Greek Baker’s Zen

I gotta tell you a story about a Greek baker. It’s something that happened to me personally and it changed the way I look on life in general.

First things first – I need to make a short prologue in order to explain my situation at the time.During that year I ended up 10 or 12 times in the emergency room because my blood pressure was skyrocketing and I was experiencing significant tachycardias. In the end, I got asthma attack that left me 12 days on intravenous therapy and steroids. Years of ambitions and startup lifestyle were threatening my existence.

At that time, our small web company had over 90 employees and serious contracts with dozens of media houses. Day-to-day pressure became unbearable. I was feeling like a George Custer in westerns, surrounded by a bunch of Indians on horses shooting arrows in my direction. In real life, those arrows were emails, offers, leads, contracts, meetings, consultations and calculations. Simply, I wasn’t at the helm of my life any more. My startup was the real captain giving all the orders.

This asthma attack happened in the middle of the summer and I decided to leave everything and go to the seaside for a month, to cool of a bit. To relax and think it over again. I was sitting by the pool, watching over my kid (who was 2 yrs old) and my wife who were playing together, asking myself if I would ever get to see him grow up. I was in my chair gasping for air, counting my breaths, because asthma was still lurking from within.

I felt helpless and vulnerable like a frightened animal and suddenly… I remembered a small village at the Greek coast, where we used to spend our holidays when I was a kid. The place where I felt completely safe. I wanted to avoid fancy hotels, bustling cities and charter flights. We just got into our car and left…

This small place I’m talking about is nested near monastery Hilandar, next to Mounth Athos on Halkidiki peninsula – the one that is touristically least popular. Its name is Ouranopolis (Uranus-town). The town in fact consists of a lonely Byzantine tower overlooking a modest fishing port. For tourist standards it’s not much, but we’ve experienced so many wondrous moments which I can only explain by proximity of the „Holy Mountain“ (Mount Athos).

ouranoupolisThe locals there are somehow different. They’re less kind and servile, but in a good way – they’re not faking it for the sake of tourism. They’re not hustling you for money. The nature there is strange and different too. The sea is full of fish, probably because the Holy Mountain is nearby where the fishing is forbidden. There are a lot of priests, and they’re different too…

However, one day, my wife goes to a baker shop which was next to our apartment. She comes back in a few minutes and says: „All bread is gone. They said – for bread come before 10 o’clock“.

I think to myself – what a God-forgotten place we’ve stumbled into, when there’s no bread after 10 o’clock?!

The next morning, on our way to the beach, we pop in the bakery and I see that they only sell bread and „burek“. Don’t get me wrong, the shop is full, but they sell only these two products, one kind of bread and „burek“ with 2 flavors, cheese and apple. No cookies, no cakes, croissants and other pastries. Nothing. Just these two products. I see a lot of local people buying there and it’s clear that the bakery is doing well with business.

OK, we get the „burek“ and we sit in the small modest terrace with only few tables but with a „million dollar view“. From it, you can see a half of Ouranopolis, Mount Athos and enjoy the open sea view.

I think to myself again – God, what a foolish man this baker is. He could widen his menu and put in some cakes and people would definitely buy. He has a beautiful view, he could redesign small terrace, put in few more tables and some better-looking chairs. He could also bake the bread in the afternoon, not just in the morning and sell more. As I see it, this guy don’t know nothing about serious business and making money.

We continue to eat our „burek“. It’s tasty. I notice that the old Greek is doing everything by himself with the help of his grandson. They’re doing the job well and you can see on their faces that they’re proud of their work. Local people come and buy the bread every morning. Then I see the oldmans’ daughter yelling something from a first-floor window. The bakery is on the ground-floor of a two-story house. The family lives on top floors and there’s an old jeep parked in front of the building. In a while, a new jeep parks besides the old one and a young guy gets out of the car and goes up in the house.

And then it hit me. This old Greek is NOT stupid, I’m stupid, because I was watching to many Hollywood movies. What I was seeing is an example of eastern way of life and running business, which is probably rooted in the remnants of the Ottoman empire, or maybe even from the Byzantine empire.

I say to myself – unlike you Milos, this old man lived to his latter years, healthy and sane, doing the thing he loves. He’s not foolishly chasing money. He understands that job is there to support the family for a lifetime. He’s working with his grandson and his daughter is with his family upstairs. His wife is there also. The man obviously succedded to build this house with this job and feed his family as well. They have two jeeps, they live on the seashore and they’re all together. He works up until noon and he goes home after, because he’s not willing to work for 12 or 14 hours a day, like me. He’s the one who decides when you need to come if you want to buy the bread.

After all, why does he need other products in the shop? He has that „burek“ which is perfect in both salty and sweet version. If he puts in some externally-made cakes and pastries, he would then have to think about their quality, delivery, cash-flow, salmonella and who knows what else. He would need to hire more people for the second shift, then he would need to pay them their salary and to watch them closely. Who needs such a headache? This way, he works only until noon, his products are small piece of art, everything he makes gets sold easily and everybody in this small town admire and appreciate him. Obviously that is enough for him and you can see that he’s a old school guy. For him life and family comes first and money is not everything.

From that moment on everything changed. I decided to get myself back at the helm of my life – I will be the one who decides what, when and with whom I work. To maintain normal working hours, not to chase for the money, but rather to do only those things that are really fulfilling me. You know… the business is done for the quality of life, not because of money. The money is just plain paper.

Nothing is as it seems, on first sight.

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1 Comment

  1. Working 12 hours is not the problem. Offering 2 or 2000 products is not the problem. The only problem is acceptance. If you accept the price you have to pay in order to achieve a goal, you can do whatever you like (within the boundaries of mental and physical limits). On the other hand, you can work for only 4 hours a day. If you loath what your are doing, it will make you ill. Therefore, it does not really matter what you do. The only thing which matters, is that you want it and are willing to pay the price.

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