Off the side of your remote desk
Reflections on why side projects can enhance your professional and personal life
Greetings from Salt Lake City,
Well, actually I’m in a town 30 mins south of Salt Lake City called Vineyard. A few friends and I have rented a house here for a month and are really enjoying it. Spending the week working and the weekend in Park City; one of the best mountains to ski on in the United States. This area is beautiful. On my daily walks, I can see massive mountains all around me. It’s reminding me of home.
A few updates on my end before we jump into this week’s newsletter:
Today evening I’ll be hosting a Clubhouse event to discuss how folks early in their careers can start working in tech. I’ll be joining friends who work at big tech co’s, startups or are founders themselves. Feel free to check out this link here to learn more. I have a few more Clubhouse invites to if you’d like one.
Angie and I also released a new episode of Across The Lines with Deb Liu. She’s the current VP of Facebook Marketplace and will be the CEO of Ancestry.com starting next month. You can find her episode here.
As you can probably tell, I’ve been quite energized working on side projects. I wanted to share some of the benefits of doing so, with the hope that you can pursue that project you’ve been thinking about yourself. Hope you enjoy.
Why side projects help your day job
It made sense to me that the skills you learn in your day job can help you with side projects. It was slightly less intuitive that the reverse could be true as well.
This has been an interesting benefit of working on passion projects on the side of my desk. Through the course of writing and podcasting, I’ve developed skills in written and verbal communication which helps me in my role at LinkedIn.
As I learn how to ask better questions on the podcast, I can ask more thoughtful questions to partners when evaluating a partnership with them. As we work to create a website and a distribution engine through Substack, Squarespace, Clubhouse, Instagram, etc, I learn more about interesting companies that exist in LinkedIn’s ecosystem that could help our business.
The harder I work in my day job the more people within LinkedIn want to support these projects. I work in a company where people actually care about you as an individual and want you to work on what you’re passionate about; as long as you get your work done. They know that the more I enjoy working on these projects, the more competent and energized I’ll be at work. This seems to be working.
I encourage you to tune in to areas of your life that give you energy too. Build something that channels that energy into something that you can have fun with. Maybe it can even benefit the world in some way. Even if one person engages with your ideas and changes their perspective on something for the better, you’ve made a positive dent in the world.
Are you nervous about starting something because you don’t want to annoy people? Don’t worry, if your content sucks, no one will follow you. If no one follows you, how can you annoy people?
The anxiety to start things
Another reason people are held back from working on side projects is the fear of making something shitty. That’s a fair fear. It’s hard to put something into the world. Why would anyone even want to hear from you? What if you say the wrong thing? These are all potential consequences.
Although, the benefits outweigh the costs. To experience the benefits of these projects you must work through that initial hesitation. Just like any other skill, over time the quality of your work increases with practice. One thing that has helped me stick to a project to see these benefits is to commit to doing at least “x” of something before giving up.
For example, Angie and I said we’d publish at least 5 podcasts before evaluating if we want to continue the project. We’ve now recorded nearly 15 episodes and are building our second season. When I started writing, I told myself just to put out 5 newsletters. There’s now a catalogue with over 30 from the past few years.
The work itself is not hard. The hard part is getting over the anxiety to do the work. Imagine if you could remove that fear - how much would you be able to accomplish? One way to do this is thinking through why things will work, rather than why they would fail.
What if it does “work”?
I remember being in my second year of college at UBC. I had this big idea I wanted to share with my friends. I wanted to create a marketplace that would connect people to help each other do household chores. Think TaskRabbit kind of vibe.
I was really excited about this idea. I had done my due diligence and created a business plan. I thought through monetization, product, early growth channels, etc.
As I was walking to class I asked one of my smart business school friends to hear my idea out. After the pitch, I awaited her response, expecting praise and excitement. I got the opposite.
For the next 30 minutes, she proceeded to tell me why this idea wouldn’t work. She presented important considerations, but I didn’t need to hear that at the moment. What I needed to hear was why it would work. Early on, when the hesitation to start something was already high, I needed a bit of validation that this silly idea would lead to something.
Presenting the risks to a project is important. It will help you save time and energy; you don’t want to be waste your time working on something pointless. There’s a lot of things you could do, and you want to make sure you’re prioritizing your life correctly.
That being said, the act of building something, starting something, even if it doesn’t materialize into anything special, is a big win for your self-confidence. You’ll start to build the muscle of feeling comfortable starting projects. This will help you at work as well. Ideally, you’ll work on something fun that you enjoy. That way, even if your project doesn’t go anywhere, the next time an opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready to jump at it without the high level of anxiety that presents itself to people starting out.
It’s been cool to build more confidence in myself and the work I put out for people. It started from the same place everyone else does with a good amount of anxiety and imposter syndrome. As you build this muscle, this feeling begins to dissipate. It never goes away, but it becomes more manageable.
