The Code of the West: 10 Life Lessons Learned From a Cowboy

10 Life Lessons Learned From A Cowboy

Cowboy Ethics are the code that the cowboys lived by in the old west. The Code of The West was presented in paper form by James Owen. This code of 10 cowboy ethics is as relevant now as it was back then.

Live Each Day With Courage

Fear is Failure (Don’t Be Afraid to Fail)

Fear, especially the fear of failure can be paralyzing. In some cases it prevents us from taking action or even avoiding a situation. But the fact is, it’s impossible to go through life without experiencing some sort of failure. Those who let fear control their actions aren’t really living at all.

The key is to accept that failure is a real possibility, and failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Failure provides an opportunity to learn and grow. We must not let fear stop us. We must have courage to step outside our comfort zone and grow.

Take Pride in Your Work

Your Name Lasts A Lifetime

My Grandfather taught me that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If you are going to take the time to do something, take the time to do it right.

Whatever you do, regardless of how large or how small, has your name on it even if you do not physically sign it. The more good work you do the better your reputation will be.

Everyone is important, we all have a role. No matter how small you may think your role is, find meaning in what you do. Do the very best you can regardless of your role. There is more to work and to life than to simply go through the motions. Take pride in the work you do and continuously seek to improve.

Always Finish What You Start

When The Going Get’s Tough – Get Tougher

How many of us have a list of started yet unfinished projects? I think it’s safe to say that the number of people who start projects are far greater than those who actually complete them. Things just always seem to get in the way – there’s not enough time, it’s too hard, no support, [insert reason/excuse here].

What sounds better: “I took a few classes towards a Master’s.” or “I earned my Master’s degree!”

The fact is that there are always obstacles. No one is exempt. The key to success is to show up and do the work. Take Nike’s motto to heart and “Just Do It.” There are days when you don’t want to, and there will be a host of reasons why not to do it, but if you keep your goal firmly in front of you it will happen one step at a time. You will be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and desire to do more.

Do What Has To Be Done

Success Requires Work

Sometimes I wish that like Mary Poppins I could snap my fingers and my house would magically clean itself. Unfortunately my fingers do not seem to have the magical abilities that hers have.

Wishing aside, the reality is that success requires work. In fact, nobody is great without working for it. There is no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice. The best people in any field are those who deliberately practice and work to improve their performance. They are consistent and don’t take shortcuts. If you want to be great, you need to be willing to put in the required work to get there.

Be Tough, But Fair

Everyone Benefits From Discipline

Discipline is:
1. the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
2. The controlled behavior resulting from discipline.
3. An activity or experience that provides mental or physical training.
4. A system of rules of conduct.
Discipline is important because it creates the rules and boundaries that we govern ourselves with. It also provides knowledge and instruction. Learning happens when rules and boundaries are enforced, but are met with a listening ear and understanding.
The punishment should fit the crime.

When You Make A Promise, Keep It

Your Word Carries Value

Do you think before you make a promise to someone? What if you can’t deliver on your promise?

When we don’t keep a promise that we’ve made to someone, it communicates to that person that we don’t value him or her. We have chosen to put something else as a higher priority than our commitment to them. Even by breaking small promises, others learn that we cannot be trusted or counted on to follow through.

Broken promises damage relationships and can hurt your reputation. Trust is built through a series of experiences that are shared with others. Trust takes time and work to develop. Once it is broken it is even more difficult to regain it.

Ride For the Brand

Be Proud of Your Family Name (Honor Your Heritage)

Heritage is:
1. Something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition.
2. Something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion.
3. Something reserved for one.
Heritage is the history, knowledge, values, and traditions that have been developed through a combination of genes and environment over time. Family history, is your history. Knowing our heritage and family history tells us where we came from. It is where our past became our present.
We are a product of those who came before us. Their actions had an impact on us, and our actions can have an impact on their legacy. Learn about and honor your family.

Talk Less and Say More

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” – Plato

When we speak is it because we have something important to say? Do we believe what we say or do we instead live by the philosophy of “do as I say not as I do?”

Actions can speak louder than words. Sometimes what someone does is more important than what they say. It is easy for people to say things, but when their behavior doesn’t line up with what they say, it is hard to believe them.

I recently heard a story about a little boy who ran to his Father when he walked in the door from work. The Father put down his things and told his son he loved him. The little boy said, “I don’t want you to love me, I want you to play baseball with me.”

The words we say are important. But what we do communicates more than we say. When our actions are consistent with our words they powerfully reinforce what we say.

Remember That Some Things Aren’t For Sale

Memories Can’t Be Bought

Some things are too precious to label with a price tag. Those are the things that shape our character and being:

  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Time
  • Health
  • Experience
  • Dreams
  • Memories
  • Family and Friends
  • Inner Peace
  • Happiness
  • Freedom

This list represents some of the most important things in life, and non of them can be purchased with money. In addition, honor, dignity, courage, and honesty can’t be bought.

Money can buy things, but things only bring temporary happiness, lasting happiness comes from time spent with loved ones and making memories.

The truly important things in life can’t be bought, they also cannot be sold, regardless of the price.

Know Where to Draw the Line

Character and Integrity Are Everything

Boundaries are important to relationships. Understanding your own boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others are essential for healthy relationships. That means that sometimes we have to stand up for what we believe in, even if that means standing alone.

Be clear about your values and honor your most important priorities. Stand up for what is non-negotiable (family, values, health…). Be flexible and understanding about things that are negotiable.


  1. Owen, J. P., & Stoecklein, D. R. (2004). Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn From The Code of The West. Stoecklein Publishing.

Krista Palo

I'm Krista, the owner and creator of Evolve. I have a masters degree in Business Administration and I am passionate about development, motivation, and change. I love stories in all of their forms, and believe in continuous learning and the power of positivity.

Latest posts by Krista Palo (see all)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

We love comments!

2 thoughts on “The Code of the West: 10 Life Lessons Learned From a Cowboy

    • I love this list. I grew up around cowboys and I’m loving being back in a small agricultural community again. A lot can be said for hard work and strong ethics.