The job that pays your bills does not have to be the one that defines you. Many people, myself included, exist in a place where the role that makes them want to get up in the morning is not the one that keeps food in their mouth. This can be frustrating (who doesn’t want the job of their heart also to be the one that fills their wallet?), but it is in your power to control how you are viewed and create situations for passion project expansion while working another job.
No one asks me to speak at conferences or write pieces based on my day job which, in the spirit of full disclosure, involves working as a background performer on films and television shows. People do, however, ask me to do these things based on my role as the Assistant Producer of the podcast Footnoting History. Opportunities cannot find you until you are recognized as an active participant in the field of your heart’s desire, and achieving that takes effort. It may feel overwhelming to attempt this while holding down another job, so here are some simple ways you can establish yourself and improve your passion project while also working elsewhere:
Adjust Your Introduction
The next time someone new asks you what you do for a living, (as long as you are not representing your day job in a professional setting!) lead with the position that means the most to you. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask your friends and family to do the same when they discuss you with others. You do not need to hide that you have a day job—I do not—but the best way to get people to associate you with the project you love is to make it the first thing you tell them about yourself. Placing it at the forefront of your introduction not only opens the door for further conversation on the topic but also plants seeds for the future. You never know what will come tomorrow from a discussion you have today.
Embrace the Internet
Much like prioritizing your passion project in the real world is important, doing so online is too, and it has the potential to reach more people, faster. Some of the best things about the internet are that you can present whatever face you’d like, it is always there so you can use it whenever your schedule allows, and many networking platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) are free. To start, you should have your passion project linked in the signature of your emails, so every person you email will have it immediately enter their brain that this is what you do. Open social media accounts for your passion project. If your personal accounts are professional enough that you don’t mind potential clients or associates seeing your posts, link to your passion project’s accounts in your bio. Research popular hashtags for your field and use them. Follow accounts that belong to people you admire as well as others who are at the same stage of growth as you, as forming allies are always a good idea. You will earn respect by contributing to ongoing discussions, displaying open, respectful behavior, and showing that you are as willing to learn as you are to prove your own worth. It only takes a few minutes of interaction a day to make connections, and you can do it on your lunch break.
Create Community and Content
In 2018, I launched a blog series called #PodcastingHistory where I recruited, via social media, other history podcasters and asked them to write about their process for my website. It helped me learn from my peers and gain new associates. Plus, the fact that my writers shared the posts as often as I did meant that we all benefited from exposure to each other’s audiences. Consider your passion project and other projects like it and brainstorm how to pair up for something mutually beneficial. It can be as simple as taking over each other’s social media accounts for the day. Once you’ve formulated your idea, pitch it to your desired collaborator. The worst thing they can do is say no. If you’ve been using the internet all along to get to know your peers, I have no doubt someone will want to collaborate. After all, success is everyone’s desire.
Assess Your Day Job
I would be lying if I did not admit there were many days I wished podcasting paid me enough to abandon everything else, but day jobs can provide an invaluable education. The day you can dedicate all your time to your passion project will be special but until then, use your situation to learn about how your employer functions. Note the pluses and minuses of its management, marketing, etc. and apply what you’ve learned to help your passion project grow. If you really think about it, this can be applied to any job from child care (how do the parents treat you?) to retail management (what campaigns resulted in higher sales? how is employee morale maintained?) and beyond. You can use those lessons to improve the project that really matters to you, while still getting paid.
Refine Your Definition of Success
Every day that you do something for your passion project while maintaining a second job is an achievement. Persistence is one of the ultimate keys to success. It is impossible to overestimate the value of having your name in the conversation for years. In my experience, the longer you persevere with consistent (or better yet, improving) quality, the more likely it becomes that opportunities for growth will present themselves. Success takes different forms in everyone’s minds, but it should always be understood as the likely result of the long game. Pace yourself and celebrate every moment of victory, from reaching 100 Instagram followers to receiving your first purchase order or, in my case, signing your first academic writing contract.
Needing a day job may not be ideal, but it is likely the very thing enabling you to pursue your passion project. Viewing it as such may take a bit of mental adjustment, but once you have done it and taken control of how others define you by showing them how you define yourself, the future will feel a lot brighter.
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