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How often do you work on your passion project?

Today is June 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you work on your passion project?” By definition, a passion project is something that takes you a long-time, 10 or more years, to complete. Many who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well often stumble upon their passion project while working on something else. Having a project was actually the best career advice best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell ever received.

In a May 22, 2021, interview Gladwell said, “A friend once gave me what I now consider the best piece of career advice – ‘Always have a project.’ And what he meant was, don't let your job dictate 100% of what you do. Always have something that you're pursuing for your own reasons, that satisfies you in a different way, that you're the boss of, and that you have control over. If your job doesn't allow for that, then you need to go off and do something on the side. You're often a better judge of what is the best and most productive use of your time than your manager or superior.” Today’s reflection focuses on two types of passion projects: one centered around art and the other a social cause.

Examples of artists who spent many years working on their project include French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement Victor Hugo who began planning a major novel about social misery and injustice as early as the 1830s, but a full 17 years were needed for Les Misérables to be realized and finally published in 1862. Additionally, Jonathan Larson lived in poverty, waited tables, and worked seven years to bring his rock opera Rent to the stage. Author J.R.R. Tolkien took seven years to write The Hobbit and 16 years to write the sequel The Lord of the Rings.

More recently, Julie K. Anderson a sculptural ceramic artist and founding director of Warehome Studios, an educational space for ceramics and kiln-formed glass in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, provided the following advice for artists and passion projects.

“Having multiple sources of income other than just selling your artwork is very important when you are first starting off and possibly throughout your career as an artist. A diversified stream of income has allowed me to experiment and make the work I truly want to make, rather than just making work that I know will sell. I learned that trying to please everyone with the type of art I make is a recipe for making pieces that are not so great. It also made me hate making art; I was bored by it. Create the work that you truly love and the right buyers will come along eventually. This way, you can stay your own personal creative path, but in the meantime, you can feed yourself and keep a roof over your head with your alternate source of income.”

Leveraging multiple revenue streams allows you to maintain your life while you pursue your passion project over an extended period of time.

Another type of passion project in the form of a social cause is exemplified by actor Tippi Hedren. Hedren revolutionized an entire industry and in so doing empowered a group of Americans looking for a way to thrive in their newly adopted country. Director Alfred Hitchcock discovered Hedren while watching her in a television commercial in 1961. Hedren received world recognition for her work in two of his films, the suspense-thriller The Birds in 1963, for which she won a Golden Globe and the psychological drama Marnie in 1964. When she was not onscreen, Hedren was an international relief coordinator with the organization Food for the Hungry.

After Saigon fell, she was working with Vietnamese women in a refugee camp near Sacramento when several women admired her long, glossy nails. Hedren had a manicurist named Dusty at the time and asked her if she would come to the camp to meet with the women. Dusty agreed, and Hedren flew her up to Camp Hope every weekend to teach nail technology to 20 eager women.

Hedren also flew in seamstresses and typists all in the name of helping “find vocations for the Vietnamese women.” Hedren also recruited a local beauty school to help teach the women. When they graduated, Hedren helped get the women jobs all over Southern California. Those 20 women—mainly the wives of high-ranking military officers and at least one woman who worked in military intelligence—went on to transform the industry, which is now worth about $8 billion and is dominated by Vietnamese Americans. Hedren's work with the Vietnamese Americans was the subject of Happy Hands, directed by Honey Lauren, which won Best Documentary Short at the Sonoma International Film Festival in 2014.

  • What are you doing little by little each day that can help you or someone else many years in the future?

  • Do you have a passion project?

  • If not, would you like to start one?

  • Do you have the endurance to work on it for over 10 to 20 years or more?

  • Can you return to your passion project while completing other work?

  • Could you work on your passion project for a longtime without the promise of any financial reward and, instead, view it as a means of leveraging your mind, body, and soul?

  • Who or what is stopping you from pursuing a passion project?

  • How often are you letting your job interfere with your ability to start or continue a passion project?


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