Small projects: how to sculpt a great life
I think, probably, the most effective and enjoyable route to sustainable diversified income streams is by building multiple small projects simultaneously. My doing so over the last two years has significantly improved my wealth and well being, and it has afforded me the time to think about bigger picture things while genuinely enjoying my life.
Think of it like diversifying your portfolio. Except instead of a portfolio, it's your career. The greater the number of income-generating projects you have running at the same time, the higher the likelihood that any one individual product will have value inherent enough to 'take off', so to speak. Additionally, the sheer number of income streams insulates you against economic variability and frees up your time.
In this post, I'm going to talk about how I did it, the many pros associated with the small project lifestyle, and the few (but important to think about) cons.
My friends tell me I spread myself too thin. Maybe they're right. My (current) projects include:
- An online teaching business on Skillshare & Udemy,
- A website design & development agency,
- A content writing agency,
- An artificial intelligence painting business,
- A photography & videography agency,
- A YouTube channel on body language,
- A thumbnail generation app,
- A carpet installation network,
- This personal blog,
And about twenty more that do not (at the moment) generate me income, but that I highly suspect will in the future.
This is all because of a simple reason: I get bored of things fast. It's usually no more than a month or two, tops, before I'm onto something new. This is true whether it be in the context of career choices, relationships, or leather jackets - I inevitably get comfortable/familiar with stuff and want to immerse myself wholly in some new field to recapture my interest. These cycles occur predictably, and my approach over the last couple of years has been to monetize these 'quick-skills' such that I can produce money while I learn, to maximize both financial independence and genuine enjoyment simultaneously.
You can try it too. Below, I'll detail some of my progress and thoughts on the matter, and hopefully that can help you come to a personal decision regarding your own pursuance of small projects. Whether you end up creating one or two projects like many traditional entrepreneurs, or dive into the deep end and create twenty (like me), you'll learn the upsides and downsides of the small project lifestyle.
Average to above-average finances
First of all, from a financial perspective small projects have worked pretty well. Not as well as I might have wanted it to, of course - in my youth I frequently used to imagine that by twenty five I was going to be some crazy megalo-millionaire living on his own private island - but it's certainly afforded me enough money to life live on my terms, work only a few hours a day, and be very happy doing it.
If I average my wage over the last two years, I've made a little less than the median Canadian individual salary, and considering I'm not even twenty six (whereas the median age in Canada is 41), I'm quite happy with where I'm at.
That said, I suspect that my income will improve considerably in the years to come, too, as I identify the types of projects that generate the type of income that I like: sustainable, passive, and scalable.
Income stability through diversification
Another point worth mentioning: my income (if spread across a dozen or more projects) is quite stable. This is a new consideration that I've only recently made as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but over the last year and a half, as most of my friends and family members were losing their jobs or unable to find employment, my income streams were flexible and rebounded relatively quickly. There were also, like, twelve of them, and since they're spread across industries and verticals, impacts to any one individual stream have had little impact on my others.
In terms of my lifestyle, I couldn't be happier. In my third year pursuing small projects, I now work perhaps two or three hours per day. My daily tasks are almost always new and exciting, and I do not have to answer to nagging bosses or annoying colleagues, or attend meetings that we all know are functionally useless (serving as little more than virtue signalling opportunities for the more socially adept). God, I hate meetings.
So my time is on my terms - I get to travel, experience new things daily, and live around the world as I would like. I am currently typing this from a small seaside villa in Eastern Europe after a fun afternoon parasailing, in fact, and I plan on spending ~4 months of future years on various islands drinking Pina Colada with sexy foreigners (all jokes aside, the relative location-independence of my income streams mean I can work and live at nearly any location, which I am certainly taking advantage of).
Of course, pursuing dozens of small projects isn't all sunshine-and-rainbows. There are costs associated with this too, and many are significant enough to detract people from trying this approach altogether. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't talk about these, so buckle up.
Lacking in paths
Pursuing ideas based on an eclectic mix of curiosity and self-interest sounds fun at first, and it is, but it can also be a little existentially scary. One of the issues that I've had (that a few other like-minded entrepreneurs have mentioned) is the feeling of lacking a 'path' - a well-worn road that one can consistently judge their career progress by.
The traditional employment-based lifestyle follows concrete paths. You're hired, you learn and improve your skillset, you get promoted, and you eventually save up enough money for a down payment on a home (or some equivalent life-changing investment). More recently, even entrepreneurship has started to possess the inklings of a defined, well-worn path: you come up with an idea, market test it, attract investors, raise capital, and repeat.
Small projects, on the other hand, do not have such a path. They're a little more whimsical, and a little more (outwardly) irresponsible. For example:
- I have no idea what my career will consist of in a year from now, let alone twenty or thirty.
- Skill-based promotions do not apply. I can be quite good at something, but be paid very little - what I make of my project is a combination of luck, talent, and market-readiness.
- I'm certainly saving money, but I don't have the traditional dream of 'owning a home', and a significant portion of my disposable income goes towards starting new small projects.
- Most of my career expectations are wild guesses, and my predictions of what I'll be doing a year from now are frequently very off base .
The result is, from time to time, a feeling of being lost. Like everyone around you is 'taking off' in their own way, while you're still taxiing the runway that is adult life. You see friends and family members talk about their colleagues, bosses, promotions, and workplace drama, and though you're happy not to have to experience many of those things (especially meetings) you feel strangely disconnected and, at times, unable to participate in conversations other people find routine.
If you're like me, you'll also second guess yourself, constantly. Like, the what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life? kind of second guessing. As people grow more established in their careers, with a concrete future ahead of them, you'll probably wonder if you made the right choice pursuing small projects, or more generally, entrepreneurship. This is especially true when you have a bad week or month. As an aside, I almost gave it all up after I netted nothing more than a whopping $4.50USD in 34 days back in 2019.
Speaking of feeling lost: you may also lack a certain sense of comraderie with your peers. Additionally, I find it much more difficult to cultivate friendships without an office filled with colleagues all struggling through the same thing (work). There are stretches of time where, so absorbed I am in the projects that I'm pursuing, that I don't leave the house at all for two to three days. After such a stretch, when I finally exit my relative monkhood and find myself at the grocery store, sometimes I can hardly string together a sentence. This is the ease with which I (and perhaps you) can lose our social faculties when they're not overtly required through external machinations like meetings or performance reviews.
Small Projects, Big Dreams
In closing, pursuing small projects has been an incredibly interesting career choice that I would almost certainly make again if given the opportunity. I've become a quasi-expert in dozens of impactful fields, built lifelong relationships, and made a fair amount of money while having fun.
If you're looking for the kick-in-the-pants to tell you whether or not to give it a go, treat this article as your message. I'll be updating it as the months go by to include more information on my financial well-being, career growth, and opinions.
And shoot me an e-mail if you're doing the same thing! I'm highly interested in hearing how your journey is progressing, and to create like-minded relationships where we can help one another.