Redefining the Passion Project

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Whether setting you apart as a potential hire, or giving you something outside of work to put your energy towards, passion projects are good for us. But the phrase "passion project" can be overwhelming—so much so that it prohibits us from getting started. "Passion" is such a loaded word, this big, nebulous thing that's meant to be found and followed. "Project" is no better, borrowing language from work and school, and applying it to something we're supposed to spend our free time on. 

Let's call them "side things" to underplay until someone comes up with a better name. Here are some debunked myths about side things that can help you get one started, along with a few examples for inspiration. 

❏  It doesn't have to directly relate to the career you want to pursue. Find something you love to do/care about/are really interested in. (I know this sounds like passion, but we won't call it that.) Running with something personally significant is the only way it'll be sustainable, and more importantly, enjoyable. Future employers don't care if it relates to advertising—they care that you've done something, period. So do it for you. 

Designer and writer Christopher Simmons, creator of The Message is Medium Rare, said it best in an interview:

"The whole point of doing a side project is because it fulfills something in you. If you're doing it because it's an assignment for school or you're trying to get attention, you're being extrinsically motivated. As soon as that happens, it's no longer your project."

   The Message is Medium Rare  combines a love of burgers with lessons on creativity.

The Message is Medium Rare combines a love of burgers with lessons on creativity.

❏  It doesn't have to be public. While a lot of side things live on blogs or social, yours doesn't have to. If unwanted attention or fear of judgement is keeping you from starting, make it private. Let it live in a folder on your desktop. Just make sure you have a way to share it with a select audience using password protection or creating some takeaway artifact. 

   Gramforacause  connects Instagram photographers with nonprofits and social enterprises, but started as a humble hashtag. (Since private side things are hard to find for obvious reasons, this example doesn't relate.)

Gramforacause connects Instagram photographers with nonprofits and social enterprises, but started as a humble hashtag. (Since private side things are hard to find for obvious reasons, this example doesn't relate.)

❏  It doesn't have to be perfect. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking every piece of your side thing will be scrutinized, and worrying about making it perfect. But it's the undertaking as a whole that will make an impression. In fact, many side things focus on documenting the process of learning a new skill or overcoming a rough patch in all its imperfect glory.

  Karen X Cheng recorded herself  learning how to dance  every day for a year. Her  time lapse  video shows just how awkward she was at the beginning.

Karen X Cheng recorded herself learning how to dance every day for a year. Her time lapse video shows just how awkward she was at the beginning.

❏  You don't have to do it alone. Creating a side thing with a friend or group not only makes it feel like a bigger thing, but keeps you more accountable. Plus, it's fun to have a copilot. 

  The two creators of  Dear Data  collected and hand drew data about their lives on postcards, which they then sent to each other weekly.

The two creators of Dear Data collected and hand drew data about their lives on postcards, which they then sent to each other weekly.

If the examples were overwhelming, know that while they feel big now, they started from a small seed of an idea. What sets them apart is the desire to do something, the initiative to start and the follow-through. No matter what your side thing is, people will take away those three qualities when they hear about it.

But don't do it for them. Do it for you. 

Can't wait to see 'em,

Natalie