April 5, 2024
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Opinion: Chouinard’s Patagonia donation a prime example of living a purposeful life


By Shaun Tomson

Yvon Chouinard, reluctant businessman and self-confessed “dirtbag,” made international headlines when he recently gave away the shares of the iconic outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. He founded the company with his wife, Malinda, in 1973, and it is based in Ventura, nestled in a grove of trees at the junction of the 101 and 33 freeways, bound for Ojai.

Yvon decided to transfer his and his family’s ownership of Patagonia into a trust rather than sell or go public — he wanted to enshrine the values of the company and ensure that its profits, approximately $100 million a year, go towards environmental causes, in perpetuity.

He stated: “Instead of going public you could say we are going purpose.”

With the company valued at $3 billion, and annual sales of over $1 billion, it is the most significant donation in the history of the environmental movement — a rallying cause that started right here in Santa Barbara in 1969, with the blowout of Platform A in the Santa Barbara Channel, and the release of more than 4 million gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, and onto our beautiful, pristine beaches.

So, what’s the big deal about “purpose,” and why is it the word on the lips of so many leaders of organizations? Certainly, Yvon Chouinard is one of the few to put his money where his mouth is and commit his company’s entire existence to a purposeful path.

A number of recent studies on purpose have revealed some hard truths about what might be perceived as a soft, touchy-feely issue.

In a longitudinal study of 73,000 people, professor Celeste Leigh Pierce at the University of Michigan showed that “people who didn’t have a strong life purpose were twice as more likely to die than those who did.”

Another more recent study at the same university showed that “working with a sense of purpose leads to far greater engagement, motivation, productivity, and retention.”

With retention, engagement, motivation and productivity being fundamental issues in our post-pandemic workplace, one would think that corporate leaders and human resources directors across the world would be busting down doors to find out how to imbue their teams with a sense of purpose.

Purpose is the energy that empowers organizations and individuals to thrive. Recent research from Ernst and Young indicates that purpose-led organizations perform 42% better than those that are simply in business.

However, according to a Gallup poll, two-thirds of employees worldwide are purposeless — bored, detached and ready to actively sabotage plans, projects and other people. Considering you spend around a third of your life at work, this disengaged culture means that helping people to find a sense of purpose isn’t just vital for business, but also for people’s overall well-being.

What is the true meaning of this elusive and ethereal concept? How can it be quantified and captured and spread across an organization?

Purpose can be simply defined as a long-term committed intention to accomplish goals that are meaningful to oneself and others. Purpose is our reason for being and gives our lives meaning. Purpose is the energy that empowers individuals to thrive; a personal North Star that enables us to truly fly and realize our potential. Purpose underlies our drive on the path to life fulfillment — what humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow called self-actualization, the state of becoming everything one is capable of becoming.

Purpose has five elements that can be described as a simple acronym: AIMAT.

Purpose is aspirational, a higher order mission that is something to strive for.

Purpose is inspirational — our purpose inspires ourselves, but also inspires our peers, our colleagues and our family members.

Purpose is moral — in this age of shifting quicksands of truth and false reality, purpose is a bedrock of our existence.

Purpose is authentic — my purpose is authentic to me in the same way your purpose is authentic to you. Purpose has no nuance or shading.

Purpose is timeless — it does not change with the winds, with the seasons, with trends or culture shifts.

Purpose is forever and is the polar opposite of a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goal — purpose is not time sensitive.

How to find and define one’s purpose?

For 15 years I have used a simple tool, a transformational method to help individuals in corporations, nongovernmental organizations, universities, schools, prisons, rehab clinics and sports teams find purpose.

The Code is a 15 minute exercise ideally done with a peer group: a team at work, a class at school or university, or most importantly, with a family.

Pick up a sheet of paper and in 15 minutes write 12 lines, each beginning with “I will…”

At the end of the time each participant stands up and reads their code to the rest of the group.

This a simple tool of visualization and commitment to action that creates a feeling of confidence and internal power. In my experience, working with hundreds of thousands of people over the last decade, individuals welcome having their own tool to help in finding, defining and refining one’s life purpose. Writing and sharing one’s code positively influences us and connects us to each other, and to the best of the human spirit.

• Shaun Tomson is a Montecito resident and an author, speaker and former world champion surfer.