When starting in any discipline, you work with low expectations and even lower stakes—the beginner’s blessing. As you improve, your standards naturally keep pace with your skill and ambition. But success often comes bundled with a newfound audience, and that’s something most people aren’t prepared to handle.

An audience creates expectations. With their support and patronage comes a responsibility that didn’t previously exist. Suddenly, the safe, sheltered sandbox you used to play in has attracted people who you’ll let down if you fail to deliver. This realization can manifest in problematic ways. Weighty expectations, real or perceived, tend to negatively influence our work.

If you’ve ever gone from a relative nobody to gaining even a modicum of traction with a project or business venture, you know the feeling. One moment you’re singing in the shower to a non-judgemental audience of one (you), and the next, you’re singing on stage with the weight of the world on your shoulders. At least, that’s what it feels like once you’ve arrived.

Turning a hobby into a full-time job is sometimes discouraged for this reason. In doing so, you could potentially lose a carefree form of expression. But we also know that pressing onward into uncharted territory can expose us to new and equally fulfilling opportunities. What would this project look like on a grander scale? What could we accomplish as a bigger team? What impact could we have if we reached more people?

When considering these long-term goals, you cannot shy away from the possibility you might burn yourself out. If you plan on going the distance, you need to think hard about how to avoid running your enthusiasm ragged as you toil away against external roadblocks and self-doubt.

One of the few ways I’ve found to address this problem is to reacquaint myself with the feeling of being a beginner. I do this by finding new creative outlets where I can be a complete newbie again—where the stakes are low, where hardly anyone is watching, and where mistakes aren’t punishable and expensive, but encouraged.

Whether this new outlet develops as a hobby or a side project, the important thing is that it allows you to trip over your own feet while nobody is looking. As an added benefit, the rookie mindset that resurfaces when engaging in new side projects can benefit your current career. When you’re not familiar with the status quo, you’re more likely to question it. When you don’t know about best practices, you’re more inclined to try something completely out of left field. You are the fresh eyes you covet when working in your main role.

As a collector of hobbies and side projects, I consider myself fairly well-suited to examine their benefits. Here are the three perks that matter most to me.

They help you relax and recover. Hobbies and side projects generally require you to extend some level of effort. But because they’re unencumbered by the stress of obligation, they can be just as relaxing a release as low-effort lounging. As a form of play, hobbies are, by definition, a “want to do” and not a “have to do.”

They complement your “real” work. As my former colleague Beenish Khan has previously shared, innovative people have a penchant for cross-pollinating their hobbies and day jobs. In freely embracing the urge to explore random interests, hobbyists are more likely to make connections other people—too steeped in a singular field—are prone to miss.

They maintain your self-esteem. When your main role feels like the one and only “thing you’re good at,” every working day becomes a single point of failure. Anyone with respectable standards will come up short from time to time, so entrusting your self-esteem to one outlet is downright dangerous. Hobbies, with their lack of a scorecard or judges, offer you another place to succeed when your primary job has hit a wall.

Of course, you shouldn’t let any of the above discourage you from doing what’s necessary to grow to where you need to be. For every downside of performing on a bigger stage, there is an equal upside. You have to find what level of growth is right for you.

Rather, it’s healthy to step back and realize you can become over-invested and potentially burn out when something you’ve created takes off and bestows the burdens of responsibility. To prevent yourself from becoming yet another contributor to the “what could have been” junk pile, learn to recover by rediscovering the freedom of being a beginner again.

With the rapid pace of technology, have we been able to keep up with the new stimulation that is available?

Some research suggests that certain things we enjoy today would be classified as supernormal stimuli, a term evolutionary biologists use to describe any stimulus that elicits a response stronger than the stimulus for which it evolved—even if it’s artificial.

Before we get into the research, let’s summarize the concept of a supernormal stimulus. The comic below will explain the basics and will take you less than 3 minutes to read.

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In today’s busy world we’ve become a people obsessed with “work hacks” and supposedly hidden secrets on how to be more productive.

Getting more done in less time helps us get ahead, and even gives us more availability to do the things we love outside of work. The problem we run into is that it is easy to get motivated, but hard to stay disciplined.

Most of us look at productivity in the wrong way: task management tools are shiny at first and then go unused. Being chained to your desk is as unhealthy as it is unproductive. Achievement isn’t about doing everything, it’s about doing the right things. Productivity is about saying no.

Focus and consistency are the bread-and-butter of being truly productive. Let’s take a look at the science behind how the brain works in the synthesis state, and what changes you can make for the better.

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15 habits of incredibly happy people

While happiness is defined by the individual, I’ve always felt it foolish to declare that nothing can be learned from observing the happiness of others.

Examining how to be happy is benefited from observing the patterns of others, and then taking only what you find useful. Inspiration is the goal, not rigid rules on being happy.

I’ve gone over dozens of research papers in the pursuit of learning more about the subject — happiness in work and life is a topic to take seriously, so I’m always on the hunt for inspiration and insight.

Below I’ll cover a few of my favorite studies.

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Are you cultivating knowledge or just consuming information?

Quality output demands quality input. Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

Amidst the “sky is falling” debates over how TV and the Internet are making us mindless drones, this is the real issue to keep in mind: we need to be cultivate more than we consume.

It’s an important concept worthy of regular revisiting.

To begin, let’s explore a theatrical look on what is at stake when we don’t take our information diet as seriously as our nutritional diet.

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50 Successful Blogs in Every Topic Imaginable

One misconception that forever bothers me is the belief that blogging doesn’t work unless it’s meta. People don’t believe blogs can be successful unless they are about blogging, marketing, or social media.

What they don’t understand is that it’s only the marketing blogs that publish things like “income reports” and the like. Regular blogs in traditional topics don’t do this, yet they are still out there killing it.

Today I’m going to bring you 50 successful blogs, often built solely through publishing great content + guest blogging, that span a huge variety of topics, to prove once and for all that blogging can be used to build an audience in nearly every topic imaginable.

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Giving the gift of encouragement

Just as important as the work you do is the person you bring to work. Your mood, outlook, and actions echo out to those around you.

One of the best ways to contribute to your surroundings to give the gift of encouragement.

I’ve written before about the dangers of making “Great work!” an expected platitude. Let’s be clear: when everything is great, nothing is. But I believe most of us give (and get) less encouragement than we’d like, in work and life.

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How music affects your productivity

Music has a way of expressing that which cannot be put into words.

It is for this reason (and many more) that music is regarded as one of the triumphs of human creativitybut does music itself help one to create?

Truthfully, this is an important question to examine for anyone, because music has increasingly become apart of the modern-day work session. With so much of our work now being done at computers, music has become an important way to “optimize the boring.”

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Under-appreciated benefits of creative consistency

Consistency doesn’t count for everything, but it sure counts for a whole lot.

With the many landmines out there, ready to derail even the most talented of people, “showing up” regularly offers undeniable benefits. Some of these perks often go overlooked.

For those excited to make progress this year, let’s keep in mind all of the advantages at our disposal when we have an enviable attendance record:

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