I am on a quest to stay passionate and productive in my day job.
By day I am a business consultant, but by night—not to mention during the wee hours of the morning and on weekends—I become a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and photographer.
On my journey I have met a number of inquisitors who ask why I toil away the hours before and after work to master crafts that are seemingly unrelated to my day job.
For instance, I work in consulting, so my pursuit of an MBA was embraced, even enthusiastically promoted to clients by my colleagues. But the mere mention of my other jobs provokes an inquisition of epic proportions.
Here are four lessons I’ve learned from moonlighting that may inspire you to render your own lessons from a side gig:
"If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!" said William Strunk, infamous author of the definitive English style guide, The Elements of Style. Co-author E.B. White explained this piece of advice in the book’s introduction: "Why compound ignorance with inaudibility? Why run and hide?"
Businesses are already plagued by rapid shifts and uncertainties of market, technology, and resources. You can only make matters worse if you can’t muster the courage to admit when you don’t know something; it’s practically a criminal offense if you make definitive assertions instead. There is a place for guesses, but declare that you are stating an assumption not a fact.
As an over-simplified example to illustrate the point, imagine that your team poses the following question: "How often do consumers purchase products of category X without customizations?"
Each answer below sets the team on a different track:
- "We don’t know. But it is our assumption that 9 out of 10 times our consumers may buy the product without any customizations."
- "9 out of 10 times our consumers buy the product without any customization."
The first version drives the team to find ways in which to answer the question more definitively. Alternatively, the team may launch an offering but incorporate robust mechanisms to quickly validate this underlying assumption. Even more important, the surrounding business processes could be engineered to respond with agility if the underlying hypothesis is discovered to be wrong.
The second version guarantees that the team is caught unprepared if the solution hinges on this information and business reality contradicts it.
Listen to the English professor and be brave. If you don’t know something, say it loud.
In your jobs you develop insights underpinned by complex analysis. A surprising insight, however, is only useful if your clients and colleagues are capable of utilizing this new knowledge with confidence and elegance.
Consequently, you must tailor a journey to take others along for the ride efficiently. This aspect of my craft benefited most from my leading others in yoga. It reminded me of the value of delivering complex information with an economy of words.
Consider the below options for guiding a yoga class from one move to the next, in one breath. With the first option, I excluded those who are unfamiliar with or uninterested in the jargon of yoga. With the last option, I delivered excessive information, and the class consequently lost its momentum as individuals struggled to apply the numerous instructions I had offered.
A spot between these two extremes was my best offering.
- From your Adho Mukha Svanasana please find your way to Anjaneyasana.
- Inhale. Lift your right leg behind you. Exhale. Step it between your palms for a low-lunge.
- Take a deep breath and lift that right leg high and up behind you. While you are there, take a hip opening, if you feel like it, before you bring your leg down to land with ease between your palms into a relaxing low-lunge.
This lesson, which I learned on the weekends, I carried with me to work on weekdays. So should you.
Practice the art of simplifying communication, of staying away from jargon specific to your domain, and of communicating just the right amount of information to help your audience arrive at a desired destination. All the while, create space for them to internalize volumes of new information that you send their way.
A great photograph is a combination of intent and serendipity—"happy accidents" photographers call them. When you are at the right place at the right time with camera in hand you are prepared to capture any moment that presents itself to you.
To attract and make the most of opportunities that present themselves to you, get clear on your intentions. Do you know what you want from your career, a meeting or a negotiation? If you don’t, then your manager, clients, or collaborators don’t know either.
Get out of your comfort zone and use your skills in an entirely different context.
Over the years, I have helped businesses design and implement new services. Last year, however, I went off the grid. I took a two-month sabbatical to live in a rural village of Kenya that has no running water or power yet. I was there to help a nonprofit organization expand their community outreach program to include new services that boost household incomes.
Overwhelmed by the talent of my new collaborators and a desire to crush it, I hit the books, old and new. The result: My quiver of skills is now filled with sharper arrows.
Fortunately, to do the same you don’t have to schlep to Kenya. You don’t even have to listen to me. But, you can’t ignore Pharrell Williams—he says the secret behind all of his ventures is collaboration.
You can start small. Participate, with permission, on a brainstorming session of a colleague’s project.
—Natasha Awasthi is a business designer who artfully untangles messy problems by discovering unexpected patterns—in behavior, processes, and technology. A self-proclaimed Jedi-in-training, she writes not only about business but also about bungling the art of channeling the force, and embracing her creativity. Find her on Twitter or email her here.