It’s funny: almost every engineer in the startup realm that I’ve talked to has a side project of some kind. Despite having that knowledge, I still can’t help treating my side work as a shameful secret.
It’s like I’m cheating on my wife.
Living this way seem so congruous with infidelity. If you feel unfairly deprived of something for too long at work, like in life, it’s tempting to satisfy that craving elsewhere. I’ve only had two jobs so far, yet there have been a couple times when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough design or enough programming. So I tried starting my own thing, took up contract work and (only once) started interviewing.
There are a lot of good reasons to cheat on a full-time job. (I hope not as many exist for cheating on a wife)
I need the money
This is a pretty lame reason, but hardship can affect us in the strangest ways. I’ve felt this pressure before and was lucky enough to have a manager who sensed that before I got frustrated by it. My belief is that any good manager will remove any (reasonable) financial pressure from a valued employee, so this one is easy to solve: just speak up!
I’m creatively stifled
If you’re not doing something that makes you happy, change it or move on. Life is short; don’t suffer 10 hours a day just to do what you love for 4 hours.
I’m not learning enough
This is one that I sympathize with. If you have ambitions in life to do bigger things, it’s truly challenging to continually push the envelope at your 9-5 job. Some of the most talented people in the world (Jonathan Ive, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey) work relentlessly at their day job and do amazing work. It’s tough, but that’s a pretty cool challenge in itself.
Today, I said farewell to a group of nice guys from a company called AltruHelp. They’re the last in a long line of opportunities I’ve said “no” to in the past two months (I’m currently on a campaign to get better at saying, “no”).
My ideal situation is to have a day job and a side project, and for them to be the same thing. For founders of companies, complete fidelity seems to come naturally. The job isn’t their wife: it’s their baby, and no one cheats on their kid… that’d just be awkward. Perhaps if there was a way to get every employee to feel that same kind of connection, there’d be less cheating and more innovation.
So I’m giving monogamy a try. My goal is to be a cool uncle, if not a father, to this baby I have in front of me, rather than playing the insatiable husband.