Why Passion Projects Make You Stand Out From The Competition

Passion projects are creative side projects that we undertake outside of what’s required from school, work or our daily routines. Whether it’s learning how to play the violin, writing novels, shooting photos, creating apps or performing 30 random acts of kindness, all it takes is some inspiration and a bit of dedication to start working toward a passion project.

Why Should I Start A Passion Project?

Other than for self-fulfillment and gratification, passion projects serve as one of the greatest ways to further your professional development. In the academic world it’s not enough to partake in hobbies and get good grades to be considered for an elite program at a prestigious university.

According to DistinguishMe, a program that helps students distinguish themselves through independent passion projects, admissions officers look for the following criteria when evaluating students:

  • GPA/Class Rank
  • SAT/ACT score
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Admissions Essays
  • Recommendation Letters

GPA and SAT scores are still the two most important factors that are taken into consideration, but it’s nearly impossible to stand out based on scores and numbers alone due to the oversaturated candidate pool.

Based on reports from the U.S. News and Report and National Center for Education Statistics, the number of total applications to elite colleges has risen by 71 percent while total student body growth grew by only 9 percent from 2003 to 2013.

While I’m referencing students looking to get accepted into their program of choice, this can also be applied to the work force and further professional development.

CNN reported that the unemployment rate dropped below 4 percent in April 2018 for the first time since 2000. This is fantastic news, but if you’re looking to get hired in a highly competitive field you need to stand out in the sea of other candidates with similar education and backgrounds.

Standing Out from the Competition

Why Passion Projects Make You Stand Out From The Competition Photo

A lot of emphasis is placed on where you went to college and the competency of the programs that they offer, but getting a degree alone isn’t enough to guarantee you a job outside of college. After a year from graduating recruiters stop placing emphasis on your GPA or academic achievements in favor of work experience.

Most graduates will have 2-3 internships or relevant jobs in their portfolio, so what happens if candidates from similar academic backgrounds and positions apply to the same place? What makes one candidate stand out from other competitors?

Other than how well they conduct themselves in the interview process and how they present themselves, passion projects are the best way to stand out in that sea of competition.

Passion projects show that a candidate has gone above and beyond that of what’s required in daily job function. We do them in our spare time, they help to diversify our skill set and to form new connections with people that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

This website is arguably one of the main reasons why I was hired at General Motors. Plenty of candidates had backgrounds in digital marketing, but how many had several certifications, performed a significant amount of volunteer work and actively wrote posts on a website they built themselves? How many cultivated their personal brand on social media, created their own design work, regularly recorded podcasts or videos showcasing their knowledge as an expert in their field?

I’ve mentioned that I made this blog as part of a class requirement, but I took it several steps further by incorporating it as part of my daily routine to stand out and showcase myself as an exceptional candidate.

Avoiding Stagnation In your Industry

If you’re using a passion project to further your professional development it should be relevant to your industry, at least to some degree.

As a district digital manager I strategize with my clients on how to promote their business and increase leads coming into the physical storefront through digital efforts. In this position I’m a strategist and consultant with no hand in the actual implementation of the action plans that we create.

To stay relevant and on top of my game, I use this blog to further my knowledge and continue being an asset to my clients.

While it isn’t largely known how much effort I place into this website, a lot of people are impressed at what I’ve created thus far on a weekly basis. I do content curation, perform search engine optimization (SEO) for my posts, design the creative to accompany pieces, interact and expand my social media community daily, record podcasts, shoot and edit photos, tweak the interface of my website, and bid on keywords in Google Adwords and Facebook Ads.

I’ve gained a plethora of knowledge on the implementation side of the digital marketing house so I can readily answer questions or let my dealers know what’s possible in the digital realm.

What started as a passion project when I searched for work after graduation quickly turned into a side-job that offers the possibility of passive income through the growth of a solid reader base. I now have more than 30 pieces that rank in the top 100 search results on Google, which is an amazing feat in the span of eight months and little digital marketing knowledge.

I’m now considered a knowledge expert on my floor of district digital mangers and when the time comes to start applying for another position within GM, I’ll have this website and social media presence to showcase how I stand out from everyone else on the floor.

Showing Personality to Future Employers

Aside from showing that you know what you’re doing, starting a passion project is another way to display your personality to future employers. With my website it’s easy to catch a glimpse at what my branding is all about. I strive to be that knowledge expert, but I would consider my branding to be clean, professional with a hint of quirkiness and openness as an individual.

I have fun with my work, but my planning schedule also shows that I’m organized, I check for quality assurance with minimal mistakes and that I think outside of the box through my creative initiatives and new ideas for podcast episodes or new content every week.

