I’m a documentary fiend.
Last night I watched 180° South, the story of Jeff Johnson, who Esquire referred to as “Patagonia’s Pro Adventurer” (what a title!), emulating the spontaneous 1968 trip Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, founder The North Face, took to Patagonia, Chile.
At the time, Chouinard was 29 and Tomkins was 25. They didn’t consider themselves businessmen. In fact, as they often say in the film, they thought of themselves as “dirt bags,” societal rejects.
They were living impulsively, deciding to make the six-month journey just two weeks before. It was an adventure that helped shaped who they are today and laid the foundations for both companies.
Granted, Chouinard and Tompkins made the trip in a different era, when a gallon of gas cost 34 cents and the unemployment rate was just 3.8%, but we too live in a different era. They had the freedom to be unconventional. For us, unconventional is actually the safest thing to be.
Ask the 500 senior level Time Warner executives who just got cut. There are no guarantees anymore. Turns out playing it safe is actually the most dangerous strategy. Employees who stay at a company longer than two years, on average, make 50% less over their lifetime than their nomadic counterparts, according to Forbes. And in 2014, the average employee will get less than a 1% raise, once you calculate inflation.
Whether or not you like Mark Zuckerberg – I know he can come off a little bit pompous and unlikeable in interviews, especially in his younger, “I’m the CEO, bitch” years – he hit the nail on the head in a 2011 interview with Y Combinator’s Jessica Livingston when he said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risks…In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Not the most poetic way to say it, but he’s right.
He’s also living proof of it. The thing is, even if Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t started Facebook, he probably would’ve been fine. If it weren’t for the unprecedented growth of the social network, he’d have graduated with a computer science degree from Harvard. Probably would have found a job. What he said, then, is even more relevant to us non-Harvard graduates.
Risk and safety, it turns out, are not opposites.
We revere the rejects, the “crazy ones,” as Jobs said. We love him. We love the Bransons, the Winfreys, the Chouinards, the Cubans, the Rowlings of the world. But not while they’re paving their way, only once they’ve made it. While they’re struggling, we laugh at them and spit on them. Once they’re millionaires and billionaires and in the public eye, all of the sudden they’re so relatable.
It’s that discomfort, and the fear of it, mixed with financial insecurities and other considerations, that makes blazing your own path so terrifying, but also so rewarding. There are no cheerleaders during the never-ending battle between reality and your will to survive.
As Ray Bradbury reminded us, sometimes you have to jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. Well, today the choice is easier than it’s even been. Jump before you get pushed off. Jumping is the safest thing to do. Who would’ve thought?
^ By my little brother John
As Chouinard and Tomkins discovered in 1968, impulsiveness, good impulsiveness, what I call “calculated impulse,” can mold reality to your own expectations, rather than the other way around.