This is how abandoning the herd can make you successful

Artwork by John P. Weiss

We live in a society where most people take the escalator rather than the stairs. Because it’s easier. Watch the patterns of movement in an airport or shopping mall. Hordes of people pour into elevators and escalators. Only a handful take the stairs.

Best selling author and motivational speaker Rory Vaden wrote an excellent book titled, “Take the Stairs: 7 Steps To Achieving True Success.” The book tells us that we should be more like bison than cows.

Rory Vaden grew up in the state of Colorado, with its world-famous Rocky Mountains. Colorado is evenly divided between the east and west, with the east containing the great Kansas plains. It’s one of the few places in the world where cows and bison roam together.

When storms brew out of western Colorado, cows turn east to outrun them. The only problem is that cows are notoriously slow. They plod along in vain, trying to outrun the clouds and rain. Unfortunately, the storm soon overtakes them and they are soaked beneath the pelting sheets of rain.

Rory Vaden explains:

“What bison do on the other hand is very unique for the animal kingdom. Bison wait for the storm to cross right over the crest of the peak of the mountaintop and as the storm rolls over the ridge the bison turn and charge directly into the storm.”

Rory Vaden adds:

“Instead of running east away from the storm they run west directly at the storm. By running at the storm they run straight through it. Minimizing the amount of pain and time and frustration they experience from that storm.”

In other words, bison face their problems head-on. They don’t run from them, procrastinate or make excuses. Unlike most herds, bison dive into their problem and deal with it. Much like ripping the bandaid off, they “get it done.”

Now, some say the story of bison running into storms is folklore. Others say they do it to find fresh grass. Whether it’s true or not, the analogy of facing our problems head-on in life is sound advice.

The Quest for the Inner Ring

C. S. Lewis was a British novelist, academic and lay theologian who taught at Oxford University (Magdalen College) from 1925–54. The website examined C. S. Lewis’ famous speech at Magdalen College, noting:

“During his tenure as a professor at Magdalen College in Oxford, C.S. Lewis delivered a memorial oration to the students of King’s College, the University of London. It was titled,‘The Inner Ring.’ Addressing his young audience as ‘the middle-aged moralist,’ Lewis warned of the natural desire to find ourselves a part of the right inner circles, which exist endlessly and tauntingly throughout life. He cautioned about the consuming ambition to be an insider and not an outsider, on the right side of the right camp, though the lines that distinguish the camps are invisible, and the circle is never as perfect from within as it looks from without. Like the taunting mirage a weary traveler chases through the desert, noted Lewis, the quest for the Inner Ring will break your heart unless you break it.”

What C. S. Lewis was talking about is our superficial need to be a part of the “in-crowd.” More specifically, the “innermost circle.” Such circles may or may not be at the top of an organization. They may be a secret, inner ring who control the actual goings-on of an organization or group.

For example, perhaps you join an “in” group at work. You know that penetrating the leadership or “inner circle” of such a group implies great things. Maybe you’ll get access to special information or be introduced to important people. Or you’ll be recognized as important, popular and part of the in-crowd.

While it’s true that knowing the “right people” can open doors, C. S. Lewis cautioned us about pursuing these inner rings. He stated:

“Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.”

Better To Be the Sound Craftsman

C. S. Lewis urged us to embrace our craft and forge our own path. Create our own “inner ring.”

Here’s how C. S. Lewis put it:

“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.”

In other words, the cream rises to the top. Exceptional craftsmanship and exemplary work stand on their own. It doesn’t require membership, alliances or admission. Everyone recognizes it for what it is: great work.

C. S. Lewis concluded:

“And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.”

The Subtle Art of Not Caring

Mark Manson is a successful blogger and a somewhat contrarian spirit. Despite his self described “potty mouth” style of writing, his insights and conclusions about better living are fresh and often counter-intuitive.

Manson’s book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***,” bucks most self-help platitudes about pursuing happiness. In fact, Manson argues that pursuing positivity actually leads to unhappiness.

We want to feel good about ourselves so we try to get in with the right crowd. We compare ourselves to others, seek short cuts and avoid negativity and pain at all costs.

Ironically, it’s the negative experiences and difficult things that shape and help us grow more.

Mark Manson argues that when we stop caring about what everyone else thinks and get comfortable with doing hard things, we’ll grow more and be happier.

For example, going to the gym and working out can be somewhat negative. It’s hard work and not always fun. But by embracing the difficulty of it, we get in shape and feel better about ourselves.

The actor and martial artist Chuck Norris supports this notion of doing hard things. He wrote an amazing forward to the book “Do Hard Things — A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations” by the brothers Alex and Brett Harris. Chuck Norris noted:

“Today we live in a culture that promotes comfort, not challenges. Everything is about finding ways to escape hardship, avoid pain, and dodge duty.”

Author Mark Manson argues that if someone is better than you at something, they probably “failed at it longer.” Everyone wants success and recognition, but few are willing to embrace the pain and consistency needed to achieve it.

“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” — Dwayne Johnson

Exceptional people are obsessive about improvement. They don’t care what everyone else thinks. They just hunker down and do the hard work. They’re bison, not cows.

Abandon the Herd to Succeed

The world of art is a competitive and difficult environment. Open any art magazine and you’ll encounter a lot of similar landscape, cityscape, still life and figurative work. A lot of Plein air landscapes look similar. Same with atelier trained figurative paintings. Many are quite accomplished, but much of the work is duplicative.

Newer artists tend to ape their instructors. Wise collectors look deeper for original, authentic, fresh work. However, producing “different” work just to be different is seldom enough. Beyond originality, there has to be quality, too.

The challenge for artists and creatives is to abandon the herd. Don’t be like those cows, plodding along and getting soaked in the rain. Strive to be more like the bison and face the storm head-on.

Keep in mind that your unique quirks and flaws are what make you unique.

“Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Dive in and do the hard work while everyone else is producing familiar but less original work. Push yourself further. Practice and study relentlessly. Pull off that mask of social convention and show your authentic self. Embrace the struggle and find that deeper, unique work inside yourself.

Adopt C. S. Lewis’ argument and create your own “inner ring.” Your own unique voice and style. When you do, others will be attracted to your work. They’ll want to emulate it. People will want to pay you handsomely for it. You, in turn, will find greater fulfillment than merely copying what everyone else is doing.

By abandoning the herd and following Chuck Norris’ advice to face your challenges, you’ll forge your own artistic path. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Charge head-on into the storm. Do hard things. Create your own “inner ring.” In these ways, you’ll likely reach new heights with your creative work, as well as a deeper sense of joy and fulfillment.

(Adapted from and originally published at

Bonus Feature

I drew the title cartoon for this article all by myself. I didn’t have to join any “in-crowd.” It’s much more fun to be a sound craftsman than a social climber. Here’s a 30-second time-lapse video of me drawing my cartoon. Enjoy!

Before You Go

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint and write about life. Get my free, weekly newsletter here.\

This article first appeared on Medium.