“Are you crazy? I would never work for free”. The fact that most people will never admit their undying love for money does not necessarily mean that they will not do anything to get it. People go to work to get paid just to be able to live by comfortably right? But is that really it? Is that all you can do while you wait for your paycheck at the end of each month?
The majority would say yes, just because they cannot see the number of rewards they reap from doing something for free, even if it is done out of pure enjoyment or to gain work experience. Likewise, if they were ever asked whether they would take a job that does not pay, I would say that about 80 percent of those would have responded with a variation of that very first sentence.
To be fair the remaining 20 percent of people who would happily work for free, are not only doing it because they enjoy giving something back to the community, but also because they want to do something to help their careers and themselves. While volunteering would be the ideal word to describe the notion of working for free, this isn’t what this article actually refers to. Ann Handley believes that everyone should work for free without necessarily getting involved in any voluntary project – well at least not in the traditional sense of what that refers to, rather – committing themselves to an ongoing and meaningful activity, so-called ‘passion project’.
To be more specific, Handley distinguishes ‘volunteering’ from ‘passion project’ which she defines as ‘offering your own specific professional expertise to a cause or a project you care about’. So whereas voluntary work would mean offering your services in any discipline, a passion project is something that is closely associated with your own field of work. As such, she argues that the professional expertise is what makes the passion project different to volunteering.
If you consider yourself a passionate volunteer and would like to be part of the elite 20 percent who would not mind working for free, here is why you should start working on your own passion project:
#1 To Keep the Enthusiasm Going
Over the years, you become lazier or better yet as Handley explains ‘less of a doer’ and much more of a delegator. While it is only natural that you would progress into a managerial role, this does not mean that you should become a person who simply observes or manages other people. If you want to be efficient in your work, you have to stop yourself from ‘going rusty’.
But even if you do not get to become a manager, and you think your current job is keeping you back from doing what you want, you might want to try different things out. Starting a passion project will keep you informed about industry trends as well as involved in ongoing events so that you stay relevant to your field. This should help you know what you are talking about when you refer to your subject as it keeps you in the game.
#2 To Figure Out What You Want to Do
If you get the slightest doubt that you should be doing something else instead of working in your current job, a passion project will remind you why you have chosen the field in the first place. Perhaps you no longer enjoy working for that particular employer, or the industry does no longer interest you as much. Either way working on something else without expecting money back will help you revise your career options, and figure out where you want to be.
#3 To Get Better at Your Job
Since starting out a ‘passion project’ does not necessarily mean that you should quit your job, you could focus on that one area that you find interesting in your work that allows you to develop your knowledge on the subject you enjoy the most. It will be just like improving a certain skill or doing a Master thesis all over again, but this time it will be much more exciting and will involve much less writing. Doing so will undoubtedly help you become better at what you do and will allow you to get a first-hand experience on a subject you never had the chance to touch upon.
#4 To Challenge Yourself
If you have been working for the same company for years now, you have probably got sick and tired of doing the same things over and over again without getting any satisfaction out of it. If you want to spice things up a little, starting your own passion project will be as challenging as it is exciting. Not only will it keep you busy – like an ordinary day job would, but it will also allow you to build on your knowledge while working on what you really enjoy doing. The truth is that in anything you choose to do – whether you call it a ‘job’ or a ‘project’ there is always a simple rule attached to it: the bigger the struggle, the bigger the reward when you are finally done with it.
#5 To Help Others
In the end, you will not be working for free just to be able to help yourself develop professionally, but also to give back to the community and to get a sense of accomplishing something that can be recognised. Your project has to be able to inspire others as well; but not simply encourage them to take part in it, rather help them envision what you are seeing. That is the satisfaction that you feel after helping others and the pleasure that you get from working with people who are devoted to an idea, a goal, a purpose.
You know you are working towards your dream job when you are spending a huge amount f time on your passion project. While you are at it, you realise that reaching career contentment is not really about getting a financial reward - although money definitely comes in handy; rather the satisfaction you get out of it and the learning that comes out from the experience.
In the end it is not about the money that you make, rather the legacy that you build for yourself. At this point, by ‘legacy’ I refer to the personal and professional benefits that you get out of doing what you love including joy, fulfillment and career success.
So, how about you? Would you ever work for free? Let us know in the comments section below…