A side project saved my skin when I lost my job.
The world is pretty volatile at the best of times. Right now? Pheeeewwweee.
If you’re feeling the pressure, hold tight. There are question marks over every facet of life. I can’t provide any answers, all I have is my story and a small offering of hope. It’s the story of how the side project I didn't realise I had kept me in work and sane when my external world was going to the wall.
Side projects, what are you talking about?
Q. Okay, so what is a side project?
A. Something you do for enjoyment, not necessarily something you get paid for. Photography. Knitting. Writing thrillers. Whatever it is, it's not your main job, it's your passion-based bit on the side. It’s fun, but it’s more constructive than pure pleasure. It’s sort of work-y, but it’s not really. Hence, side project.
A few weeks back I watched the talented chaps at the With Love Project interview the equally talented Mike Coulter. Mike authored The Do Lecture’s ‘Side Project Report’ – a report about, yep, you guessed it: side projects.
When we enjoy something, when we find ourselves engrossed in something that we don’t get paid for, we don’t always think of our side projects as a project. It’s just something we do, not something we think about. Because… well, we like it!
At least, that’s how it was for me. And perhaps that is why it was a saving grace, when I least expected it.
This is where the script flips…
My ears shoot back. I’m watching the interview with interest.
What usually ends up happening, the guys concede, is that the side thing becomes the main thing. What starts as something enjoyable slowly takes over the main thing.
What usually ends up happening, the guys concede, is that the side thing becomes the main thing.
What usually ends up happening, is that the side thing becomes the main thing.
Whooooooooooosh! The firework of realisation explodes in my brain.
That is exactly how I ended up doing what I do now. The writing I’d been doing outside of my marketing job all those years ago wasn’t simply a pastime – it was a side project! And yet, I hadn’t realised that what I’d been doing all along was a sideshow trying to fight its way into the main arena.
That is precisely why my (un)side project saved my backside when it did.
Had I realised I was working on a side project, with the goal of making it my work, I’m not so sure I would have ended up on this track. It took a crisis to make me see what was in front of my eyes.
Job losses: expected, predicted. Feared.
‘We have some news.’
‘It’s not easy to say…’
‘It’s not something we want to do…’
That conversation. The ‘your services are no longer required’ conversation. To say that it’s not much fun is an understatement. And while it lacks the personal intimacy of the ‘I love you, but…’ conversation, the sense of shock is similar. Pride: injured. Hurt: supercharged. Rejection: tick.
In 2017, my journey as a company of one started in much the same way. I worked for a marketing agency and – unfortunately for me – my services were no longer required.
The fortunate part? I didn’t see it coming.
Not so for thousands upon thousands of people across the country. Every news report brings tidings of economic downturn. Prophecies of mass unemployment. A recession, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for years.
Thousands of people are anticipating it. Fearing it. Dreading the words, ‘We need you to attend a meeting on Thursday…’ It’s the kind of pressure that drowns out all other thoughts, induces a permanent sense of brain fog and feeds panic.
Ronan Keating is not the most profound mentor at a time like this. But to quote Mr Keating, ‘It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.’ Words are all I have too – except it’s not your heart I’m after. I hope to ease a little of the worry, the fear and the self-doubt.
So. Hear me when I say:
You got this.
Why am I so certain? Because of my own side-project-that-wasn’t-a-side-project.
Where might the unexpected lead?
When I lost my job, I realised I was faced with an opportunity. A pretty juicy, tantalising one actually.
But Laura, you just said…?
Yep, I know. Hearing the news was pretty uncomfortable. The shock was real. The ‘what am I going to do?’ was genuine.
Though, a strange thing happened.
After the axe had fallen, as my metaphorical melon rolled around on the floor, my thinking grew sharper. My eyesight came into focus. My hearing pricked up, and my nostrils? They could smell possibility.
For years I’d been writing for an online magazine. Hand on heart, I never thought of it as a side project. It was simply something that I did. Honestly, I was made up that someone else actually wanted to publish what I wrote. I’d have written an account of paint drying – not that any sane editor would ask for such a thing. It didn’t matter that it was something I did for fun. I loved it! And as my skill and experience of copywriting grew in my day job alongside my hobby, a hazy thought began to form in the shadier recesses of my mind: that perhaps writing was my main thing.
