I book my haircuts three months in advance because Jason Holloway, my hairdresser, has a full calendar and a long waitlist.
Jason sometimes works just 4 days a week, and he sees clients only 6 to 8 hours a day. Unlike other studio owners I've known, he never double books in order to squeeze in a second client for a quick cut while the first in that time block waits for her color to take.
I love that, once I reach Jason's chair, he is always ready for me, on time and focused entirely on me and my hair. But I know that his small business has substantial overhead, and I suspect that he could make a lot more money if he were to put in more hours or serve his clients at a faster pace.
So I asked Jason if he'd consider adding hours to his studio schedule, or finding ways to fit more clients into each day. "No," he said, "if I'm just grinding it out, it shows in my work."
In earlier years Jason operated on a high tier of the salon industry, crisscrossing the country to teach L'Oreal customers about the latest trends and techniques in hair design. He liked being a trainer, he enjoyed the opportunity to be a player in the fashion industry, and he was making more money than he had time to spend.
But Jason was exhausted by the constant travel. And he wanted to find "peace." So he decided to leave the big time, move from the D.C. area to little Culpeper, Virginia, and create a career that would support the life he wants.
Now, with his own small salon, Jason is proud that clients book months ahead, perhaps driving 50 miles or so for an appointment. Most important, he seems to be a happy and self-aware man, one who keeps revisiting his most important values, as he continues to tweak his balance of work and life.
Here is the career formula that helps Jason to remain joyful and productive:
• Start with the people. Once he launched his studio in Culpeper, Jason moved carefully to find compatible workers. He trained the apprentice who has become his sidekick, April Carter, and he recruited two friends as part-time colleagues. And he builds real relationships with his clients, focusing on each one intently and looking forward to visiting with his regulars. Jason understands what Gallup polls have shown - that having friends at work is incredibly important to your job satisfaction.
• Value what you do. Jason loves doing hair, including for people who may face the ravages of cancer or other special challenges. He says, "The way we appear in the world, our personal style, speaks volumes about us. This is why the connection between stylist and client is so strong and personal ... Because to help reveal someone's 'spiritual grace,' you have to know them." He regards hair as a kind of calling, a combination of art, science and service to others. Jason has a sense of mission. And research consistently shows that people like him, who find meaning in their work, report better health, well-being and resilience.
• Leave room for side gigs. Jason is passionate about his salon and takes pride in staying ahead of the trends, but he wants more variety in his career. So he leaves time for producing and selling art, including images where tiny, cropped photographs become a type of brushstroke. And he teaches the occasional Ashtanga yoga class. His combination of activities means that he is always learning something new, which is key to a satisfying work life.
• Maintain autonomy. Many studies show what Jason has figured out for himself: workers who have substantial control over how they meet their goals are happier and more productive than those kept on a tighter rein. Jason doesn't enjoy the accounting and compliance tasks that are part of running a small business. But for him, the benefits of making his own decisions outweigh the more tedious aspects of being an entrepreneur.
Jason's formula for loving his work includes having a mission, building strong relationships, traveling along multiple learning paths, and staying in control of his days and weeks. That is a pretty good starting point for many people.