Beyond Your Inbox - How Side Projects Can Add Meaning to Life and Work

Written by
Shruti Sah

The whipped batter of cocoa, fruit paste, fat, sweetener and leaveners was just getting poured into the baking tin, ready to take shape in the hot oven. It was a trial for a new version of a red velvet with alternates added for the usual sugars and gluten flour, something I had not attempted yet. I put my mittens on and carefully slid the loaded baking tin inside the oven, preset at 180 degrees. And the excited anticipation for the result began.

On the table besides, my laptop was on—the cake recipe on one tab and work emails on another. A notification reminded me of a new email that hit my inbox. I tried to click it open, but found my fingers fumbling, thanks to the still on mittens! Hurriedly, I took them off and skimmed through the inbox.

In that moment, I realised how my excitement to try something new at baking, parallels the thrill of trying something new at my brand marketing day job. Some recent instances include:

  • How to crack the code for making presentations with business updates fun and memorable? We made rap songs capturing key points versus dry PPTs.
  • How do we get our audience to sit up and really enjoy watching customer testimonial videos? We decided to explore featuring customers beyond the clean, office-setup. It could even be a small store stocking vintage curio in the dusty bylanes of Chickpet.
  • How do we break the monotony of engagements to be planned for the company’s customers? We planned to go beyond webinars and ballroom events and take the fun to a daylong hike that evokes more personal interactions.

The comparison of my two roles may seem confusing at the first glance. However, as I train myself to experiment with home-baked goods for unique market demands, I also feel motivated to explore fresh content formats for my company in an already saturated market.

Umpiring through tough business problems. 

I recently discovered the profile of Rahul Misra, Executive Director at Morgan Stanley who takes off every summer to umpire Wimbledon matches. Regarding this dual role, his profile says, “If you can concentrate on every ball hit in a high-pressure tennis match on the Wimbledon Centre Court, the stamina helps in focussing to solve a work problem as well.”

Jayati Singh, Chief Marketing Officer at Tally Solutions, who’s also a theatre artist, corroborated the observations of Misra through her own learnings from onstage experience in a proscenium and her marketing leadership role. She shared how theatre teaches her about last mile improvisation.

Describing an anecdote from her last experience, Jayati said, “our last play had a lot of set movement—there were three different setups. While all of it was planned, once you’re on the stage, there are times when a prop may take longer [to be brought to the stage] … You don’t leave it then because someone else was supposed to do it. You knew that the scene needed it, so just step up and support the person responsible.”

This experience made her introspect into how one is always working on cues from other people in both theatre and her office team. It’s the spontaneous execution by her teammates to fill in last minute gaps that have significantly contributed to making office events successful.

Unexpected epiphanies in unusual places. 

I spend my Saturday mornings silently reading at Bangalore’s Cubbon Park as the co-founder and co-curator of Cubbon Reads. Once while shooting a video reel there, it occurred to me out of the blue about how I could pursue an email series about a financial services product at my company using a relatable character’s profile. Using that plot device has helped me break the existing template of product-based emailers. Some initial feedback from customers has been positive.

Rohit Srivastav, co-founder of s11s and SaaS marketing expert, echoes this thought about how restricting ourselves to vertical knowledge ensures we end up having similar ideas, “A eureka moment happens when you’re least concerned about something.” Goes without saying that while such discourse is not unique to present times, its increasing acknowledgement is indeed encouraging.

Meeting eye to eye. 

Clearly, it’s not possible to compartmentalise one role from another when someone has creative pursuits—and the cross pollination between them has benefits. So, must employees reveal to their employers about those alternate identities and pursuits? Everyone I spoke to regarding this responded with an, “Of course, yes”.

If that’s established, the more important question to ask is how can employers create a safe space for their employees to build creative pursuits, especially when the talk of moonlighting incidents is in vogue?

Srivastav shares, “It can be ensured through psychological safety and enabling that through action. Give people time, enable them to attend workshops, compensate for the extra things they’re learning, not just at their jobs but for overall learning.”

A friend, Akshita Jain, who’s a Consultant at Ipsos Research and an artist shared with me about how her manager’s support and pride towards her double hat make all the difference. She adds, “That sentiment and that emotion makes me open to give extra to the company. Now I will not be resentful about working that half an hour extra... I happily take these opportunities.” Upon learning that she has professionally painted murals at other offices, she was invited by her top office management to make a canvas in her office too!

A sweet morning rise

It is no doubt that in anything we do, personally inclined interests are inevitable to wake up with an earnest mind. If you have been sitting on the edge about a creative venture you want to pursue, why not start it with an early morning or a late evening hour? Go, make that Instagram page with Canva templates, if needed.

As for my cake that was baking in the oven, after a patient wait of thirty-five minutes, the sweet, vanilla aroma of the sugar-free and gluten-free red velvet wafted through the house. Of course, I made good use of the sunny morning light to take and upload pictures on my bakery page, which earned me two orders for it in the next hour.


Work-life conversations that question the status quo.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Work-life conversations that question the status quo.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Continue reading