Solo Episode: Three Reasons Why You Need a Side Project


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One of the coolest places to grab food or drinks in New York City is called the Coffee Shop, it’s right by Union Square. When you go there, you’ll be greeted by a tall blonde, she looks as if she’s straight out of a runway, or right out of the screen from the latest horror flick. And there’s a higher-than-average chance that she’ll make it as an actress, this place, The Coffee Shop, is known for hiring talented young people. Maxwell, the Grammy-winning R&B singer used to work there as a busboy before he made it big. I even have a good friend of from college, he worked there too, and now you can find him in shows like Girls, Law and Order, and acclaimed independent movies. My goal here isn’t to give you the lowdown on spots where gorgeous people serve you your french toast, my point is that the thing that fills your wallet and the thing that fills your soul are rarely the same thing.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be. In the future. Right now though, don’t beat yourself up over having a day job. Hey, the bills gotta get paid.

In this episode my sole purpose is to convince you that you NEED to have a side project or hobby. Even if you’re not looking to change careers or branch out on your own, having a side-project will rock your world. Here are THREE reasons why you need to start working on a side-project.

Reason #1: Side projects release the stress of everyday life

Life is tough. This isn’t news to anyone. Work gets more demanding each day. Friends drift farther away. And the Mets keep letting us down every year. Life just keeps pounding away. This every-day grind isn’t easy to put up with.

So what do we do? On our free time, we medicate. We use drinks, or drugs, or sex, or excessive TV watching to just get away from our problems. These are the forms of release we resort to. But these methods of escape provide diminishing returns. If today one drink was enough to get you by, tomorrow you’ll need two. The same goes for all the quick fixes I mentioned earlier… The returns become less and less, and the toll on your well-being becomes greater and greater. You can’t keep this up.

BUT, what if you picked up a hobby or side-project to work on every day after you get home from your job? I argue that this is the best way to release all that tension that life creates inside us. You can’t control whether your boss is having a good day or a bad day, but when you sit down to sketch for an hour at night, that piece of white paper is a universe you can control. You can determine how much of that blank slate is covered, you can determine what it communicates. And this is a great feeling. 15minutes into sketching, or into writing, or working on your car, you forget why you were even upset in the first place.

Joseph Campbell, a very smart scholar who studied culture and myths, developed a wonderful theory of how to live a better life. One of his key suggestions was “Follow Your Bliss” Bliss is simply a moment when you’re doing something that brings you joy. He said: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.

Modern life is full of obligations and distractions that must be dealt with before we can get time to ourselves. Take care of those, but then take care of yourself. You can do this in just an hour a day, by working on a side project that brings you bliss.

Reason #2: Side projects make you better at your day job

It’s a running joke with my friends: I tell them that if you want to ruin any activity for me, just pull me into a conversation in the middle of the activity. Forget walking and chewing gum, I can’t even walk and talk at the same time. It’s like whatever capacity for verbal communication God grants to humans at birth, I think he forgot to give to me.

By nature, I’m one of those people where verbal communication requires most of my mental energy. I was great at math growing up, but I struggled with language. I was never much of a talker, I was friendly, but shy, if that makes any sense. Writing a paragraph was the biggest punishment you could give me. In my SATs I scored in the 93rd percentile for Math, that’s very good. And then in the verbal part I scored like 54th percentile, as average as it comes, and this took LOTS of effort.

But I dreamed of being a good communicator, just because this seemed like such a DRASTIC CHANGE. So later as an adult, I took up a hobby of writing every day after work. At first it was just 15minutes, and over time I found myself being able to sit for an hour to write. Then I joined Toastmasters, a club to hellp you get better at speaking and communication.

Now, I’m not saying I’m great at any of this, but most of the progress I’ve made in my career has come because my managers say I’m a good communicator, I know how to get others on the same page. This is a dream come true for me.

And this is not magic, this is simply a by-product of having a side-hobby. When you work on something and there’s no pressure to hit quotas, your mind shifts into a special gear. I’ll be dedicating a whole separate episode to what this special gear really is, but for now, let’s just say that this special gear we shift into, accelerates your learning. The learning that you do while you’re working on your side-project STICKS with you during regular life. This will make you a much better employee, a much better team member at work, and a better leader. Pretty soon you might find yourself having superpowers that were previously just a dream.

Reason #3: Side Projects Give You Hope

One of my favorite books ever is The Alchemist. The author of this book, Paulo Coelho, has a quote from a different book that I also love. He wrote “The poet would die of hunger if there were no shepherds. The shepherd would die of sadness if he could not sing the words of the poet.” In this quote I just read, to me the shepherd represents how we go about fulfilling our basic human needs: water, food, shelter, etc… The poet represents the needs that fall higher on the pyramid. The spiritual and emotional needs that keep us mentally sane. For me, HOPE is one of these important emotional MUST HAVES. When you go to work on Monday even though you’d rather stay in bed, you do this because you HOPE and expect, that you’ll be paid on Friday. You also hope that you’ll get promoted and get a bigger paycheck sometime soon.

Side projects bring you that hope in your personal life. Your hobbies fill you up with excitement. When you finish writing your short story, you have hope that someone will read it and like it. Even if it’s just one person, the hope is there. If you don’t have a hobby or side project, the best you can look forward to is for a new season of Narcos to be released on Netflix. Then what?! Give yourself the gift of hope. You need it just like you need water and food.

The Good News

The good news is, all it takes is just an hour a day. I understand that creating an extra hour of available time is difficult, but it’s much tougher to enjoy a life with no project you can call your own, and no moments of real bliss.

If you’ve stuck around with us for this long, then I think you’re becoming convinced, deep down you KNOW that you need to start working on your side project. This side project or hobby will help you release the stress of everyday life. As it happened to me, this side project will help you build skills that you didn’t even know you had in you. And this side project will give you hope.

A side project can co-exist with a day job. One feeds your stomach, the other feeds your soul. The magic of it all is, just like Maxwell and that blonde serving you your lunch, a side-project, if you’re determined enough, can one day become a career.

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