You want to change the world.
So you’re working weekends, nights, and lunch breaks on a passion project.
But it doesn’t pay the bills, so you’re also working days.
Highfive. Me too.
20 months ago I learned there was a massive service gap in my community’s child welfare system. Children were passed from home-to-home as they transition into the system, sometimes staying in 4 or 5 homes their first week of foster care. It was completely unacceptable, so I set out to close that gap.
I was in a hurry. Every week we waited, more children were being traumatized by the very system setup to help them. It was a mess, and we knew we could fix it. All we needed to do was build a new organization to run a new program staffed by newly trained volunteers. Yeah. That’s all.
So I was motivated. I was also a newlywed. (Very newly. I finished the business plan for Skookum Kids on my honeymoon.)
You hear where this is going?
Spoiler alert. I didn’t burnout, and don’t plan to anytime soon. Thanks to the best advice I’ve ever received on this subject. It came to me from my (day job) boss, Bob Pritchett. And you can find it in his new book Start Next Now. He says:
Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.
Everybody wants to change the world until they find out what it costs.
How much sacrifice are you willing to make in order to reach your goals? And maybe more importantly, what sacrifices are you not willing to make?
To reach your goals, would you give up your . . .
Passion projects are consuming projects. Don’t dive into a passion project until you know with confidence what you’re unwilling to let it push out of your life. If you’re already deep into a passion project, stop right now and make this decision.
When I drew my line, I gave up a lot of sleep, a couple friends, a few hobbies, and any hope of qualifying for the Boston Marathon before I turn thirty (a goal I’ve been working toward for a long time.) But I bought for myself 24 hours a week of time to invest.
Everybody draws this line somewhere. Just figure out where you put it. And then —
Do risk everything else.
Draw your line. Tenaciously guard everything inside it. Let go of everything else.
For example, I rarely sleep more than 6 hours a night. I’m up every morning at 5am sharp, and put in at least 2 hours of work before I get to the office. And every Friday night, I squeeze in another 4–6 working hours. By making those sacrifices, I buy myself roughly 24 hours — the equivalent of 3 extra work days — every single week.
But I never miss College GameDay. My saturday morning college football ritual is sacred. I refused to risk it.
Draw your line, and invite your passion project to occupy every square inch outside it.
You need time and emotional energy to pour into your passion project. You can’t afford any slow leaks.
Slow leaks of time and energy lead eventually to burnout. It’s the result of trying to change the world without making world-changing sacrifices. Make sure you’re sacrificing the right things, then sacrifice with gusto.
Make your sacrifices and then put your head on your pillow assured that you are protecting and risking the right things. (Unless sleep was one of the things you decided to risk. In that case, what are you doing? Get up and get back to work!)
One more thing.
When you moonlight, especially on something that you care deeply about, it’s impossible to build a firewall between your day job and your passion project. The two will overlap and intersect.
You’re successes in one arena will give you confidence in the other.
Your failures in one arena will make you more cautious in the other.
Does anyone see the entirety of your life and all of its intersecting parts? Sure there are people who see a slice of your world, but does anyone have the whole picture?
If the answer is no, find someone right now.
You need to invite someone with knowledge of where you drew your line to help you maintain it.
I have a couple of these people in my life, and they help immensely. On a number of occasions they have sounded the alarm when I was risking something I decided to protect, or protecting something I decided to risk.