Depending on your passion project an interviewer will be able to see what you’re all about before the interview process even starts and if you would make a good fit for the company.

What Should My Passion Project Be?

Why Passion Projects Make You Stand Out From The Competition Question to Consider

The first step to finding your passion project is to ask yourself as many questions as possible regarding why you want to do it. A few examples might be:

  • What am I passionate or excited about?
  • Is this something that I would consider to be fun or rewarding?
  • What impact will this have, either on myself or the community I’m targeting?
  • Can I help a lot of people by doing this?
  • Will this draw attention to myself and my branding efforts?
  • Will I learn new things or explore topics I wouldn’t have otherwise?
  • If this comes up in conversation, do I get excited to talk about it with others?

After you ask these kinds of questions, narrow your list down to five questions and start searching for answers. Go online or search for articles to learn more about your interest, participate in online forums, find mentors or current knowledge experts to talk to, or even ask a company or organization if you can conduct an informational interview with their staff!

Find a Problem Worth Solving

After you ask these kinds of questions and narrow down your interest to a few passion project ideas that get you excited, the next step is to jot down 7-10 reasons as to why you should do this passion project. You should also see if you can find a problem that’s worth solving through the creation of your passion project. DistinguishMe highlights four main parts in writing your problem statement:

  • What is the problem?
  • Who has the problem?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What is the impact if the problem is not resolved?

What Steps Do I Take to Get Started?

This is the step where passion projects either die or never come to fruition, where we ask ourselves “How do I do X?” and “I’ll do Y to get there.”

I’ll reference a conversation that I had with one of my peers as an example. He wants to start a podcast, but he never set out to do it because he got caught up on the “Y” part of the equation. When we start a passion project, we often think that we need to have everything set up perfectly from the beginning or we shouldn’t bother starting. It’s an “All or Nothing” equation that will kill a passion project as fast as it starts.

He wanted to set up and design a website, purchase all the necessary podcasting equipment, build a new computer to effectively run recording programs, figure out where to post the podcast, what kind of content he should talk about, etc…

Don’t Get Caught Up In Prep Work

Why Passion Projects Make You Stand Out From The Competition Avoiding Prep Work Photo

Everything doesn’t need to be perfect when you first start. This website is a far cry from what it was when I first started. Hell, I was using a WordPress.com premade blog template with little customization options and no ownership to get my feet wet.

Over the course of a year I migrated my domain host and registered my own domain name. I changed my website theme more than four times in my search for the right one. I upped my blog posts from once a week to writing four times a week; this includes writing less than 500 words to now writing more than 6,000 words each week.

For the blog posts I started designing my own photos and creative. I slowly started branching out from no social media presence to getting more than 40,000 impressions every month with 2,000 combined followers.

I began recording podcasts weekly with less than 15 minutes of talk time per episode six months into my blogging venture; this is the same with the photography prompts I take part in every week. Now I want to start vlogging at least twice a month on top of all the other content creation I’m doing outside of work.

If I tried getting this all set up and ready to go through an official “launch,” I would have burned myself out or stopped before I even started. It’s like riding a bike, where you test the waters with training wheels before taking them off, or like jogging where you start at half a mile and slowly build yourself up every day.

I reference this in my podcast episode regarding motivation vs. discipline; you don’t get into Olympic form to train, but rather you train to get into Olympic form. If your goal is to run a marathon, you wouldn’t start running 10 miles on the first day.

Think of it this way: “what does X do?” A writer writes. A jogger jogs. If your goal is to start a blog, then you should start writing first and worry about everything else as you get more acclimated to consistently writing. If you want to get into podcasting, grab a microphone, download some free software and start recording every week. Don’t worry about targeting your audience or producing this stunning website platform; if there’s no consistent content being produced, you won’t have any chance at cultivating an audience who will want to check out your occasional post.

How Can I Make This Part of My Daily Routine?

Why Passion Projects Make You Stand Out From The Competition Investing Time Photo

As far as consistency goes, your passion project should be something that you do daily. Start doing it for 30 minutes a day. Develop that consistency and habit for a month before branching out to implement other aspects of your action plan.

A writer isn’t always judged by the quality of their content, but rather how many days they show up to write. Do it daily and penetrate the noise through consistency.

With my clients, our number one goal right now is to establish that routine before branching out to other digital marketing initiatives. We’re focused on website optimization, getting offers up at the beginning of the month and giving consumers a friendly user-experience before venturing off to social media strategy, SEO, SEM, reputation and lead management. Start off small and cultivate that habit so you don’t drop the ball when you start branching out.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

There are platforms out there that you can start with such as Medium or WordPress.com to start showcasing your passion project to your online audience. YouTube is another great option for visual content.

