Letting your art be art

Every once a while, we see a lot of buzz about monetizing weekend projects. It comes and goes in cycles. The basic thesis is – start a blog or podcast or newsletter, build an audience, and make some money on the side. What’s the downside?

The downside, in my mind, is that pursuing weekend/side projects with the pressure to monetize (or to meet some lofty engagement goal) converts art to work. You have to find an audience that’s willing to give you their attention and build for them. That is very different from painting for fun.

It also changes the focus of the exercise from you to your audience. Your growth and what interests you matters a lot less than generating content that appeals to your audience. There are two exceptions to this – existing celebrities and the rare creator who manages to engage a large audience based solely on what interests her/him.

If you are planning on a weekend/side project, consider letting your art be your art. Perhaps it could be something you do for fun and be the kind of thing you’d do even if no one paid attention. If you can just celebrate having an audience >=1, these fun projects almost always contribute to our long term learning and growth. And, if we keep at them long enough, they provide many opportunities for us to connect with and perhaps even have a positive impact on others on a similar journey.

Let your art be art.


We love celebrating beginnings. Launches, anniversaries, and jubilees are a few examples of the various ways with which we celebrate beginnings. Beginnings are great. But, in our rush to celebrate them and encourage more of them, we often forget that they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for endings.

This week, for example, may be a great week to end…

… the project that isn’t going anywhere.

… that relationship whose negatives outweigh the positives.

… those unproductive recurring meetings.

… an annoying habit that you know you’d like to stop.

Every ending enables us to get started on a new beginning. Endings lift dead weight, throw out baggage, and give us the mental bandwidth to start afresh.

Here’s to more of them.

The work longer impulse

“This is an exciting new project. You will have to work longer, but it will be worth it.”

In our consciousness, new projects and working longer generally go together. Our ability to put in the hours for projects that matter is how we prove our mettle as dedicated workers after all.

Except, working longer is just one approach.

Instead of simply adding the number of work hours to the day, we could also do the following – cut existing low priority projects, streamline how we do our existing work, or build better processes to integrate the new project easily into our workflow.

Yes, we could work longer. But, we could also use the opportunity to work better.

For them or for us

Stakeholder update meetings are necessary in any project. If you’re running an event for a school, the administration would love to understand what you are up to. In companies, it is a mix of senior management, steering committees and clients.

One way to approach these meetings is for teams to take the “for them” approach. The default reasoning here is that these update meetings are for senior management/clients to see what we’re doing, poke holes, demand better results, and perhaps even put more work on our plates.

The “for us” approach deals with the same reality with a different lens. The reason for stakeholder meetings in the “for us” approach is for the team to reflect, take stock and learn. We do this by sharing our progress so far with senior management/clients, discuss roadblocks and look for opportunities to course correct as necessary. We aren’t doing this meeting “for them.” We’re doing it because we care about our work and it is wonderful to have them as we can learn from their experiences. Yes, they can be painful. But, that’s part of the learning process.

The former is normally used. The latter inspires better work.

As always, we choose.

You will have to do the work

Every time I’ve taken up a project where a shortcut looked possible, I’ve been severely disappointed. The easy route has never worked – no, not even once. We’ve always had to take the squiggly path with many steps forward and almost as many back. No one has stepped up and magically saved the day. There was no big lucky break that magically got us to the end.

Somebody has always had to do the work. If you cared, it was probably done by you.

So, before I get started on new projects these days. I ask myself – “Would you be happy doing all the work on this project if push comes to shove?” and “Am I surrounded by team members who would do the same?”

There is going to be no one else. And there are no free tickets.