By Todd Missel
Back in May, the Missel family was wrapping up the school year and heading out on vacation. The destination was Florida’s Atlantic Coast via Savannah, Ga., to stop for a tour of the home of Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low. About the time we stepped off the back porch on the tour, I noticed the rain clouds starting to look angry. Tuning into the Weather Channel, it was clear that Tropical Storm Beryl was right on top of the Missel Family vacation. Despite our planning, Mother Nature had thrown us a curve ball.
Looking for a easy way out, the nearest sunshine on the Atlantic Coast was 350 miles to our south in Miami. I was searching for a quick fix and there wasn’t one on the horizon. So we endured.
We trucked over to Disney and purchased overpriced Donald Duck rain ponchos to try to stay slightly dry. Looking back I can honestly say I am glad we committed to making the best of our week – it has been the catalyst for family jokes since.
Similar to our washed-out vacation, Rory Vaden’s book “Take the Stairs” is a challenge to business leaders to persist in the face of adversity. In a world of quick fixes, shortcuts and distractions that Vaden calls an “escalator world”, it is easy to procrastinate, compromise and fall into mediocrity. “Take The Stairs” is about self-discipline and doing things you don’t want to do in the short term to bring success in the long term.
In the first part of the book Vaden shares the statistical “tropical storms” that we encounter every day. Sixty-five percent of adults in the United States are overweight and 31 percent are obese. The divorce rate for first marriages is 41 percent, while the rate increases to 60 percent for second marriages. In the recent economic downturn, more than 800,000 of us filed for personal bankruptcy. The list goes on. Vaden’s point is that we rarely finish things we start, particularly when those things take self-discipline and commitment. Every one is searching for a short cut. “Why would I take the stairs when I could just take the escalator?”
You read on for Vaden’s insights about success and self-discipline. He writes how Michael Jordan and Payton Manning attribute their success to having the self-discipline to work harder and push further in practice rather than rely on native talent. He sets up his seven steps by discussing his premise called the “Rent Axiom.” This states that success is never owned; it is only rented and rent is due every day.
Finally Vaden shares his seven steps to achieving true success, each chapter discusses these principles:
In the first chapter, Vaden focuses on the principle of sacrifice. This chapter has the most impact in terms of relating to his point about taking the stairs. Vaden relates self-discipline to cows and buffalo. When a storm approaches, the cows response is predictable. They know the storm is coming from the west, so they run east. Vaden indicates that eventually the storm overtakes them and by running with the storm, the cow actually maximizes his exposure to it.
On the other hand, what the buffalo do is unique. They wait for the storm and as it arrives they turn and charge directly into it. By running into the storm, they minimize the pain they experience. Vaden’s premise is problems that are procrastinated are amplified and we are the ones who pay the price. He summarizes his point with the following: “Surprisingly, success in life rarely comes from making big, grandiose decisions. Rather, success is the aggregate sum total of small, seemingly insignificant choices that when compounded over time create the trajectory of our lives. Success is really as simple as choosing between taking the escalator (easy way) and taking the stairs.”
Another principle is commitment. In this chapter, Vaden simply states that the “more we have invested in something, the less likely we are to let it fail.” I know this to be true; any parent understands the reason that our children’s t-ball and soccer games are so colorful. As Vaden puts it, “Success is a matter of choice.”
In the focus chapter, Vaden illustrates a piece of paper on asphalt pavement on a hot, humid day. When we hold a magnifying glass between the paper and the sun, we illustrate intense focus as the paper catches on fire. Similarly, using water to cut through steel, Vaden argues that focus is power, and when we have diluted focus, we get diluted results.
The integrity chapter is one that makes a point. Vaden writes about tearing down your own integrity when you say bad things about other people. “Saying whatever we feel and think without first filtering it through the lens of how it might impact people around us is not transparency; it’s indulgence.” Vaden goes on to talk about how to preserve and harness your integrity via the following checklist:
- Think before you speak
- Choose your words carefully
- Do what you say you will
- Be where you promise you will
- Resist emotionally charged, untamed language
- Assume the microphone is always on
- Use empowering language speaking about yourself and others
Vaden closes the chapter on integrity with, “Integrity is one of those only things that you take with you everywhere you go. You are in charge of creating the world around you. You think it, you speak it, you act, it happens.”
If nothing else, this book is a fun read mixed with interesting stories and facts. I recommend picking up a copy and adding it to your leadership toolbox. I will be the guy resisting the urge to take the escalator right along with you – see you on the stairs.
Todd Missel is a construction professional and an avid reader from Springfield.