Personal project or professional development?
March 27, 2014 2:01 PM   Subscribe

You have a personal project, and you have your career and professional development goals, and the two aren't closely related. How did you decide what to spend your time on, and can you help me weigh up my particular choices?

My general question is as above, though I'd be grateful for some help in weighing up the specifics of my situation too.

I have a blog on a niche topic (Irish architecture), updated regularly since it began two years ago, with each post requiring a site visit for original photography, research time, and then the editing and writing and social media. I used to be a writer and researcher in this area, and as well as being fun, the blog helped me get really interesting work and build a profile. It really is a niche, so though it's got good visibility, it's never going to bring in a significant income in advertising or anything. I did a small zine related to it last year and it has sold very well. I am very proud of the blog and still love the subject.

I've recently changed career (to a full-time job in software) and I am really enjoying it, but also conscious that I want to learn and make and do lots outside of work. I'm really interested in it and also want to build my career, and I have specific goals that would benefit from self-learning and possibly some structured evening classes.

Some scenarios I am considering:
A: Put time into the blog and build towards an endgame (probably a related book)
B: Sunset the blog and put my time into software-related personal projects and learning
C: Do both but more moderately: don't work on a blog-related project, just the blog, and be modest with my professional development goals. This feels crap on both fronts, AND exhausting.
D: Do neither and enjoy just having a full-time job to worry about.

What would you do? What have you done? How would you weigh it up?
posted by carbide to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think having different interests helps provide an escape. Since you've pretty much eliminated C, which is probably generally what I'd do though perhaps not the specifics of what I'd do (I might still try for a blog related project as well, just all on a much slower timeline), my next choice would probably be A.

My main projects do dovetail with my career, but I also maintain side interests which are only tangentially related. I would be unhappy if I stopped making time for those side interests completely. Plus I think not having solely laser-like focus on my career also means I'm less likely to burn out or lower my quality of life.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:14 PM on March 27, 2014

I would do A and then B if I was passionate enough about the blog.
posted by heyjude at 2:20 PM on March 27, 2014

Why not:

E. Focus on your software-related projects, then return to the blog when the time feels right, or not.

Any other option would seem either unsatisfying, or compromise building a new foundation in your new career.

One thing that will help your software career, be careful about deciding to make a decision. Often times, the right decision is to continue gathering more information.

In your case, it is reasonable to focus on your career now. That means letting the blog go dormant for a while. You may want to return to it in the future. You can't really know how long that will be, or whether you won't find something you'd rather do with your free time.
posted by Good Brain at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2014

Does doing the blog bring you joy? Does it energize you? If so -- it's probably worth doing to some degree even if there's not an endgame in terms of a career move or making a profit.

My university recently hosted a seminar for PhD students with Dr. Mrim Boutla who runs this company....which is actually not as hokey as it sounds. The interactive tools for figuring out what matters to you/what's worth doing as a career/what's worth pursing anyway are actually pretty cool if you're into that kind of thing.

But basically, if it helps you stay focused and happy, it's worth spending some at least some time on it.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:10 PM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you combine the two? Maybe write your own blogging platform and then use it? Or photo editing software for the pics you take? Maybe transcription software that let's you dictate your blog entry while onsite...
posted by askmehow at 4:49 PM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

A significant amount of professional development will happen naturally as a result of just continuing to program at work. The same cannot be said of your study of Irish architecture. If it is genuinely compelling to you, I think you'll be happiest if you keep working on it, taking breaks to pursue specific aspects of learning software development that genuinely interest you. I don't think you'll get much out of taking classes and doing software projects in your spare time purely for career advancement reasons.

I'm sort of in a similar boat to you—I enjoy building software and do it for a living, but I make something completely different at home and in a very different style from what I do at work. Sometimes, I wish the two would converge, but doing different something at home helps me not burn out at work, in addition to being intrinsically satisfying.
posted by ignignokt at 6:09 PM on March 27, 2014

I am a full-time software engineer. It's a good job and I generally like it. I spend my weekends racing sailboats. I will take vacation time to race sailboats. I have a personal software project I've been working on on evenings - it's a video/GPS telemetry tool for analyzing sailing races and training sessions.

My work is good work. And I do usually find it interesting and fulfilling. But if I won the lottery tomorrow I'd spend a lot more time on the water and I don't feel like I have to be ashamed of that. I work all week (and have a kid!) and so when I have free time, I'm going sailing, or working on my sailing software.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:55 PM on March 27, 2014

Thank you for the thoughtful responses. Not to thread-sit, but I worry that I made it sound as if I didn't also have hobbies and relationships outside of both. I guess it's the, say, two evenings and a Saturday each week that's up in the air here. Keeping the blog just running takes half of that and hasn't felt satisfying.

Shutting up again!
posted by carbide at 11:38 PM on March 27, 2014

My husband closed a blog he loved that brought him work when he didn't have time to do it properly. He still misses it, but doesn't regret closing it. For him, it came down to quality and his blog needed frequent updating to work. He had to choose between being exhausted or having a lousy blog.

Yours sounds like you could reduce the update frequency for at least 3-6 months by doubling time inbetween posts. Not quite a hiatus, and keeping your blog 'alive' in terms of readership, but not expanding.

Why not try that and see what you end up doing with the extra time? Maybe you'll find yourself itching to update the blog, maybe you'll start thinking of new things or just enjoy a better work-life balance.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:29 AM on March 28, 2014

Keeping the blog just running takes half of that and hasn't felt satisfying.

That seems like the key to me. Don't take the blog down, but announce a hiatus and find something satisfying to do, professionally-oriented or not.
posted by ignignokt at 6:12 AM on March 29, 2014

Belatedly, thank you all very much. This was very helpful in clarifying that I'm seriously struggling to separate what I want from what I feel like I should do.

For now, I'm keeping up the blog updates and I've set a date for either ending it or reviewing it a few months from now – I've too many mixed feelings to either stop the project or ramp it up right now. I'm hoping a deadline helps me to crystallise what I really feel.
posted by carbide at 8:43 AM on April 20, 2014

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