Balancing your job and passion project: how we make both work

At Content Insights, we believe that encouraging people to pursue their passions inside and outside of the office helps create an environment that nurtures creativity, hard work and job satisfaction.

No doubt, the idea of having to put aside your passionate pursuits for the sake of a steady flow of income can lead you to feel disheartened – defeated, even. But hey, that’s capitalism, Scotty.

Here’s our hot take: we find that striking a balance between the two isn’t just possible, it’s necessary. Confucius may have said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” but in this day and age, your vocation often chooses you instead. But how you choose to approach it can reflect positively on your passion projects too. 

So all aboard the Career Blog Express as we explore how we create a culture that champions working with passion – whether it’s at the office or elsewhere.

Having a good job = passion fuel

What was it that you did obsessively when you were a kid?

The reason why I love asking people this question is that it somehow manages to remind them of where their passions truly lie. In my case, I was, still am (and most likely will continue to be) an avid gamer who enjoys making music until my ears fall off. 

And yet, here I am, also writing about the trials and tribulations of the journalism industry and describing what it’s like to be part of the cheeky collective here at Content Insights. But unlike my previous working experiences, the work I have produced here hasn’t hampered my aspirations in any way. On the contrary, I feel I actually have more time to create and produce music and live performances because the benefits we enjoy allow for a better work-life balance

But there is a twist: during my time here, I also noticed I have actually accumulated an abundance of useful insight and information: all kinds of technical post-publication knowledge I didn’t possess before. Plus a good paycheck gives you this sense of security and self-worth – a palpable feeling that can always serve as fuel for your passions too.

At Content Insights we boast a multitude of talents – and I don’t mean just the ones we have been hired for. The main reason why our company embraces the fact that we all have our own passion projects is that it helps create a band of merry workers who have got more to contribute than their job description requires them to.

During office hours we’re used to talking with a Head of Content, a People Operations Manager, a Content Creator or a Data Scientist, but a magical transformation appears the moment the gang clocks off. They magically morph into movie critics, musicians, photographers, visual designers and – most impressively – The Best Parent On The Planet.

The ability to recognize and leverage such a colorful palette of talents can determine the successes of startups and businesses. So, how do we do that?

First things first, don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t made it yet

The fact that the outside world often fails to acknowledge how much you have invested in your passionate pursuits (and let’s face it: it’s not obliged to) tends to lead to a very familiar chronic condition – one currently best explained as follows:

But here’s the deal: if you keep beating yourself up about your passion projects haven’t amounted to much, that attitude can spill out into the environment and the people surrounding you. Of course, a healthy dose of skepticism in one’s capabilities is always a good thing to have, but stare into that hole for too long and it will start staring right back at you.

That’s why we advocate sharing your passions openly with colleagues. To quote Mr. Burns: “Release the hounds!” Indeed, that free-flowing exchange of ideas (and no, these aren’t always necessarily related to work) can really keep everyone’s creative juices flowing. Not only that, you’d be surprised how many people here are willing to offer a helping hand for your passion project, especially if it’s in their field of expertise.

I have witnessed numerous accounts of colleagues suddenly helping each other out with their projects and side gigs (I say suddenly because Slack has a way of getting things arranged almost instantly).

For instance, the latest work-unrelated case was me watching some data engineering folk build websites from scratch for us code-illiterate, but artsy, marketing folk. And then, I like to think they watched in awe as we marketing cave-dwellers added a little zest, vim, and pizzazz in their UI/UX (not that they lack any themselves but, hey, some of us are actually paid to bring color into our work, not just binary code). 

But apart from having so many able and willing people at one’s disposal here, there is another thing we also take pride in here at Content Insights: we’re alike a knowledge exchange office (or something like that). So here’s a…

Suggestion: treat a job like a school you are being paid to attend

It’s one thing to pursue a line of work that fits you like a glove, but how you choose to approach work is – for the most part – something completely different.

Look at it this way: I heard whispers that true education actually starts when you finish your formal education. It wouldn’t be an overstatement that generations in their 20s and 30s (a large demographic of our employees) have been raised for a world that no longer exists. This is often seen negatively, but the silver lining is that we’re swimming in opportunities to learn.

At Content Insights, we find this to be an encouraging thought because having a job isn’t just some excuse to bring home the bacon or whatever foodstuffs you’re into (although no one’s complaining about that). It is also an opportunity to expand our knowledge in areas beyond our scope of experience and comfort – something which, believe you me, will also reflect positively on your passion projects. 

Treating your job like a school you are being paid to attend is a good way to change your perspective, especially if you feel a bit stuck or demotivated. After all, if and when you come to running a business, it’s best to be prepared for the fact that not everything is fun and games.

There will be not-so-stimulating and pragmatic stuff to deal with too (like putting together proposals, checking contracts, negotiations, etc). But in an environment that encourages open-flowing communication, we can learn those things, and more from each other – all in the comfort of our gigantic, two-story, warehouse-like office.

Take, for instance, Katarina, our Mother of Finances. She’s a savant with numbers and if we ever need financial or accounting advice, we do what we can to appease her wrath and earn her favor. Or if you want to understand basically every nook and cranny of Content Insights’ business operations, just pull Bojan’s sleeve – our jack of all trades (and then some) – and he will tell you everything there is to it (and then some).

Point being: at Content Insights, everyone is a source of valuable information and willing to teach you things – the only thing that is required is that you ask.

Also, here’s a little tip: never forget that learning takes time, and more importantly, sleep. For instance, if you want to learn something random – like how to play drums, it is highly unlikely that you’ll notice a difference in your drumming straight away. But that’s OK! Our brains also need a good night’s rest in order to cement that which has been learned in our long-term memory. 

The lost art of being micro-ambitious

Back in 2013, Tim Minchin, a brilliant stand-up comedian and musician, delivered a witty, smart and unabashedly offensive speech for his honorary doctorate at the University of Western Australia. His soliloquy contained many motivational lessons, which we will leave for you to discover, but there is one lesson in particular that really has a ring to it: he is an advocate for the passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. And we couldn’t agree more!

No doubt, many people today are preoccupied with this fixed idea of having a dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we believe you should, as Tim suggests, “put your head down, and work with pride on whatever is in front of you.” Or if you want to go over level 9000, check out the Japanese concept of Kaizen – the practice of making small, continual improvements each day.

The reason we mention this is that we advise a hint of caution when pursuing your long-term dreams. Focus too far on what’s in front of you and you’ll fail to see the next more realistic and worthy pursuit that will probably appear on your periphery.

Considering my passion project is being a struggling musician (and I’d very much like to remove one of those two words), I must say, having your eyes fixed solely on the prize can actually make it insanely difficult to make any progress. Not only that, a big, audacious goal tends to look frightening to your brain the more you devote yourself to that one thing. That’s why, in the spirit of Kaizen, maybe just keep this Benjamin Franklin quote in mind:

Little strokes fell great oaks.

So what are the key takeaways here?

  • Allow your dreams to change and evolve as you grow. Holding on to them stunts progress. 
  • Treat your job like a school you are paid to attend. You’ll learn, and learning is good. Good? Good.
  • Focus on short-term goals over long-term goals (once again I am your Kaizen-san).
  • A job position here at CI can benefit your passion projects too.

But our ultimate takeaway is this: don’t overthink it or you’ll forget to have bloody fun – that’s when we all produce our best stuff.

As they say in Canada – peace oot!  

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