There's no such thing as a bad side project. Side projects reinvigorate you, get you excited about tech and life again.
There are many different kinds of side projects. Some give you valuable experience that make you better at your job. Some prep you for your next job. Some become your next job like mine did. But I'm learning that the best kind of side project is a gratitude project.
A gratitude project is essentially a project you can get passionate about that serves others instead of yourself.
A side project becomes a passion project when you pick something you are (or can become) genuinely excited about. This is an important piece to get right. It doesn't matter how popular a cause/mission/tech/dream is, if it doesn't speak to you personally. You gotta be real with yourself and pick something that resonates with you.
A passion project becomes a gratitude project when the person it serves is someone other than yourself. Where number one takes a back seat for a minute. You do something kind and good for somebody else for a change, expecting absolutely nothing in return.
There's a slippery slope I tend to go skiing down regularly: hope leads to excitement which leads to expectations which lead to disappointment. A gratitude project is a chance to practice explicity setting zero expectations. You'll inevitably feel awesome by doing it, but that's not the goal. In fact there is no goal - other than to use your skills and creativity to make someone's life a little bit better.
Since quitting my job last year to do my own thing I've experienced a lot of ups and downs. Most of the downs centered around fear. Fear of not being good enough to make it on my own. Fear that people wouldn't love me or the things I made.
I have so much gratitude in my heart for every single person who's supported me and purchased my CSS Grid educational game. Because of them I've been able to continue my entrepreneur journey and work on more cool things. Just saying thank you didn't feel adequate.
So when Megan Charles told me she loved the character artwork from my games and wished she could have them as laptop stickers, I simply couldn't say no.
I set out to create the absolute coolest stickers ever to grace the back of a laptop. With ambitions like that it's no surprise that I quickly got stuck. You can read the full story but basically a honeycomb shaped kids' shoebox I saw at a farm gave me the inspiration I needed.
The idea was that the stickers could be arranged however you wanted in a hexagon grid, with stickers taking up either one, two, or three hexagons.
Once the designs were done, I happily sent them off to Stickermule for printing. But when the samples came back the stickers didn't snap together like they were supposed to:
Their customer support people were super patient with me over the course of our 80 emails back and forth. We made several more samples but couldn't ever get the cuts accurate enough. At one point they told me "Truth be told you have an expert level of attention to detail and some of your questions are new to us".
Things got a little ridiculous. At one point I found myself proving to them that my calipers were indeed accurate:
I'm sure they just loved working with me, but eventually I had to fire them and find a local shop that could produce the quality that I wanted for these.
It still took a few more iterations to get it right. I'm used to a feedback loop of seconds when I code, but with print it took weeks between making adjustments and seeing new print samples. Especially because nobody makes stickers like this.
It took way longer than I had planned but I couldn't be happier with how they turned out. All the hard work and patience paid off:
They look perfect - and snap together perfectly in a hexagon grid, yay!
Our dinner table transformed into an assembly line as I employed a bit of good ol' fashioned child labor (my kids) to put the packs together.
It was so fun to finally send out the first batch! It makes me giddy to think of everyone who will come home from work today to find these in the mail. Besides the US, sticker packs are now on their way to Brazil, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, England, New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore, Canada, Sweden, Scottland, France, and Spain!
When I told my people I was sending these to them, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses. A handful said "Wow Dave these look amazing! How much do I owe you?" and I was delighted to be able to say these were on me - just a little something to express my gratitude.
The sticker packs costs me about $20 bucks a piece, and I sent each person two packs each (the Flexbox Zombies pack and the Grid Critters pack). But the cost doesn't matter. That's what's awesome about a gratitude project. You get to show people that they mean something to you. You get to warm their hearts and make their day. That's worth more than any reward in the world. It might not be good business, but hey - it's good humaning.
You can start your own gratitude project. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or cost a ton. You have a lot to be grateful for, and a lot you can give back. What's the first person/thing that comes to mind? How can you serve? Maybe you do something nice for the maintainers of an open source project you love to use. Maybe you volunteer to build a website for a charity group or other good cause. It doesn't even have to be in tech. Maybe you start raising honeybees and donate the honey produced. Whatever it is, your gratitude project is a way that you can be a blessing to people around you, and perhaps find a little bit of joy in the process. I hope you start planning your gratitude project tonight! Let me know what you decide to do!
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