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Rory Vaden motivates others to ‘Take the Stairs’

Even as a student at DU, Rory Vaden talked to people incessantly about how to be successful. The key, he said, was self-discipline. To be successful, you had to do the things other people weren’t willing to do. His college roommate—and a fellow member of the Pioneer Leadership Program—heard the argument often, and used it to make fun of

Vaden once on an airport escalator: “Mr. Discipline doesn’t even take the stairs,” he said.

“After I smacked him,” Vaden jokes, “I thought there was something about that that really resonated with me, that simple decision every day between taking the stairs or an escalator.”

The 27-year-old has since earned his MBA from DU, won second place in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, co-founded a multi-million-dollar company that puts on motivational sales training conferences for people by the thousands and grown his own personal brand: Take the Stairs.

Vaden was raised by a single mom in a trailer park outside of Boulder, Colo. While other kids played video games, he practiced martial arts and became a black belt by the age of 10. In high school, he studied instead of going to parties, and the work paid off in the form of a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship to DU.

When he was a freshman, another student recruited him to the Southwestern Co. internship program in which college students relocate for the summer and sell children’s books door to door for commission. He spent that first summer break in Montgomery, Ala., getting thousands of doors slammed in his face.

“It would have been easier for me to go home and be a lifeguard, but that would have been the escalator,” Vaden says. “Taking the stairs means I’m going to make sacrifices. If I had never gone through that, there’s no way I would have a multi-million-dollar company. There’s no way companies would have me come and speak to them. I would have no right.”

He made $17,000 that summer and came back to DU to recruit a team of students for the following year.

He started speaking publicly about self-discipline at high schools, colleges and youth groups. He graduated in June 2006 and moved to California to co-found the business Success Starts Now (SSN).

Vaden now travels the country giving his trademark “Take the Stairs” speech at conventions and corporate functions.

“It’s while you’re on the stairs that’s the fun part,” he says. “If you’re on the escalator, you’re not doing anything, not growing, not changing. You’re being dragged through life. On the stairs, you’re moving, learning, failing—but you’re getting better.”

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