In the words of Tom Tierney, philanthropist and co-founder of Bridgespan Group: “What matters in life is who you are.”

Tierney is a highly successful man, but this quote isn’t referring to success. It is about the importance of a person’s values and foundations. People often see their values and their path to success as incompatible entities, but it isn’t necessary to choose between the two. By keeping our values close, we can carve our own path to success. We explore this concept with anecdotes and tips from successful people who upheld strong values throughout their careers.

  • Tom Tierney, living up to his quote:

As a philanthropist, Tierney is focused on helping people in need. His organization, Bridgespan Group, is a non-profit that shares advice on how to contribute to social causes. Aside from his work, though, he deeply values family time, and early on in his career, made sure to spend weekends with his sons instead of working.

The amount of time he put into such non-career related activities only heightened his standing at work. His peers and employees saw him as an inspiration, and felt encouraged to maintain a healthy work-life balance. In Tierney’s case, his values have inspired respect, and helped him retain the support required to further his success.

  • Misty Copeland, on valuing one’s own self:

Renowned ballerina Misty Copeland has shared many stories of her journey as American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American female ballerina. She has spoken about struggling with her own self-image after being told that she had neither the looks nor the body type for ballet. Instead of giving up, she grew to become one of the best-known ballerinas of her era through sheer hard work.

A notable work of hers is the book “Ballerina Body”, where she speaks about coming to terms with her body type while providing health and exercise tips that helped her reach her peak. Copeland shows us that by refusing to conform to stereotypes and valuing who we are, we can achieve success via our own effort and willpower.

  • Yvon Chouinard, turning a passion into a business:

Now known as the founder of popular outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard was once a passionate climber. Despite his current status as a businessman, Chouinard started his journey as a self-proclaimed rebel who despised consumerism, and painstakingly built his own climbing tools to pursue his dream.

After realizing the effect climbing had on the environment, these values guided his business decisions. Patagonia focuses on making sturdier, more durable clothes in order to reduce their environmental impact. Chouinard actively advocates for people to buy less and use for longer. He’s even created clothes with recycled plastic and offered free repairs for Patagonia-bought gear, proving his dedication towards sustainability. The success of his brand has hinged on its unique motto and commitment to both better gear and a better world.

In each of the above examples, the protagonists didn’t just build successful careers based on their values, but also led fulfilling lives that were shaped by their beliefs. Their work, and their lives, then, were defined by ‘who they are’, and in the case of Chouinard, even his legacy was. The ‘existential dirtbag’, as he referred to himself, decided to gift Patagonia to the cause of saving the earth and fighting climate change, proving that living by values sometimes calls for unconventional but inspiring and rewarding paths.

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