The good life

Back in the year 2000, while I was still in college, I read this article about the founders of Great Harvest Bread Co.

As a 20-year-old business student, hearing Pete and Laura Wakeman's philosophy for life and business had a huge impact on me:

"When all your choices are made with freedom and simplicity in mind, then freedom and simplicity is inevitable."

Their rules were simple:

In the early days of the business we had simple rules, but we followed them like religion. One was the two-day weekend. We never violated that, no matter what. Combined, the two of us worked about 50 hours a week. We didn't talk about work at home; that was a rule. That's especially important. When we left the bakery, we were gone until we came back.We worked so we could take trips. We loved our work, but we worked so we could take trips.

Unlike a lot of other entrepreneurs, they weren't aggressively pursuing growth, putting in 80 hour weeks, or sacrificing their personal life. Instead, the Wakeman's prioritized living a good life first.

For them, having a business was a means to an end, and they always kept their life priorities in sight.

"We vowed to live more like our rock-climbing friend, rich in time."

They'd always tracked their hours (through regular time cards). They got paid by the hour, just like their employees. Gradually, over the years, they reduced the hours they worked:

  • In 1993, they worked a total of 2,986 hours (combined)

  • In 1996, they reduced that to 2,000 hours (1,000 each)

For them, restricting themselves to 1,000 hours a year meant more freedom. As soon as the year started, they knew how many hours they'd be working. And they tracked it by punching in, and punching out. They didn't want their work time bleeding into their personal time. (How many of us are answering emails, tweets, etc on our phones at all hours of the day? 😅).

Pete and Laura say their secret was setting rigid boundaries in their lives. They felt that these "handrails" gave them more freedom:

What works for us with a 100-plus-bakery franchise is what worked for us with a single retail store. Simple, physical handrails. Handrails that we set, then follow without further questioning. All the good systems, all the good habits, derive from this simple act of partitioning. In the old days working on a Sunday would have been taboo. But the partition between work and play is just as simple and clear today as it was back then.

When they were interviewed, they were preparing to take a 3 month trip away from the business. Three months!

The feeling of leaving for a long time, let's say three months, has always been the kid-out-of-school feeling, nothing more.

Currently, I don't think Jon or I could imagine leaving Transistor for three months. But it's a good model to think about: how could we structure our business so we could do that?

One part of Pete and Laura's playbook I really identify with is their hiring philosophy:

Laura and I purposefully created a little world where we fit. We hire people who think like us. This is not a little thing. You can't have a great life unless you have a buffer of like-minded people all around you. If you want a happy company, you can do it only by hiring naturally happy people. You'll never build a happy company by "making people happy."

If your goal isn't to "grow fast," you can identify and hire naturally happy people want the same kind of life you do: a good life, full of purpose, and the space to do things outside of work.

It's clear that Pete and Laura's lifestyle was the result of deliberately pursuing freedom and simplicity in all aspects of their life:

  • "We're very rural. Our house is eight miles outside of Dillon, Montana"

  • "We get outdoors -- a lot. Every single day we're out in the weather for at least a couple hours."

  • "We run or lift weights for an hour or two every day."

  • "We are completely surrounded by animals at all times."

  • "We spend every summer either in Latin America or on a wilderness trip."

  • "We always 'buy high, sell low.' That's really a key to freedom. The minute we're done with something, we sell it supercheap and get it out of our life, fast."

Now, Pete and Laura's choices won't necessarily be the right decisions for you or I. But, you can see how they deliberately crafted their lives. They've shaped every aspect to give them more freedom.

That's the good life. I think it's the kind of life that many of us want.

Justin Jackson

Published on February 19th, 2022
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