I was emailing with a fellow classmate the other day, and we were asking each other about our pre-MBA plans for the summer. At first the conversation was centered around where we would travel, but he later wrote me sharing some of his non-travel plans. Not only was I impressed by what he had lined up (one of the projects was to do a stand-up comedy show at one of the best clubs in NYC), but I was also surprised that he referred to those plans as his “passion projects.” A term that I, too, have been using a lot lately to describe my projects outside of work.
In the last two years, I have started to pursue a lot of these passion projects, which I would describe as energizing and creative projects that can be pursued next to one's full-time job. Projects that result from your interests when you are simply curious about something and want to validate certain assumptions, hypotheses or ideas that you have, or your passions when you already know what you like to dedicate yourself to.
Some of the things I did on the side, were for example hosting a photo exhibition, taking a User Experience Design class, or writing a blog. Turns out that really anyone can do such reactive side projects. Sometimes these projects might end up unfinished as we discover that we were not as passionate about them as we thought we would (which is totally awesome .. we had an idea and tried to validate it. Better than just having ideas and not taking any action on them). Yet other times these projects might uncover a completely new side of us and excite us to do even more. The UXD class that I took was a nice experience, but it wasn’t the start of much more to come. The blog, however, really had some deeper meaning for me and became an ongoing effort that grew into even bigger projects.
I like the concept of having passion projects so much that I even think that it’s a fun question to ask someone as a mean to skip the smalltalk … "so, what is your passion project these days?” I think it can only be healthy to pursue such side passions. In fact, I was talking to a friend earlier today. She is currently traveling the world to speak at various conferences, building her company during every free minute that she has, and searching for investors to keep the project afloat. In other words, she has every reason to solely focus on her “work.” But she told me how she will be spending half of her day tomorrow playing with socially underprivileged children. “It’s my passion project, … it gives me the energy that I need.”
What she said reminded me of an analogy I once heard. Even race cars that drive at full speed need to make pit stops to refuel. We sometimes put ourselves under pressure to always operate at full energy, but we need such distractions from time to time. Passion projects could be such creative outlet to refill one’s batteries. From scrappy entrepreneurs like my friend to busy VPs at Google (here an example of Clay Bavor), it's important to have such passion projects in life.
If you prove your interests, you might turn them into your passions. And if you pursue those passions, you might actually grow them into your next profession (one of my friend’s companies, The Passion Company, is actually dedicated to helping people pursue that path). But even if you don’t, doing such passion projects will help you keep your mind sharp and have some healthy distraction, your pit stop, from whatever your 9-to-5 is.
Who knows, maybe my friend ends up becoming a comedian. That’s exactly how some careers are born after all. So ask yourself … what is YOUR passion project these days?