Inspiration

Using a Side Project as a Creative Shift

Photo by Khachik Simonian under Unsplash license

I frequently find myself in chats about creative shifts with one particular friend/colleague. These conversations have largely grown out of the interest that this guy — we’ll call him Steve — had realized after publishing a successful article on the topic for Fast Company.

The article comes after Steve had followed Joss Whedon around, chatting about the stress that making The Avengers had put on its director. In the heart of post-production for the film, Whedon had scheduled a vacation (which he desperately needed) into his contract. (Brilliant!) While he was considering which beach to sit upon for two weeks, his wife adjusted the plans, recognizing a beach wouldn’t make him happy. Instead, she suggested he work on a project that he’d been wanting to bring to life for years. So he stayed home, wrote, directed, scored, and produced Much Ado About Nothing right in the couple’s home in Santa Monica.

That break — that creative shift — was exactly the boost Mr. Whedon needed to be able to finish The Avengers with vim and vigor.

But, why?

The Creative Shift

Some people — especially (but not only) creative people — don’t need to sit on a beach for two weeks to boost their spirit, energy, and motivation. As nice as a vacation would be, many people just need to do something they love. They need a new challenge. They need a creative shift.

For me, side projects present a perfect opportunity for inserting a creative shift into my life.

I write code (or manage people writing code) 40+ hours every week. I’m lucky that I love it, but I do it because it keeps the roof over my family’s averaged-sized heads. In stark contrast, I primarily work on side projects because they make me tick. I write as a form of therapy — a quiet time to get my thoughts on paper, even if they aren’t reflective thoughts. I host a podcast because helping others deal with the unfortunate parts of being human (by laughing about them) brings me joy. I play music to blow off steam. I co-lead a civic design festival, a podcast festival, and tech community meetups as a way to give back by connecting and helping attendees/members.

Not “Creatives Only”

Let me make that one bold line from the previous section absolutely clear. This may be called a “creative shift,” but that doesn’t mean it’s exclusively reserved for creatives. We all need breaks from our everyday lives, and most of us are capable of doing something that will really make us tick.

While you should know the time and balance it’s going to require to take on a new project, there are plenty of options out there, even if you aren’t used to working on side projects. It could be anything from exercising regularly, to taking a pottery class, to spending dedicated time reading every day, or even making your own podcast.

It’s not about being talented or skilled enough to do something. It’s about finding what you really want to do, saying, “Screw it!” and diving right in.

Maybe You Need a Vacation

As much as I’d love for you to know when it’s time to make a creative shift in your life, it’s important to recognize when it’s time for a vacation. We all need a break at some point. Relaxation is a great form of refreshment and rejuvenation. And it doesn’t have to be long, elaborate, or extravagant. It could be as simple as spending a couple days in a cabin in the woods. Whatever it is, it’s still worthwhile to get those breaks in at least a few times every year.


So, the next time you’re feeling like you’re burning the candle on both ends, spilling wax everywhere, with no one to help you clean it up, don’t jump on a plane and head straight to the beach to do nothing. Push yourself harder. Push yourself in a direction you want to go. A direction that drives you at your core.

Spin up a new side project, make your creative shift, and watch the color return to the rest of your life.

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