In grad school I had a meeting where our grant application was being reviewed by an important panel for a startup I founded and built up with a team. I was being challenged the entire meeting and at one moment was questioned if this startup was my only focus, as if to test how passionate I truly was about it. I was perplexed by the seemingly off-topic question and answered, “This is not my only project. I do many things outside of this.”
It was apparent that I answered incorrectly by the nearly rolling of the eyes at the table as they looked down thumbing through our papers, and I’m sure that answer cost us from receiving that grant. Live and learn.
This meeting made such an impact on me, and it consumed my thoughts for weeks in reflection. For a while I believed the negative narrative I created in my head about how I thought the people at the table viewed me and my startup as going nowhere. Whether this narrative was true or not, I still internalized their feedback from my response as a negative experience that I didn’t want to repeat in life. But I wouldn’t take this event back if I could because it profoundly reaffirmed what my values are and the reason why I was pursuing my venture to begin with.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”Elon Musk
There is nothing wrong with having more than one project in your life, when good balance is kept of course. In fact it’s during these multi-project experiences that you’ll discover what you like and don’t like to do, and where you do and don’t want to spend your time.
There is no law that limits you from doing more than one project at a time nor is there a series of checkboxes to hit in order to justify that you’re passionate about something. It’s not about how many project work-till-4am nights and get up at 6am days you’ve had, how many Red Bulls you wish you never drank, or how many funding opportunities you chased—(Definitely nothing to model from me here, and I’ve learned since these times—err still learning). It’s not about whether you went to a business school or had no college at all. It’s none of these things. People who challenge your commitment don’t know how you spend your time or have any context of your life.
And so I challenge the question that was asked to me, “Is this the only thing you do?” If you’re only passionate about one thing, and you only work on one niche thing your entire life, you may be living a life too safe.
I have worked on so many passion-projects in my life, too many to count. I have had many successful experiences, and I have had even more failed ones. But I dust myself off with some lessons learned and move on to the next project. There is risk when you try new things beyond a particular niche or comfort zone. The risk is that you may fail at the new thing you’re trying. This my friends is called learning, and it’s a beautiful thing. And if you only do one thing, you’ll never know what you may be missing that could make an even bigger, more positive impact in the world. So if you’re doing more than one passion project with a reasonable life balance, that’s awesome. Keep doing your thing.