Start a Side Project

By Tucker Matheson & Pichon Duplan

It’s spring time of your junior year in college, and tomorrow your school has its biggest career fair of the year. Your friends are preparing and printing off their resumes and cover letters. They are rehearsing their 60 second pitches and one of your friends asks you, “Which companies are you targeting to see tomorrow?” All of a sudden, you get a rush of anxiety not knowing exactly what you want to do after you graduate or where to start.

Knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life is a big puzzle to solve, and many students struggle with sifting through all the noise. Side projects allow students test out different interests first hand on a small scale to make informed decisions about their future. Are you experimenting with different careers first hand or just leaving your future to chance?

Growing up as kids, we all tried many things all at once to see what we liked the most. You might have went to school, played soccer, basketball and baseball, taken piano lessons, gone to camp, and maybe even taken up learning a new language - all in a year!

As we get older and approach high school and college, we tend to zero in on the one or two things we “think” we are the best at, and stop exploring what else is out there. Especially once students enter college, there is added pressure from society, family, and friends to have a plan all mapped out about your career.

This pressure can cause some students to make career decisions for the wrong reasons. They may pursue a career because their family and friends have certain biases, because they like a certain class or professor, or because of the lucrative monetary rewards of certain careers. The fact is, in order to find careers you are truly passionate about, you have to find them in practice. Theories of certain careers, are only theories. Until you actually try them out outside of the classroom, you can’t say you know what a certain career is actually like, or if you would like it.

Always having a side project is what can ensure you are continuing to learn and expand your mindset and capabilities. Dedicate the time to a passion you're interested in, above and beyond your normal school and life activities, allows you to continue to keep your mind and body sharp. Don’t stop living your life because society is telling you to.

The most successful and historic people ever to walk this earth explored their side projects and found the activities that would bring them happiness and fulfillment in life. What if Beethoven never found the piano? Or if Monet was never given a paint brush? You have to own your career, you are your greatest asset. By always having a side project, you can ensure that you are developing at your highest potential.

Athletes work out two times a day, six days a week to maintain themselves at peak performance. In today’s connected world, the global competition for entry level careers is fierce. Students need to treat the career process with the same amount of dedication that an athlete would dedicate to their craft. Side projects help students stay ahead of their peers and enable them to try out careers first hand to confirm their likes and dislikes.

These projects also don’t stop once you graduate college and enter the workforce. Never stop learning, keep exploring, and always have at least one side project. The greatest asset to any high school or college student is the ability to craft small experiments as an avenue for personal development, just as we all used to do as kids.

In order to get started, begin thinking of some activities you're interested in or really passionate about. What makes you happy? What motivates you? What makes you fulfilled? What do you want to try? The key is to not think too hard about it and do what your heart tells you. Failing at some projects is all part of the process.

Write three of those things down and try one of them over the next month. Find time for it, build it into your schedule, and most importantly, commit to actually doing it. Explore different careers and activities through side projects and good things will start happening in your life. Now, that lingering question of “Do you know what you want to do after graduation?” will become clearer.

To learn more about Fast Forward and our mission to help students maximize their time and investment in college, visit us at We need your help to reach as many high school and college students in your network so that we can inspire the next generation of young leaders across the globe.

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