Outside of this website I also write poetry and short stories. I started posting on Deviantart for two years before publishing my work on my own poetry platform.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Why Passion Projects Make You Stand Out From The Competition Effort vs. Results

Getting discouraged at the lack of results is another killer of passion projects. I touched on this in my blog post about why a blog isn’t successful, but if you’re putting in a lot of effort but aren’t getting the results that you were expecting, your passion will waver, your consistency will falter and it’ll cause you to go into a negative feedback loop where you ultimately abandon your passion project.

This happens all the time with bloggers, where they feverishly write post after post but only garner the attention of 100-200 readers. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and if you continue to put in effort, maintain consistency and tweak processes you will start seeing more results.

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now; May of 2018  was the first time that I started seeing a significant bump in traffic as Google finally started indexing my posts for specific keywords. Before that point I considered quitting four times. Consistency wavered and that just caused a further decrease in traffic.

Instead of giving up entirely I started churning out four posts a week. I made a point to engage more on social media to gain more followers and engagement. I redesigned my entire website theme and bought a book on how to optimize your posts for SEO.

Stick with it and you won’t be disappointed.

Other Considerations for Getting Started

Outside of starting for 30 minutes a day, here are some other things you should do to get the ball rolling on your passion project:

  • Find your tolerance. When I first started I couldn’t write more than 500 words a week without burning myself out. For my podcasts I couldn’t record more than twice a month. Figure out what your tolerance is and start there so you don’t burn yourself out.
  • Do it in the morning. Schedule your most important tasks at the beginning of the day; as morning turns to evening, you’re less motivated to accomplish tasks.
  • Schedule a specific time to sit down and accomplish tasks. This is a great way to take time out of your day to get what you want accomplished. It’ll also make you feel good to sit down for 30 minutes and crank out your task instead of creating a negative feedback loop when you get to the end of the day and realize you didn’t do anything.
  • Gradually increase how much time your spending each month. This is easier than it sounds, but try to block out time for productivity. If you’re spending 25 minutes to accomplish a task, take a 5-minute break before diving back into working. No one is productive every waking minute of the day, so make sure that the time that you spend working is productive.
  • Minimize distractions. I’m no exception to this, but we often resort to YouTube videos and social media as a distraction, even if we don’t mean to. Turn off your phone, close out your browser on your computer and use social media as a reward for good work ethic rather than a distraction. Outside of the digital realm, try to set up shop in a quiet area and grind out work until it’s completed with music as background noise.
  • Set up an action plan with goals. This is important; if you don’t set up an action plan, then you won’t have a tangible goal to strive for and a lot of your work will not be targeted or focused. Set up an action plan, figure out what you want to accomplish and start taking steps to reach that goal. Be sure to track your progress so you can look back and see how far you’ve come in the span of a few months or a year. I do this for my social media and website metrics, which helps me stay motivated and ready to devote more effort toward achieving the goals that I set for myself.

Recap on Starting a Passion Project

Passion projects aren’t an easy undertaking at first, but they’re highly rewarding once you start seeing results. Here’s a recap on what we talked about in this piece:

  • Figure out what you want your passion project to be
  • See if you can solve a pain point or problem
  • Make it relevant to your interests or professional industry
  • Start small and figure out your time tolerance
  • Just do it; don’t try to make everything perfect
  • Use pre-existing mediums to get your feet wet
  • Don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately see results

I hope this guide was helpful in starting your passion project! What are you interested in doing for your passion project? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to share this on social media if you think any of your followers would benefit from reading this!

Equipment That I Use For My Podcast and Photography Challenges:

Here are some links for the photography equipment I used in the photo challenge for this week:

White Backdrop Curtain: https://amzn.to/2k1L2ds

Neewer Photography Light Stand: https://amzn.to/2GpKXZS

Neewer Video Photography Lighting Kit: https://amzn.to/2rMYshB

Pentax 50mm Prime Lens: https://amzn.to/2GkrAkB

Pentax  K-50 Camera Body: https://amzn.to/2IjPUJj

Pentax 50mm Macro Lens: https://amzn.to/2Iwb2YV

Here's the microphone, shock mount, mic stand and accessories that I use to record my podcasts every week:

Audio-Technica ATR 2100 Dynamic Mic: https://amzn.to/2GwPLwy

Mic Arm and Wind Screen: https://amzn.to/2Ld9LYF

Pop Filter: https://amzn.to/2Lda0Tz

Sennheiser HD 598 SR Openback Headphones: https://amzn.to/2IzdaPu

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