Side Projects vs Hobbies


Mountains. Specifically the Torres Del Paine. Definitely a ‘project’ not a ‘hobby’.

So as I mentioned in my last blog, the notion of the ‘side project’ really appealed to me as I always seem to have several simmering away at different stages of development. But what separates a ‘side project’ from a hobby? Is there a useful distinction?

Side Projects vs Hobbies

I think side projects and hobbies overlap like a Venn diagram; there are some shared characteristics for example: personal interest, enjoyment, escape from the day job and/or the domestic, enjoying companionship for some, finding solitude for others. But where does a Side Project starts to distinguish itself?
Is it a matter of commitment? Of scale? Of potential? I’m not actually that certain – the more I ponder these things the more it occurs to me that both hobbies and side projects can share all of those features for soaking up time and effort and providing satisfaction, reward, and opportunity.
Maybe the difference comes in perspective; does the conscious decision to make something a project signal a different approach? An experimental approach to explore rather than to indulge? A decision to try and get something to somewhere? I suspect that many projects start as a hobby but mutate into something bigger than starts to demand thought…

So what is my own example of something I regard as a Side Project?

This! – Freelancing/Blogging – I have always wanted to carve out some role beyond the boundaries of my employment, something that was distinctively me and enabled me to interact by myself rather than on behalf of others. I do have a habit of living out my interests through my professional life as much as my personal and I do have a tendency to ‘live to work’ rather than ‘work to live’.
I have freelanced or arguably moonlighted on top of my day job before – from about 2005 to 2008 – because I had a set of skills (coaching and facilitation) that my then employer wasn’t utilising and that I wanted to be using. In the end I got a new job that better used my skills and interests and I ceased picking up extra jobs as the need had dwindled.
In the intervening years I have been kept busy by jobs, hobbies, and family life but I have always wondered what kind of freelance career I could carve out again – if only I had the time. I have kept ‘moonlighting’ a little as a town councillor, trustee, director, chair, and member of several membership organisations – to indulge interests, make myself useful and collect badges I guess. But in my latest role I have been able to drop a day at work and dedicate more time to freelancing. I’m not sure what it’ll become but I’m carving out the time to generate content, follow up leads, start conversations, and explore what I do that might be useful enough for others to pay me. It’s only a day a week, and I often spend the day parenting instead, but it is project time.
So what makes this a side project (or not)? Commitment, scale, exploration, challenge, purpose – I guess its not a hobby because I expect it to go somewhere… is that it – expectation?
What stops it being a ‘Main Project’ or ‘Job’? – that it is voluntary and optional.

In contrast – a hobby…

Mountains – I love mountains. Since joining a walking and climbing club some 14 years ago I’ve relished the mix of athleticism, nerve, companionship, being outdoors, and achievement involved in hill-walking and scrambling. I’ve steadily worked out that some factors mean more to me than others though – a bit of exertion and challenge is great, but the intensive nerve-jangling of rock-climbing has for example less appeal (to me) than the sense of perspective offered by being a tiny human in a vast landscape rich in history, stories, and imaginative potential.
Walking is a passion and a hobby. At the point I undertook my Mountain Leader training and contemplated a career in outdoor training a few years ago it probably became a side project – my interest was more purposeful and deliberate – but that interest passed and it has probably reverted to being a hobby. Do I expect this hobby to go somewhere? No. I expect to keep doing it, I hope I might still get ‘better’ at it and rack up some more achievements and experiences though. I wouldn’t rule out incorporating some aspect of it into a future job or side project, but its not a plan right now.
So… expectation, a sense of purposeful exploration, is that how hobbies or interests mutate into (and back out of) being side projects?
It’ll do as a working definition!

One thought on “Side Projects vs Hobbies

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