Business

Yvon Chouinard: On the Wisdom of Life — Zen Business, Living Simply

“The more you know, the less you need.”

 

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“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex. What’s important is leading an examined life. Mastery… is to work toward simplicity; replace complex technology with knowledge, hard work, and skill.

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

I’ve  been a student of Zen philosophy for many years. In Zen archery, for example, you forget about the goal—hitting the bull’s-eye—and instead focus on all the individual movements involved in shooting an arrow. You practice your stance, reaching back and smoothly pulling an arrow out of the quiver, notching it on the string, controlling your breathing, and letting the arrow release itself.

If you’ve perfected all the elements, you can’t help but hit the center of the target. The same philosophy is true for climbing mountains. If you focus on the process of climbing, you’ll end up on the summit. As it turns out, the perfect place I’ve found to apply this Zen philosophy is the business world.

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.

Doing risk sport had taught me another important lesson: 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.

I have a little different definition of evil than most people. When you have the opportunity and the ability to do good and you do nothing, that’s evil. Evil doesn’t always have to be an overt act, it can be merely the absence of good. I don’t really believe that humans are evil; it is just that we are not very intelligent animals. No animal is so stupid as to foul its only nest, except humans.

The reason why we won’t face up to our problems with the environment is that we are the problem. It’s not the corporations out there, it’s not the governments, it’s us. We’re the ones telling the corporations to make more stuff, and make it as cheap and as disposable as possible. We’re not citizens anymore. We’re consumers. That’s what we’re called. It’s just like being an alcoholic and being in denial that you’re an alcoholic. We’re in denial that each and every one of us is the problem. And until we face up to that, nothing’s going to happen. So, there’s a movement for simplifying your life: purchase less stuff, own a few things that are very high quality that last a long time, and that are multifunctional.

Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity. You have a whole life in the outdoors, you have to realize you have a sense of responsibility to protect these wild places. Nature doesn’t like empires. It doesn’t like accumulation in one place, it doesn’t like monoculture. It’s always trying to make diverse species. It wants to spread everything out. And we’re constantly trying to hold everything in.

Going back to a simpler life based on living by sufficiency rather than excess is not a step backward; rather, returning to a simpler way allows us to regain our dignity, puts us in touch with the land, and makes us value human contact again.”

Excerpts from Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

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~Yvon Chouinard is an American rock climber, environmentalist, and outdoor industry billionaire businessman. His company, Patagonia, is known for its environmental focus. Chouinard is also a surfer, kayaker, and falconer and is particularly fond of tenkara fly-fishing.

Excellence Reporter 2020

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