Poornima Vijayashanker

How to Keep Your Passion Project Growing Despite Challenges


All this month, Joy Dixon and I have been digging into the theme of working on side projects that you’re passionate about. We started out by talking about how to keep your day job and pursue your passion project on the side, and last week we talked about how to keep your passion project moving along when you physically can’t.

In the final episode on side projects for this month, we’re going to talk about how to keep your passion project growing despite challenges.

When we’re just getting started, all the passion we have for our side project makes us feel like we can tackle small challenges that come up every day. But over time, we start to uncover bigger challenges like funding, dealing with regulations, lacking experience, and missing self-imposed deadlines and milestones.

When we hit one of these challenges, we feel stuck. Our side project stops growing, and again we’re tempted to quit.

Instead of giving up, it might be time to re-evaluate the direction and purpose of our side project.

In today’s episode, Joy is going to share how she responded to all the challenges she ran into while setting up and growing her side project, Mosaic Presence. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How to embrace not being ready;
  • Why you need to build a support system for your side project;
  • Why you should keep your side project alive even if it’s not growing;
  • Why our self-imposed deadlines slip and having a day job helps when they do; and
  • How to re-evaluate the direction and purpose of your side project instead of giving up on it.

Know someone who is starting a side project? Please share this episode with them!

Watch the episode on YouTube!

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

How to Keep Your Passion Project Growing Despite Challenges Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: Previously, Joy and I dug into why it’s totally OK to keep your day job and pursue a side project. We also talked about how to manage your time and your energy. If you missed either of those segments, I highly recommend you check them out. I’ve included the links to both of them below this video.

In today’s segment, we’re gonna tackle the final topic: how to continue growing your side project, despite the bumps.

Welcome back to Build, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. Each Build episode consists of conversations I have with innovators. Together we debunk myths and misconceptions related to building products, companies, and your career in tech. Thank you, Joy, for joining us again.

Joy Dixon: Hey, great to be here.

Poornima Vijayashanker: It’s been two, two and a half years since you started Mosaic Presence. Surely you’ve hit some bumps along the way.

Joy Dixon: Yes.

Poornima Vijayashanker: In those bumps, as you were experiencing them, how did you respond to them?

Joy Dixon: I took them all as learning opportunities. There was a lot I didn’t know. I was very clear about being in the classroom. Very clear about teaching code. But a lot of the other parts of it—like creating my business, incorporating all those different I’s and T’s—I did not know about those. I really just took it in stride. I was like, “OK, cool. Now let me jot it down and I can share this with the next person.”

Poornima Vijayashanker: That’s awesome. That kind of answers my next question, which is, what did you learn from that? It sounds like you learned a lot.

Joy Dixon: Totally. I learned a lot, how to actually set your business up, how to establish it, how many, where the offices are in the city of Oakland who are like, “Go and file this paperwork.” So I really just took it all as a big learning opportunity and it’s just really great. It was really great.

How to embrace not being ready

Poornima Vijayashanker: One of the things we talked early on about was being ready. Since you didn’t know all this stuff, it didn’t make you feel like you weren’t ready to do it?

Joy Dixon: No. That thing called Google has really instilled a lot of confidence in me. I would really just go Google. So many people put out so much great material, like yourself.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Thank you.

Joy Dixon: Right?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Joy Dixon: So you can just follow along, learn some things. It’s really easy to just keep moving forward.

Why you need to build a support system for your side project

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. When you did hit those bumps, in hindsight we’re like, “Oh yeah, it was a learning opportunity.” But they sting in that moment, right? It’s like, this is really difficult. Yeah, I’m sure I’m gonna look back and learn on this. How did you manage that moment when the bump hits you?

Joy Dixon: When the bump hit me, I leaned on my loved ones. Honestly. My best friend, my inner circle. Because the bump hit, and it was a really big bump. Yes, without a doubt, on this side of it, it’s a learning opportunity. But in the midst of, and I remember the exact moment when there was so many things coming at me, but the exact moment is when my MacBook Pro just went blank. And I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is it right?” That was the moment that I pretty much lost it. ‘Cause I was like, everything was rolling and even I hit bumps I could still manage. But I was like, “Everything is on this machine.” Thank goodness for the people in my life, really.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Building a support.

Joy Dixon: I would tell people, have that support system. They don’t have to be in the same field you are, they just have to support you. That’s really so important.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. Again, because we’re in that moment, we think, “OK, we can get through this.” But there comes a time where we keep hitting those tough bumps. And it can kind of phase us, right?

Joy Dixon: Yes.

Why you should keep your side project alive even if it’s not growing

Poornima Vijayashanker: Why did you decide to keep going in spite of?

Joy Dixon: Really what I did, was I stopped and I looked at what was really causing a lot of the pain for me. It was really my timeline. It was my timeline. ‘Cause I had said, I wanted this completed by this. When I initially opened up Mosaic Presence and started doing it, I was like, “Oh. Four months. I’ll be done. It’ll be up and running. I’ll have 30 students two weeks after that.” Right?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Joy Dixon: None of that came to fruition. It was really, “Wow.” Sad to learn how to let go and just keep moving forward. Have a direction, but not be attached to the outcome. That was really what made it easier to go through the process, ‘cause it was really my struggle and my holding on tight and wanting things to go my way that was really causing all of my extra pain.