Losing my job was the catalyst to clarity. The opportunity revealed itself. All I had to do was run towards it at full speed.
Don’t believe the sunshine myth…
Nobody likes the smell of manure. And I’m not here to BS you. Stepping into the unknown was scary as hell. I had no clue what I was doing. Yeah, I could still write. But everything else? I was on an Olympic-sized learning curve.
We all have unique lives. Each and every one of us has different things to worry about. Mouths to feed. A roof to keep over our heads. Relatives to care for. Responsibilities. Moral obligations. I’m not here to tell you that it’s as simple as riding off into the sunset without a care in the world.
I'm not here to paint you a pretty picture.
All I’m here to say, is that you got this.
You’ll be OK.
You're more resourceful than you realise. There's more grit in your little finger than you've discovered yet.
Self-belief is hard
If you’re struggling to believe in yourself, to imagine what the future holds, ask yourself some questions:
What do you enjoy doing?
What are your strengths? Your skills? These don’t have to work or job-specific
Do you have a side project? Maybe it’s something you’ve done for years without thinking about it
Is there an opportunity for your side thing to become your main thing?
Can your side thing generate cash?
Questions 4 and 5 aren’t loaded; maybe the answers are yes, maybe no. The need to pay the bills, to eat, and keep ourselves clothed and well don’t go away because of a pandemic. They don’t go away in a recession either. Only you know how the potential to make the side thing the main thing weighs against the need to keep food on the table.
Do what you need to do.
Though, please, do keep trucking on with your side project. Your hobbies. The things that bring you joy, relaxation, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
Just keep going. Keep on plugging away, keep taking photographs, keep knitting scarves, keep writing those thrillers. Because if you enjoy it, that is the main thing. If it leads you somewhere, great. And if it does nothing else than make life a little richer, surely that is worth more than ‘nothing.’
As Charles Dickens said, of the pastime he enjoyed:
‘If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.’
Don’t explode. Don’t perish for want of exploration.
Can you help someone else?
Let me ask you one thing. Please share this with a friend, a family member or a colleague who might need to see it. My aim with these newsletters is always to help, to offer a ray of hope, a positive perspective. If you see any of those things in this post, you can pay it forward by sharing it with someone you care about.
I really do believe that our thoughts, our words, and our actions have a huge impact. Not just on the people around us; the ripple effect goes so much further than we think. And with the current climate perhaps it’s more important than ever to remember that.
Your words matter,
The Weekly Writing Reflection
Welcome back! Welcome anew.
Each week I share a quote that I’ve found inspiring. The idea is to create space for you to do some active reflection through writing. Nothing demanding, simply jot down a few thoughts about your week. There’s no need to share, though if you’d like to, I’d be delighted to read your writing. Or, you can simply reflect on how your week has been. So…
Your quote, to find a moment of pause this week, is:
“If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values: they're hobbies.”
- Jon Stewart
And your writing prompt, should you wish to use one:
My hobbies underline my values because…
What’s caught my eye this week
Let’s be brief, as there’s some juicy stuff here that you need to get stuck into.
Each week I’ll share a few snippets of inspiration, thought-provocation and jubilation. If lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a world of cracking words on our digital doorstep. I’ve been revelling in the exploration this time has given me.
So! It’s almost the weekend: cue the Top of the Pops theme and let’s get on with this week’s hits.
Perception – a sensitive reflection on how our perception of our immediate surroundings interacts with our wider perception of the world. Check it out, it’s a thoughtful read and, that opening… it’s not just me, is it? Makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Thanks to Dr Steve Marshall.
One, your maximum viable audience – what happens when you stop thinking of your ‘audience’ as a faceless crowd and start thinking about your audience of one? The wonderful folks over at Feasts and Fables explain the joys of celebrating the individual – yes, even in business.
Yes, not how! Deciding whether to invest the time into reading a book is an effort. Find objective reviews, check out the author, weigh up whether it feeds into what you’re trying to achieve… then read the thing! Sue Heatherington’s brilliantly concise post makes the decision easier about one book at least.
Until next week…