photo credit Jazmin Quaynor

How a Passion Project can Save Your Career

Zoe* was a sociology professor just about ready to get tenure, but she was so fed up with her job that she was ready to quit and start an Ecofarm (a long-held dream of hers). Right before throwing it all away, she applied for a grant to produce a documentary about food, immigration and identity. Such a project was unheard of in her field, when others were more focused on getting published in academic journals, but it was the creative outlet she needed to stay personally fulfilled and motivated to move forward in her career.

it-wasnt-enoughPriscilla* had a successful career in tech, but was burned out and needed a different mental outlet, one that allowed her to indulge her curiosity, love of learning and share her knowledge with others. She decided to write a socio-cultural book about tea (a topic she loved) which gave her the excuse to travel, meet people and take more photographs. All things she had been craving more of in her life.

Both Zoe and Priscilla had worked hard to achieve success in their careers – but it wasn’t enough. By giving themselves permission to pursue a creative passion project, each of these women created more fulfillment in their lives.

As it turns out, these projects included activities each woman enjoyed as a child. For Zoe, it involved food and cooking. For Priscilla, it was about anthropology and teaching. For both women, they had been dissuaded from these activities by well-meaning adults who said they wouldn’t enjoy a successful career in those areas.

Despite the success in the careers they did choose, something was missing. And they sought to fill in the missing pieces by working on a passion project.

Try this exercise:  chart your job satisfaction over the course of the different jobs you’ve had.   Map the highs and the lows over the years. Next pick ten core values from the graphic.

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-5-35-09-pmWhen did this same exericse, I looked at the peaks and valleys of my career, and noticed that the highs (when I felt most fulfilled) were when most of my values were being met. And my lows (when I felt least fulfilled) where when my values were not being met.  How about you?

That exercise demonstrated that your job does not have to be everything in your life – that your job does not have to meet all your values – but it does have to allow you the space in your life for all your values to be met. 

For Zoe, it meant that she could tolerate the politics of Academia because she also had her documentary to work on – a documentary which recently won its first film festival award. She’s now working on a cookbook which includes recipes from her film contributed by all the chefs and restauranteurs she interviewed.

And for Priscilla, her book has become a platform that gives her the opportunity to speak and share her knowledge about a topic she loves. Though the book isn’t yet published, she’s already being invited to international venues to talk about tea.

If you are feeling like Zoe and Priscilla and are getting burned out, feeling unfulfilled, and ready to call it quits even though you’ve put in the hard work to succeed in your career, perhaps giving yourself permission to work on a passion project will help you maintain your professional gains while also indulging a life-long desire for creative self-expression. It could be time to think about this if all your values are not being met.

If you created space in your life for this, what would your life look like?

*Not their real names.

8Tara Lutman Agacayak has been coaching creative entrepreneurs since 2006. She works with inspiring, ambitious, successful women who desire to make an impact and give back through a creative passion project. Tara grew up in Silicon Valley and studied Psychology and Information Technology while working as an award-winning database designer for the US Department of Defense. She met her Turkish husband in graduate school and moved to Turkey 15 years ago.

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