Poornima Vijayashanker: I like what you said about the timeline, ‘cause this is something I talk to a lot of founders about. Those who are both technical and nontechnical. It’s just, “We anticipate it taking three months, six months,” it ends up taking—heaven forbid—a year.

Joy Dixon: Yes.

Why our self-imposed deadlines slip and having a day job helps when they do

Poornima Vijayashanker: Sometimes 18 months. I think going back to the overall theme, that’s kind of why it’s nice to have that day job, to have a little bit of a footing and continue that side, because you don’t know how tumultuous it’s going to be. I think that’s hard for people to wrap their head around, “Why would it take double the time? Why wouldn’t it be done tomorrow? Why can’t I just fix this thing with one pixel? Why is this not a five-minute fix? Why is this a five-day or a five-month sort of thing?”

Joy Dixon: It really is so true. And that’s so good to put that out there for everybody to really understand that. Having a day job made it easier for me to get through those times. Because one of the things I really was concerned about with Mosaic Presence and actually starting it was the energy that I brought to it. I wanted everything to have a certain level of peace and calm. Just to create a great learning environment.

I wanted my students to be my number one. I wanted to serve my students. I didn’t want to all of a sudden see them walk through the door, “OK, you’re the rent.” You know, I didn’t want to look at them like that. I really wanted to look at them as, “Well, I’m really trying to expand your opportunities. I really want to be in community with you. That’s how I want to see you, and that’s how I want you to feel in this classroom.” I wanted to talk all that extra pressure off of them and off of myself. That’s why I maintain the full-time job.

How to re-evaluate the direction and purpose of your side project instead of giving up on it

Poornima Vijayashanker: Let’s talk about the learnings, ‘cause there is that moment where you can look back and you can say, “I learned something.” How has that caused you to change course?

Joy Dixon: Really, the timeline is the main thing. The timeline and allowing it to just unfold. Instead as opposed to being super directed about, “I want this to happen, this way, at this time.” Now it’s more of an unfolding as I go through Mosaic presence. The amazing parts about this is all these opportunities are coming to me.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Joy Dixon: I’m not out there actively seeking. I’m allowing things to just happen and transpire.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Sure.

Joy Dixon: It definitely is challenging. It is really challenging. Like I said, I’m Type A.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. I was just gonna say, as a, I shouldn’t say recovering, as a present Type A, I think part of the challenge is, and also having been a software engineer, when you see something done and it’s shipped, that’s when you get this great sense of like, “I accomplished something.” But when stuff isn’t, then it causes you to, “Oh my God. I gotta do all these other things now to make this thing happen because this deadline has been pushed.” There’s this level of unease. When you said, learning to sit with it, I think that’s the challenge. Learning to let go, that’s the challenge. When it doesn’t happen, we don’t have that nice to-do list checked off. We don’t have that thing to show, so we don’t have that sense of accomplishment.

Joy Dixon: Yes. That was really it. It’s about redefining success. Really. ‘Cause is it the journey? Or is it the destination?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Joy Dixon: I know people say it all the time, but it really is like, “Oh, with each step. Each step I have a success.” Celebrate each and every single step towards your goal. ‘Cause otherwise it’s gonna be a painful journey. It really is. That has really been the thing that has helped me a lot. It is a big walk of faith.

Poornima Vijayashanker: There are obviously times where you felt like you were banging your head against the wall. It wasn’t working. You needed to change the timeline. You’ve kind of kept at it because you’ve been doing this now for two and a half years. Somewhere in that period of time, there must have come a moment where you felt like, “OK, what I’m doing, it’s making an impact. It’s actually bringing me joy.” Right?

Joy Dixon: Yes.

Poornima Vijayashanker: How did that feel for you? When was that?

Joy Dixon: That felt great. That felt really great. Really it was just encountering…It was actually when I started reaching out to former students for testimonials and to see that, “Oh, they’re a director of this part. They’re a senior software engineer over here.” The words that they sent back about the impact that I had on their lives was like, “Oh my goodness.” That was an amazing thing. That reminded me that this is why I do what I do. There is no better feeling in the world than being able to support somebody and assist them on their journey in moving forward.

Poornima Vijayashanker: How do you continue to keep growing your presence?

Joy Dixon: Yeah. Ba-dump-bump. Actually even meeting young people. Young people are really great and they’re super inspiring. People who are like me, who are like, let me transition and acquire some new skills and really kind of show them that, “Hey, I do this. You can do this.” And when they see that and they get that light in their eye, then that makes all the difference in the world to me.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Any final recommendations you have for our audience when it comes to growing their side project?

Joy Dixon: Yeah. Keep at it. I really do mean that. Keep at it. Every single step counts. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. That is of the utmost importance. Your self care is number one. Always do something on your project every single day, even if it’s some small thing. But just something every single day, that way you’ll feel like, “Oh, you’re nurturing yourself. You’re being and you’re nurturing yourself like your project and your baby.” That would be my recommendation.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Those are wonderful words to end on. Thank you so much.

Joy Dixon: Awesome. Hey, thank you, this has been so great.

Poornima Vijayashanker: For people that want more, how should they get in touch with you?

Joy Dixon: They can reach me at mosaicpresence.com and feel free to send me an email at joy@mosaicpresence.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Poornima Vijayashanker: That’s it for our episode on pursuing side projects. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode. Special thanks to our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker, for their help in producing this episode. Ciao for now.

This episode of Build is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.