Career

Why You Need A Passion Project

Want to set yourself up for a happy and fulfilling life? You need a passion project. Whether you play in a band, blog about food or design punk rock clothes for dogs, the work you do when you’re not at work is going to shape your future.

All your steps are leading somewhere

When Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, he told a story about passion leading him towards his life’s purpose. Jobs was a college dropout, but he hung around campus for eighteen months after he’d formally quit, sitting in on classes that took his interest. One of the classes he took was calligraphy. He had no practical use for it, but he found beauty in the kerning and line-spacing, in the graceful form of letters. Ten years later, when Jobs was designing the first Macintosh computer, he designed it with beautiful typography and multiple fonts – a cornerstone is his design-led techno-revolutionary empire.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward,” Jobs said. “So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future…This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Follow your heart, in other words, and it will lead you someplace good.

There’s more to you than morning tea and team meetings

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You have the job you have because at some point you were forced to narrow your focus and choose a career path. It’s not the only thing you could have done, it’s just the thing that made the most sense at the time. Unfortunately, most jobs force you to specialise. You develop advanced skills and expertise in one area, but the further you go down that narrow path, the harder it is to break out if the job no longer satisfies you.

A passion project allows you to learn and explore outside of the boundaries of your ordinary working life. It helps you to develop new skills, which could turn out to be useful if you want to make a career change. Most importantly, a passion project gives your life added weight and meaning. You’re no longer a sales rep on a binge diet of reality television, you’re a sales rep and food photographer, or a sales rep and graphic novelist; a sales rep who makes life-like dolls, or rebuilds antique engines.

Don’t let your day job define you, even if you love it. Why should you be just one thing when there are so many things you could be?

It’s easy to work hard when you love your work (and working hard is important)

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It’s important to make the distinction between your passion and a passion project. A passion project has ambition and scope, it is active and creative, and it demands something of you. A passion project is hard work, but it is fulfilling. The work is the motivation to work – you literally love what you’re doing, so you want to do it a lot.

This is important. Unless you’re the heiress to a hotel empire or married to Kanye, hard work is the only path to a semi-decent life. It doesn’t guarantee success, but you’re screwed without it. Aspiring doctors and lawyers seem to know this – you pay now to play later – but it applies equally to creative careers and entrepreneurial business people. You have to build the life you want, piece by piece, it won’t just fall in your lap.

FYI, the best time to work hard and start passion projects is your twenties, when you are fully independent but free of kids and mortgages, and you can afford to take risks. With any luck, all those dots will join together by the time you hit your thirties, and you will have a career you love that also pays you well.

You’ve got nothing to lose, and everybody gains

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A passion project can be selfless and socially conscious, enriching the lives of others. It can be something very small and personal, with no commercial value, that gives you a sense of calm and wellbeing. It can be a side-hustle like DJing, graphic design or writing, or it can be a visionary project with the potential to pop.

Regardless of what you choose to do, a passion project will add value to your life. The trick is to find something you’re genuinely passionate about. But trust us, it’s worth the effort.


Simone Ubaldi is a ghostwriter, music journalist, film critic and has co-authored four books, including memoirs of Bon Scott and Mark ‘Chopper’ Read.