Lessons From Balancing Life With a Side-Hustle

Finding your sweet spot

Early in my career I was in a position that may sound familiar: I was going to work every day but didn’t necessarily have a clear idea of what I wanted my career to be, or how to get there.

Although I had a degree in mathematics, I had always felt a tug toward the creative side. I was working in the software industry but wanted to have a deeper impact on product experience and how software could benefit people. I suspected there was a possibility of bringing the insights of the artistic imagination into the workplace.

It took a while, but today I have reconciled all those seemingly conflicting forces. Along the way, I found a life-changing revelation: You don’t need to choose between your day job and your passion. Whether you’re being a mom, hiking a mountain trail, creating a new piece for an art festival or building the next generation of productivity software, your experiences will inform and complement one another if you let them.

Getting there is a process of learning to listen to yourself, asking for what you want and getting over that pervasive fear of rejection. Here are some thoughts on finding that sweet spot and bringing a little Zen to your work-life balance:

There is no “right track”

We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves by judging where we are relative to our vision of where we ought to be. When I was younger, I felt a lot of tension from that.

As I’ve matured in my career, I’ve learned to chill out more. Satisfaction in your work is more about whether you’re enjoying what you’re doing, experiencing continual growth and using your skills to contribute in a meaningful way. It’s not a track — it’s more maintaining a level of fulfillment and being honest with yourself.

Wherever you are, be there

I’m not always successful at this, but whether I’m in a meeting at Microsoft, in my studio working on an art project or playing with my kids, I try to be fully there. Attention is such a valuable resource. When you commit to being fully present, you just get more out of everything . You experience and appreciate the world differently when you approach it with mindfulness.

Make the time and just do it

It’s simple physics. Accomplishing anything in life takes time and work. But it’s also philosophy: To get anywhere, you must take the first step. In the creative space, it’s a long arc from tinkering to mastery.

For me, it’s a process of carving out the time to create, every single day, even on those days when I don’t feel like it.

And that first step is not always a big leap. It’s usually something smaller, like making sure your camera is ready and available to shoot video when the snow starts falling.

Invite rejection so you can get over it

Failure is painful, and so most people largely don’t risk it. In art, you don’t have that choice. If you want your work to be seen, you must be open about sharing it.

And you will be rejected.

But a funny thing happens when you put yourself out there: You begin to use rejection as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s not such a big deal, and you become more resilient.

Let your influences impact you in different ways

Art and software don’t seem complementary, but my side gig as an artist has helped infuse my work in technology with a human element and design aesthetic it would have lacked otherwise.

Meanwhile, working at Microsoft has given me the rhythm and structure to be systematic in my artwork, because even art that pushes boundaries and rules requires planning and forethought.

Last year I took a sabbatical, during which I produced several videos that were accepted into film festivals and art galleries. This was possible because of my experience in a high-velocity environment at Microsoft. Working in tech, I have learned a thing or two about time management.

Bring joy to your work

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to start a new product effort around team collaboration. Microsoft Teams is a chat-based workspace in Office 365. In my role as UX architect, I work on building cohesive user experiences, incubation of new concepts, product strategy, and nurturing innovation into the collaboration experience.

During the development stages of Microsoft Teams, I pushed hard to ditch the muted, neutral aesthetic of typical enterprise software and to instead bring colors and personality in to make the product more visually engaging and interesting to work with.

We’ve also tried to make the experience of Teams more human. People want to be themselves. Our approach with Teams — threaded conversations, open collaboration on documents, the casual nature of chat — gives the more introverted or junior-level team members a platform to speak on so everyone is heard.

Having a more open, transparent and flexible culture of collaboration removes some of the fear of failure. Employees feel safer to take risks and share ideas. Everyone is given a voice.

Ultimately that kind of environment is not only more fun for everyone, it’s more productive too.

Embrace the differences

Today the workplace is undergoing a cultural shift. Employees are no longer necessarily in the same office, let alone the same time zone. They may speak different languages, and with the rapid evolution of technology and its effect on social norms, the cultural divide between generations within the office has widened. Young professionals are struggling to feel like they’re making an impact and reaching their potential.

This variety can be confusing, but it’s also a good thing. Research, and my experience, shows that more diverse, dynamic teams are also more productive and creative.

The reality is, we need each other for our differences. I believe that corporations need the power and insights of creative individuals to weave soul and humanness into form and matter.

Just as the contrasts in your own life can serve as a compass to help you find where you want to go, the different perspectives on your team can help the organization find the right balance to get the job done.


Mira Lane: Artist, printmaker, math geek and Partner UX Architect for Microsoft Teams. I believe that corporations need the power and insights of creative individuals in order to weave soul and humanness into form and matter.

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