Why do you work?

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared ✍🏼
on my personal blog

I recently wrote a piece called “Work/Life Balance is Bullshit,” which turned out to be more controversial than I anticipated. To sum it up, I believe that work isn’t the negative thing our “live for the weekend” culture makes it out to be.

I like to work, but some days the WHY gets a bit blurry. I mean of course, first and foremost I work so I can reach a certain level of comfort, pay my bills and feed my family. That’s the baseline.

But beyond that, it’s easy to get pulled into working for all the wrong reasons. It’s easy to focus on the numbers: Make more money, gain greater commercial success.

In an episode of the NTMY podcast, my friend Eric Bandholz and I talked about this at length. Eric used to be a sales guy and a financial advisor. Now he owns a bootstrapped company that sells beard care products. If anyone knows the significance of money, it’s someone who’s worked in finances and runs his own business. But Eric’s not in this for the money.

“For me, I want to be free,” said Eric. “That’s what I’m working for.”

He said he doesn’t care about buying the biggest boat or having the fanciest house or even the bragging rights that come with wealth. He simply works to afford a happy, worry-free life.

“For me, personally, I want to be free from all these material possessions and I want to be free from debt and I want to share that message with our audience,” said Eric.

In a world that’s all about scaling and competition, Eric remains focused on making enough to live modestly. That’s it. Of course, he wants to stay profitable so his business can continue to exist, but it’s not profit at all costs. He’d rather add value to people’s lives and to his own.

It’s why he doesn’t do discounts on his Beardbrand product. Instead, he asks himself how he can add value to the order, rather than taking away from the current value that’s already there. It makes things a little harder, and he knows a different model could make him considerably more money. But Eric would rather stick to his values. That’s what feeds the brand he wants to build. And ideally, it will make his business better in the long term.

Some people discover Beardbrand by Googling “beard oil.” They land on Eric’s site, they like what they see and so they buy the product. Other people are passionate about the community, the quality and the lifestyle. They invest into learning about the process. They treat beard maintenance like a hobby. Those are the people Eric wants to reach. Sure, he could make more sales going for the other type of consumer, but that’s not why he’s doing this.

“I guess that’s when you become a sell-out, right?” Eric jokes. “When you go for the mass market people… that’s when you change your course. But I’m not ready to sell out yet.”

Like Eric, I work to be free. The difficult part is to understand when you’ve reached your personal freedom. What does that look like? How do you sustain it?

I remember one of my first jobs I had as a computer scientist. The money I made was enough to pay the bills and live in my single apartment at the time. So when I was offered a promotion, I asked to instead work four days instead of five.

The next time I was up for a promotion, I asked for the option to work from home at any time I wanted. I still made the same money, but I only worked four days with the option to work from home. Compared to a traditional promotion, I negotiated more freedom.

To me, freedom is more flexibility. To Eric, freedom means living a life without debt and material distractions. To you, freedom might be more time with your family.

Freedom means something different for everyone. Define what it means to you, and you may find it changes everything about the way you work and think about money & success.

Have a wonderful week,

PS: I usually send out these articles via my personal email list right here. You can sign up anytime, I won’t spam, promise.

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Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of Semplice, a portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify & Board of Directors AIGA New York.