Ever since I was a child, I’ve believed that inspiration is everywhere. When a new thought comes into view – if it makes you think differently about the world, or about yourself – it is magical and spiritual, regardless of what awoke it.
In this blog series, it’s my pleasure to share with you moments of inspiration from all sorts of origins: books, music, film, art… anywhere! This month, I’ve gained invaluable life insight from Yvon Chouinard’s ‘Let My People Go Surfing’. Here’s why…
Yvon Chouinard founded outdoor clothing brand Patagonia almost by accident. He had started his own business designing, producing and selling mountain climbing hardware – pitons, carabiners, etc. – from a vamped up chicken coop in California. His ambition was simple: he loved climbing and wanted longer-lasting equipment, which did less damage to the environment he was climbing in. Yet, the business wasn’t producing much profit until he started selling colourful rugby shirts, imported from the UK, as he felt they had the right qualities for scaling rugged mountains. Fast forward a few decades, Patagonia sells its clothing internationally.
Epiphany: “It all matters, because it’s all connected”
Ever since its conception, Patagonia has been focused on doing right by nature: a brand designed to be worn in nature, by those who love her. This appreciation for natural resources is a constant inspiration for the brand, as they work to redesign products, supply chain and their business model to reduce the strain their company puts on the environment.
This way of thinking is summed up succinctly, and beautifully, in the book’s first line; written in the foreword by Naomi Klein, it reads “Save what you love. A river. A mountain. A jacket. A pair of hiking boots. It all matters because it’s all connected.” True that.
Epiphany: “Live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over”
In an early chapter – of a book which outlines Patagonia’s philosophy to product design, marketing, human resources and so on – Chouinard shares the difficulties the business faced in its infancy; how they were stepping into the great unknown and learning on the job. The thing that saved them then, was that they were just a bunch of friends working together for a shared goal. They loved each other, and loved what they were trying to do. Crucially, they also knew what they needed to do to stay sane (an ideology that later gave the book its name ‘Let My People Go Surfing’).
When speaking of pushing the brand forward, Chouinard compares his experience to adventure sports, saying, “Never exceed your limits. You push the envelope, and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means”. It’s a philosophy that can speak to the soul of anyone, at anytime, about anything.
I could go on for hours sharing the wisdom I have uncovered on Patagonia’s pages, but I will limit myself to just two more thoughts. One which I believe to be very encouraging for those of us currently working in any spiritual, or healing or giving, role. The other, a reminder to all of us about keeping in touch with our wilder side.
Epiphany: “Profit is not the goal”
When speaking on Patagonia’s profit Chouinard says, “… profit is not the goal, because the Zen master would say profit happens ‘when you do everything else right”. If you dedicate your career to a role of healing, giving, serving, or even wanting to do the ‘right’ thing before the ‘well paid’ thing, there’s often a nagging concern that you may not make it work financially. Take, for instance, teaching yoga – in more cases than not, you’re placing higher importance in sharing your energy and spirituality than in the size of your monthly pay cheque, and you’d be forgiven for having momentary doubts about that ambition. But hey, if it worked for Patagonia…! Do what you deem to be right thing, and everything else will take care of itself.
Epiphany: “… Balance, as nature intended the world to be”
Lastly, let’s talk about wilderness, but not the sort of wilderness that Patagonia campaigns to save: the wilderness inside of us all. When I read the line “We need to protect these areas of unaltered wilderness and diversity to have a baseline, so we never forget what the real world is like – in balance, as nature intended the earth to be”, it spoke to me on a very deep level. How often do we pay respect to our wilderness, to let it shine… indeed, how much work to do we do to preserve it? I’d ashamedly answer: not enough.
In modern society, we must be seen to be efficient and in control, and it can be exhausting – we lose our balance. So whatever you’ve got to do to tap into that wilderness, do it. Dance your feet off. Sing at the top of your voice. Paint. Do anything, but don’t forget there are two sides to you: yin and yang.
Far beyond a business management book, ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ is an inspirational biography, packed cover to cover with sage words and hope for the future. Or at least that’s my take on it, I’d love to know yours?