Why side projects work

For those of you who do not know me, I work as a lawyer with a corporate law firm in Bombay. While I enjoy my job, I think it is important for me to do things out side of my job and not let my job define my identity. So, I run this blog, a newsletter and a podcast (Youtube and Spotify), where I discuss books. I also co-author a column for Bar and Bench, a leading legal news website in India.

I have been working on the column for almost 18 months now. Over this period, I have realised the value of a side-project.

Here are why I think side-projects are worth pursuing:

  1. Most of us let out jobs define us.
    • For the last 5 years, I was Abhinav Hansaraman, a law student at … All conversations, be it at family functions, friends I met at parties, my Tinder bio, what I did for a living became my identity and defined me. That is unhealthy. All of us are much more than what we do for a living.
    • When I started doing other things, pursuing my interests, I stopped thinking of myself as a lawyer. Sure, the law still forms a huge part of my life, but I can’t bind myself to the idea of a lawyer when I spend valuable time running a blog or thinking about my next podcast video while stuck in traffic.
    • To a large extent, my identity is based on what I do, but since I do multiple things, my identity is broader and it has helped me develop my self-worth.
  2. Side projects are empowering
    • All of us make mistakes in our jobs. It is inevitable. We should try to reduce it but we can never eliminate it.
    • In my job, when I do fuck up, I feel bad because there is a lot more at stake. While I will not get fired, not doing my ‘job’ well and the attendant pressure prevents me from going out on a limb, trying out new approaches, taking risks.
    • On the other hand, most of my side-projects are passion projects. The cost of fucking up is close to zero. Even if this piece is boring, worst case is a few people will not read my article. While I might feel a bit sad, that is something I can easily live with. So I can experiment, try out new content styles or strategies and figure out what I like.
    • With the blog/newsletter, I have been approaching some cool authors as an individual and not because of some tag/pedigree I have. Knowing that I can get stuff done outside of these tags make life far more fun and interesting.
    • Not only is this empowering, but I feel far more confident and am much more comfortable in my own skin.
  3. It humanises seniors
    1. For the column, my co-authors are relatively senior members of the legal profession. These are people with advanced degrees, advocates on record at the Supreme Court of India, have fledgling practices. It will easily take me half a decade to ‘catch-up’ with them professionally.
    2. However, when I work with them over the weekend, or we set internal deadlines, or we laugh at our mistakes, it humanises them in my eyes. Sure, these are my seniors and good lawyers but knowing that they are not very different from me gives me confidence and drives me to do law.
    3. While at my job I can ask questions, there is a limit to how stupid my questions can be. When a nice bonus depends on my boss thinking I am very competent, I would not venture out to ask trivial questions. I personally think that asking dumb questions is the easiest way to grow but there are inhibitions when it happens at my main gig. In the side projects, there are no severe adverse consequences, so I get to ask questions and learn so much!

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