Do you know what Abstract Expressionist Art and Virtual Reality have in common? They were both pioneered as side projects.
The well-known abstract artist Jackson Pollack was a school janitor by profession. He spent countless late nights after work crafting the bulk of his now-famous paintings. Palmer Luckey worked a full-time job at USC. His evenings were spent in his garage creating what would become the company considered to be the leader in VR technology: Oculus.
They share the stage with many others. Twitter, Google, Space-X, Apple. These are just a few industry giants who started their lives as side-projects while their creators funded their work with “day jobs.”
Most of these side projects have afforded us opportunities to plant and grow our own seeds of opportunity. With little more than a reliable internet connection and a lot of devotion, those seeds can flourish into something groundbreaking. Side projects are inspiring and can change lives.
There’s a misconception about side projects that they’ll deplete a person. That beginning one will distract you from your “real job” or complicate an already hectic life. But the opposite is true. Finding a side project or experimenting in new areas of work has the potential to make you better at what you already do!
And there’s science to back this up!
Psychology professor Dr. Kevin Eschleman of San Francisco State University conducted a study in which he tested the effect of having a side project on over 400 individuals. What he found was that those who had one were notably more helpful, creative, collaborative and productive overall.
That’s because side projects can counteract the stressors of the daily grind. They do this in the same manner that going for a drink with friends after work to blow off some steam might. But instead of kicking back a cold one, you’re honing your skill sets while sparking your curiosity and testing your intellectual capacity. It can be truly fulfilling and restorative and enhance well-being.
Running a business or having a “real job” is inherently stressful. A person must earn their keep. There’s an intense amount of pressure from real-world scenarios to perform and be successful. Your side project, though? It’s not paying the electric bill. So if it crashes…no harm, no foul.
That freedom is the elixir that has taken so many projects from the garage to the boardroom. It’s this same freedom that, coincidentally, makes them scary. If you follow a few key strategies, you’re sure to increase your chances of success!
Find something that is somewhere between
the skills you wish to
build and the things that you enjoy.
A side project should be something that you enjoy doing. It should be something you find meaning in and can help you professionally. Finding the balance between the two can get tricky. If you start a side project to help you get ahead at your job, you run the risk of that side project becoming an extension of your job. Before long, it’s just another work-related task and the fun is gone.
On the other hand, if your project isn’t helping you build a skill, you may just be goofing off. Which is fine, of course, but it may not usher in a new level of meaning to your life.
Focus on finding that sweet spot in the middle and build on it!
Be okay with failure.
Big, audacious goals are great. But focusing too much on the potential result of your side project can kill your motivation and leave you drained and bitter. Expect that things won’t go as planned (because they won’t). We’ve all heard the age-old quip that Thomas Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb before he got it right. Yeah. That. Plan on that and be okay with it. Know that your “light bulb moment” will happen if you’re patient.
Don’t quit your day job.
As tempting as it may be, you need the income. Beyond that, the chances that you’ll meet like-minded or inspirational people who will help you on your path are greater when you keep your day job.
Whether you’re looking to write that screenplay that you always wanted to, code the next great app or start your own business, a side project is a great way to take you to exciting and unexpected destinations!