A few months ago I took a trip to visit Patagonia to get a look at the Ventura-based brand’s new Legacy Collection capsule. I also got a chance to see a lot of awesome archival Patagonia stuff, which was worth the trip right there. But what I really learned that day (which I spoke a bit about in my previous post about the company), was how thought-provoking it was to see the Patagonia culture first hand. Being there and learning about the company’s values pushed me to think long and hard about my own values and to think about how a company can find success through two simple ideas: 1. Be committed to your values (act accordingly) and 2. Doing things differently can be the key to success.
These aren’t the only keys to Patagonia’s success, but they are the things that stand out to me. While I went to Ventura specifically to look at a clothing collection, I left with much more than just photos of the archival products (though that stuff is great as you can see below). I walked away with my mind racing, thinking about how to live my life, how to run a business and how to generally be happy. This year I have also spent time at Nike, Dreamworks, Google and various other large and small companies — all the while thinking about the role a company’s culture can impact personal success and overall happiness. Having worked for myself for the past 9 years I’ve pushed hard to build a successful professional life. At the same time, I’ve worked hard to take the time to actually enjoy my life and be happy. This was possible sometimes, and at other times it was completely impossible. But all of this energy directed at finding happiness and success at work and outside of work made be a strong believer in the importance of a positive culture.
Earlier in the year I was having breakfast with my friend from San Francisco and he was telling me about how the author Matthew Kelly came to speak to his company and what a profound affect the author and his book had on his outlook towards work and life. After that conversation, interested in my own relationship with work (and also considering my role as a business owner) I bought the book and read it. There’s a lot to think about in there, but the main take away is that if you are happy with what you do for work, then that will play a major role in how you feel about your personal life. It’s not about balance per se, it’s about finding satisfaction in both your personal and professional life.
There’s a direct line between this type of thinking and the culture at Patagonia. It’s the main point in Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing. There’s also something to just having a good culture like Patagonia does. Also, it’s important to not confuse culture with free snacks and the crazy generous office perks (though, that stuff is admittedly nice), but I bet you at the end of the day people could give two shits about a bunch of free snacks and all the other random stuff tech companies do. It seems to me that people only really want a few simple things: To be empowered, to be trusted and finally to be challenged by the work. Compensation of course plays a factor and benefits matter, but I don’t believe they aren’t the truly important things when it comes to happiness and satisfaction. If you work somewhere that checks all of these boxes, chances are you have a good thing going for you. I don’t want to over simplify, but all of my thinking (along with some insight from Yvon & Matthew Kelly’s books) about work, life, success and happiness keep coming back to those three points.
At the end of the day, clothes are an important part of my life, but they aren’t the key to my overall happiness. My guess is that is how many of the people at Patagonia feel. Clothing can make the experience better, but it’s not the experience.