
The paradoxical idea is this: What seems like an easier path is really much harder in the end, and it won't take you where you really want to go.
That's not an easy thing to convince people of in this fast-paced world, when tweets are sent instantaneously and most of our work can be done from our iPads.
"Has technology turned us into a society of people trying to take shortcuts?" Vaden asks. "Are we all looking to get rich quick, or for a magic silver bullet that will make us lose weight or stay eternally young? We are on overdrive, but none of this has increased our productivity or well-being. Our time is stretched thin, our stress and anxiety levels are at an all-time high, and our unhealthy lifestyle choices are mounting. In spite of our constant search for convenience and instant gratification, we’ve actually made things worse."
Like the cows in Colorado.
"We live in an 'escalator world' that makes it all too easy to slide into procrastination, compromise and mediocrity," he says.
That's why we need to take the stairs to whatever it is we really want in work and life, and Vaden sums up the strategy for taking the tougher path to the top of the stairs in seven key steps:
Sacrifice. What seems easy in the short-term is actually much harder in the long-term.
Commitment. The more we have invested in something, the less likely we are to let it fail.
Focus. When we have diluted focus, we get diluted results.
Integrity. You think it and you speak it. You act it and it happens.
Schedule. Balance means appropriate time spent on critical priorities.
Faith. Put faith into enjoyable results, not enjoyable processes.
Action. You are much more likely to act your way into healthy thinking than to think your way into healthy acting.
What I like about Take the Stairs is the counterintuitiveness and paradoxical nature of the central idea, that the self-discipline required of any lasting success is, although the most difficult, the simplest and fastest way to make life as easy as possible.
"Discipline creates freedom," Vaden writes. "The freedom to do anything! It is what took me from being a poor Hispanic boy raised by a single mother in a trailer park to speaking in front of thousands of people in just a few years."
On that note, Vaden has launched a nationwide charitable "Take the Stairs" tour, the mission of which is to provide both education and money to organizations that build character in young people today. Vaden is hosting free public events in 20 cities across the country, where parents can bring their teenagers to learn about the power of self-discipline. 100 percent of of the suggested donation of $10 per person is given directly to that local school district, foundation or youth charity. Vaden's hope is that by connecting with these teens in person, and financially supporting the efforts of local organizations, he can instill the values of self-discipline that will carry them throughout their lives.
Registration for one his events can be found at RoryVaden.com.