Some meme on Pinterest once said, “If you want to know where your heart is, look to where your mind goes when it wanders.” My mind as a copywriter a few years back found itself wandering up to the rooftop – far away from unfeeling clients, helicopter account executives and the glaring absence of brilliant thoughts. I was convinced that one day they would find me up there in the fetal position, babbling and rocking to and fro while covered in bird poo.
Under less crazed moments, I recalled my friend Thor warning me about getting too wrapped up in my day job as a writer. “Have something else apart from the writing,” he said. “Because if you hang everything you have on it, you’ll start to hate it.”
He was right, too. I was beginning to loathe the very thing I loved as I would my own child. Some days it felt like outright thought prostitution. So how did my other fellow inmates do it?
Observations showed that all the best creatives, and all the hardest working people I knew, didn’t just have their day jobs and families or significant others. They cultivated passion projects, or pursued interests to a higher degree. My boss/art director painted, huge vivid canvases far and safe from client critique. Our managing director was the first to start selling eco bags in the Philippines, which still exists as a livelihood project today. One creative director would show me these awesome skull rings he was working on with a friend. In between brainstorming sessions, my art director J would leaf through Martha Stewart magazines and show me the kinds of pastries she wanted to make someday. Their eyes lit up as they talked about these; like prisoners talking about the first thing they’d eat once they got out of jail. They would come to the office all fired up from having worked their brains out somewhere else; and while some might interpret that as additional stress, they seemed ready to tackle their workaday worlds head-on.
They weren’t moaning about how they didn’t have enough time to do these things, like I was. They just made the time.
It can be tough choosing one and figuring out how to go about it, but passion projects can actually save your day job from feeling like a trap. There are numerous reasons passion projects can benefit you (and your day job), to wit:
You can do it EXACTLY the way you want it.
The frustration at your day job that usually comes with having too many cooks in the kitchen can be set off by your passion project. With this, YOU call the shots. While it requires a lot more grunt work on your part, nothing beats the satisfaction, fulfillment, and sense of ownership you’ll get out of crafting it to your own personal standards.
You learn to multi-task on a whole new level.
Think of your jobs and projects as children. Having to manage more than one forces you to get creative – not just literally, but also in how you manage your time and resources. Juggling more than your job trains you to balance passion and priorities. Beyond that, you learn even more new skills, which can only enhance your value within your current industry.
It’s one of the best ways to hit refresh.
Experts say that the most efficient use of time is to work in 90-minute blocks, with a ten-minute break in between. By the same principle, even as you spend maybe 90 percent of your time at your office job, your passion projects can serve as short and much-needed brain vacations. Whenever you feel stuck on a particular job, step away and fiddle with your other project instead. By focusing on Project 2 even for a little while, your brain gets to relax within this welcome interruption while the other side recharges; and you can return to your original task in a much more relaxed state.
You build your personal brand beyond more than just your day job.
One of my friends actually straddles the line between her left and right brains, working as a banker by day but running a famous blog in her free time. You become known, not just as a trainer, but The Trainer Who Sculpts Things out of Crayons; The Editor Who Makes A Wicked Mac and Cheese; The Broker/Boozy Brownie Baker and so on. Even better, when friends and coworkers begin identifying you as that, you’ll have your guinea pigs, marketing department, and support group built into your workplace (as long as it doesn’t interfere with your regular work!).
You want out of the box? You got it.
It happens to the best of us – stay in an industry long enough and you run the risk of falling into a rut. Having another outlet for your energy helps you see things from a completely new perspective; to go beyond all the other methods that have failed. Another discipline can help foster creative solutions that you, and only YOU, with your unique experience, could have come up with; maybe even a creative solution you never knew you needed.
You become the go-to person in more than one sense.
As any smart cookie with a project, you’ll do your research. Which simply means that anyone who has a question about your chosen passion (makeup, for instance), knows they can turn to you when they need help. Not only will you learn more about how to handle a potential customer and their concerns should you decide to turn this into a business, but they’ll also appreciate having an in-house consultant on say, what kind of eyeliner works best on oily eyelids.
You’ve got a Plan B.
If, God forbid, you realize you’re outgrowing or are unsatisfied with your five-year-plan for world domination, you don’t have to start from scratch. Because you’ve been cultivating this lovely little side project all along, and by this time, your little mental deposits will have built up into something you may even want to consider an alternative career. Former art director AJ Dimarucot, for example, is now at the helm of Googoo and Gaga, a treasure trove for cool kids’ wear and home furnishings.
You’re creating something that is uniquely you, and more than the sum of your parts.
Every personal passion project you take helps you swallow the usual job hazards (questionable client taste levels, for instance), because you know that something awaits you beyond the bend. You are in effect feeding your brain and soul with this project; and reminding yourself that you are so much more than just your bread-and-butter job.
Passion projects are synonymous with what writer Neil Gaiman calls “the mountain,” that goal you keep your eye on that makes you glad to be alive, that makes the whole struggle worth it. Having one can save your sanity. And it’s a big reminder that you are more than just a worker bee, plodding and plugging away mindlessly day in and day out. You’ll end up in a state of thriving, not just surviving.