How to pursue your passion (and still have a life)

The man who worked on a novel before clocking in for work. The freshly showered woman who brings a gym bag to the office.

These people aren’t that different.

Like working out, having a side project has manifold benefits for the person who makes the time and shows up for it. A side project gives us a sense of mastery, foments an atmosphere of growth, and for some, is the first stage of launching their next career.

Here’s how to find the time and the energy to work on your side gig (while keeping your commitment to your full-time job/significant other/yoga practice/Netflix habit). And if you don’t have a side project just yet, here’s how to start by playing around with what you’re good at.

1. Follow what you’re curious about 

Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist in New York City who focuses on clients in the first 10 years of their career, reveals a commonality between people in their late 20s to 50s.

“Usually when we’re in this life phase,” she explains, “one of your basic developmental drives is to start creating meaning and purpose for yourself.”

In order to accomplish that, Wilding advises you to “follow the one thing that you’re even slightly curious about.”

“Passion is something that unfolds,” she says. “Passion needs a certain environment to thrive.”

And how does that happen?

By “devoting time, attention, and resources to it,” says Wilding. “The feeling of wanting to start a business or do something on the side has some personal meaning to you, so follow it, go for it, nurture that.”

2. Schedule ‘side project time’

Try waking up an hour early a few days for one week, scheduling “you” in your iCal on Wednesday from 8 pm to 10 pm, and keeping a Sunday afternoon free once a month. Experiment with when you’re most productive. That window may then become inherently motivating.

Jenny Blake, an author and career coach, says that “part of what makes the side project compelling is that we don’t have all day, every day to work on it. That can create just enough pressure to motivate us, if done in the right way.”

Before she pivoted careers, Blake worked full-time at Google and wrote her first book on weekends.

“Incremental progress accumulates,” she explains. “If you do something 10 minutes every day or for an hour twice a week, you might be amazed by what you can accomplish.”

3. Change your language, change your life

Wilding says that the way people talk about their packed schedules doesn’t help their passion project blossom.

“People perceive their hustle as ‘Oh my god, I have no time,’” she says. “By speaking about it negatively, you’re confirming a negative association about your side hustle to yourself.”

Do you constantly tell others that you’re “crazy busy?” Reframe it: “I’m a hustler who is energized by everything I have going on.”

4. Make a ‘passion project to-do list’

This is preparation for days when you’re ready to carpe the diem, and for evenings when you’ve scheduled “passion project” time and you’re not feeling it. You’ll know where to start.

“You have a menu to choose from when you’re in different energy places,” says Wilding, giving an example: “If you’re like, ‘I can’t write a 500-word blog post tonight, but I can read three chapters in a book or do some maintenance work on my website.’”

5. Capture your great ideas

Just as you wouldn’t leave the house without your keys, don’t head out into the world without a system for capturing great ideas when they come to you spontaneously.

“Our subconscious is working for us all the time,” says Blake. “Sometimes it’s setting a project down that will make an idea pop up.”

In other words, have a way to capture it: a Moleskine notebook, your iPhone notes, Evernote.

“That’s the true vetting of an idea,” says Blake. “When you come back to it, in a day or two, does it still inspire you?”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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