I see this mentality play out in San Francisco a lot. Friends will challenge your thinking, but they’ll be enthusiastic about what you’re building and explore ideas with you. Paul Graham, someone who sees new ideas every day presents an alternative thought process:
The right way to deal with new ideas is to treat them as a challenge to your imagination — not just to have lower standards, but to switch polarity entirely, from listing the reasons an idea won't work to trying to think of ways it could. That's what I do when I meet people with new ideas. I've become quite good at it, but I've had a lot of practice.
Being a partner at Y Combinator means being practically immersed in strange-sounding ideas proposed by unknown people. Every six months you get thousands of new ones thrown at you and have to sort through them, knowing that in a world with a power-law distribution of outcomes, it will be painfully obvious if you miss the needle in this haystack. Optimism becomes urgent.
- Paul Graham
Having this mentality can be lucrative for you too. With this thought process, Paul trusted that a company like Airbnb would work when everyone else was telling them why it wouldn’t. They saw potential in companies like Reddit, Twitch, DoorDash, Coinbase and many others because they went through the exercise of “what could happen if this did work?” What if Doge does go to the moon?!
A pinch of inspiration
I wanted to highlight a few of my friends that have taken this sentiment to heart over the past few years. They all shared a similar starting point of wanting to work on a project they were passionate about. They didn’t have any large ambitions of making a bunch of money, building networks, etc. They just wanted to channel their energy into a daily, weekly, monthly habit that they could stick to.
Here are a few of them:
Will with Product Life
Will tweets and sends out a weekly email about product strategy, career advice and frameworks for navigating life. Will has been the person who has influenced my writing the most. When we were chatting before he started writing this, he shared his aspirations to share some of the lessons he’s learnt over the past few years working for Microsoft, Tumblr, and now Facebook.
Will puts a ton of time into these pieces and has seen his subscriber base grow steadily just a few months after getting going. He does this while maintaining his fast-paced job as a Product Manager at Facebook. His writing has already led him to clarify his thinking on product strategy and career advice, but it’s also providing him with the opportunity to meet some really interesting people. He may have even had a few low key job offers. I’m STOKED for the growth of his community, and how it will continue to mature moving forward.
Fawzi & Max with The Pause Button
Fawzi and Max have been sending out this newsletter since mid-2019. The Pause Button is a weekly gaming newsletter that curates the best content in video games. They’ve always geeked out about the gaming industry and channelled that energy into sending out articles and resources every week on their thoughts from the industry.
“We started the newsletter to learn more about gaming. We often played games but didn’t know much how it worked behind the scenes. The Pause Button helped us to do that.”
They’re on newsletter number 86 today, and when I asked Fawzi how they’ve kept up this routine he said the following which I resonated with:
“I remember the first time we wrote this it took forever. Now I can pump them out pretty quickly. Once you develop the habit it becomes quite enjoyable and easy. We also got a lot of people who wanted to subscribe, so we didn’t want to let them down by not sharing content to them.”
Writing publicly in an industry that is growing makes you a subject matter expert. People will ask you for your opinion on new ideas in that industry. Wanting to find a thoughtful answer, you’ll do the work to come up with one - subsequently building your credibility.
This newsletter made Fawzi stand out when he started to look for his next play in the VC industry. Where he’s going is still under wraps, but the knowledge and discipline he’s put behind this project helped to secure this extremely coveted role at one of the top firms in the Valley.
Laura with The Mind Health Spot
Laura’s been an inspiration to me for years. She’s currently studying to become a therapist but has not let her student status deter her from sharing valuable information to people to support their mental health.
When Covid started and we went into lockdown, she started an Instagram page where she would share what she was learning in her classes. She was able to continue to learn skills in writing, design, and how to build a thriving online community.
Today, her Instagram page has over 25k followers. More than the follower count, she’s had numerous people reach out and tell her that what she’s sharing has helped them overcome a difficult time in their own life - especially during Covid.
Laura is now thinking about how to expand her community to potentially find a way to generate a living for her while also practising therapy.
I’ve really enjoyed working on side projects. If you can find the time to do so, you can build skills, a network, and honestly just provide you with really fun life experiences. It’s been SO SICK to interview amazing folks on Across The Lines. It’s been fun to engage with you through this newsletter.
Are you interested in going through ideas on what that project should be for you? Reply back to this email and let’s chat :)
Tweets I’m Enjoying
A few other links
The Importance of Being Earnest - Paul Graham
Navigating a Triaspora: Reflections On Self-Ethnic Identity - Kasun Medagedara
The Pirate Problem - Alex Danco
We’re Never Going Back - Packy McCormick
Why India Should Buy Bitcoin - Balaji Srinivasan