I had always wanted to write. I had started writing my first book when I was 13 but very quickly convinced myself that it wasn’t a good idea (my inner critic entered my life very early on!). I had many, many reasons (aka excuses!) through my 20s to not give birth to a writing project. And then I had kids and I realized that my life wasn’t going to get any easier for the next 18 years and I felt deeply called to express myself through this medium. Voila – I have been writing for the last 3+ years and it’s been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. It’s helped me both as a parent and a human being overall but also added to the joy I experience at work.
And then one day, I realized my husband was doing the same thing – he had a full-time job and a side project and that even though our lives were (and still are!!!) a little crazier than the average two working parents and two little kid household, our lives feel rich and purposeful. It is by no means easy or straightforward and takes a lot of planning, trade-offs, and empathy for each other but in the end, we both can’t imagine not creating and working on our respective projects.
And as I started looking around I noticed a pattern of several parents who had side projects. There was a huge range of what I saw – music, dance, photography, painting, writing, new businesses, volunteering, and so on. The motivations also varied – some wanted to work on their callings that couldn’t find a home in their day job, some wanted to contribute in the world differently, some wanted a creative outlet outside of the daily commitments of work and family and more… Some wanted to test out the waters before making their side projects a full-time thing but some wanted to keep their side projects as is and had no intentions of leaving their full-time thing. For many the scale of the side project was small but the impact in their lives and I’d argue in the greater world was huge.
And yet, I also noticed another pattern – a voice of overwhelm, exhaustion, guilt and “not enough time” when we think or talk about working parents. We are told to put our dreams on hold, quit our jobs to pursue our calling or stop fantasizing about having a “real” hobby while working full time. And yes, this advice absolutely holds true for many of us who do not enjoy doing more than one thing at a time and this idea feels absolutely crazy. And there are others who are in a particularly challenging season of life where a spouse has cancer or an aging parent needs extra care or one is struggling with an impending divorce. For some parents, spending an hour a week away from work or kids don’t align with their parenting values. There are single mothers struggling to bring food on the table every night or those working 2-3 jobs every day to keep a roof over their heads.
Yes, I absolutely understand and respect the differences in the way people live their lives. I also recognize that I am coming from a place of great privilege to have my basic needs met to think about my purpose and my callings and that many don’t have the luxury to do so.
Yet, I also believe that this narrative of “chronic overwhelm and kill your dreams” for all working parents is not the only truth. As a working mom to two little people, my life also has moments that are hard, challenging and all-consuming but the reality is that it is not that way 24/7 and there are some rare special moments where I do get to create, to dream, to build and to contribute. And over and over, I see this pattern – the overwhelm and exhaustion combined with love, creation, and impact in the form of side projects…
So, here I am, after nearly 3.5 years of being a working mom, feeling inspired to amplify this narrative that being a working mom and nourishing your soul and contributing to the world is possible. I hope to live in a world where more parents give birth to their dreams and projects that can make a difference in our world. I hope we can model for our children what we teach them through our words on living more fully and giving back in the world.
It takes awareness on what matters, a supportive job that allows you to create room and space in your life, a supportive spouse/partner to not think you are crazy that you are waking up early to train for your marathon and not folding laundry instead and graciously being there with the kids while you work toward your goals!!! It takes a supportive circle of friends and community to pick up the kids from school for an afternoon when you are attending that training to learn some new skills for your project. It means a lot of love and respect for yourself and your own needs. It isn’t perfect and 30 magical hours don’t appear every week but yes 30 hours can appear over a few weeks or months that can take an idea from a thought in your head to a product that people are using.
I hope to re-brand and pivot my blog to build a digital home for working parents who want to live richer, fuller lives with new & interesting projects. There will be conversations with parents who are doing this so we can all learn from their journey. I will continue to blog regularly on ideas related to having a side project but even more broadly in my journey as a working mother and even my journey as a human being. My blog will look a little different than what it looks like today but my commitment to each of you remains the same – I will practice courage, honesty, vulnerability, and kindness in my words.
To create this new digital home, I’d like to ask for your help. If you are a working parent or know of other working parents who feel the urge to create, express yourself or give back to the world in some way beyond what you do in your day job or have no desire to quit your job in the short term, I want to hear from you. Here is a link to a survey or feel free to drop me a note with your ideas and feedback at Mandhani dot neha at gmail dot come including recommendations on parents with side projects that I could interview for this blog.
So while I work on the new website and new content, here are some additional resources if the topic of side projects resonated with you.
- Side Hustle School – This is a great resource for people looking to start side projects that can generate an income. Great podcast, inspiring stories with a strong bias for action.
- How to be everything – I recently read this book and wish I had found this earlier in my life when I felt my day job had to fuel all parts of me. I was wrong and this book shows you the many, many ways to feed all parts of you with side projects being only ONE of them!!
- One person, many careers – Another interesting book and as the name suggests a guide to have more than one career in your lifetime
- Plan C: Full-time employee and part time entrepreneur – I had read this book a few years back and was a great way of thinking of how to combine a small business and a full-time career