The work you take on can define you—it’s what you practice, what you get recognized for, and what you’ll be hired to do next.

I recently had a nice sum up the year chat with Frank Chimero. We talked about important things like tacos, paying bills, and how what we work on affects not only our bank accounts, but our careers and lives in general. I like to think about projects the same way I think about calories—they’re good for you unless you have too many, or they come in unhealthy packages, so you better make them count.

So what constitutes a healthy, well-rounded project? For me at least, it’s a few things. Rarely does every project max out every category. Hell, I’ve even been in positions where I’ve decided to take projects that fit only one.  Nevertheless, I always hope incoming work fits into many, if not all, of the following:

Graphic inspired by the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Less Like Rules, More Like Guidelines

Even with my needs/wants in order, I can still find good reasons to work on projects that only fit a few criteria. Passion & belief in a cause is easily a sufficiently motivating factor, as are bills that need to be paid. The way I see it—if you’re into it, do it. Just be sure the next gig offsets the previous one’s deficiencies. Do 10 consecutive jobs solely for the paycheck, and you very well may find yourself out of whack. After all, if you eat nothing but carrots, you’ll have amazing vision, but you’ll probably turn orange and feel like shit.

Considering Long-Term Effects

Eat one meal, then another, and over time that stuff becomes who we are. It’s used to heal skinned knees, grow fingernails, and rebuild tired muscles. I find that thinking of work in a similar fashion can be used to one’s advantage. When a job is done, we’re left with experience, new skills, and a sharpened perception. Do work that you enjoy so you can be good at what you love. Frank summed that up nicely by saying:

“Daft Punk got to record the Tron soundtrack because they’d already recorded the Tron soundtrack.”

If I want to get hired to do something, I should already be doing it. People can’t always see potential energy. Instead of allowing a current job description to stand in the way, turn off the Scrubs re-runs and start a side-project. Draw a picture, code a site, or write something and share it with the internet.

28,616 Breakfasts

Based on the estimated life expectancy, that’s how many morning meals the average US citizen has to look forward to. Initially, that sounded like a lot to me, but the more I think about it the more I’m inclined to make those meals great. How many projects do we have to look forward to? Can a well-balanced work life add to that number? I hope so, but even if it doesn’t, why not do everything you can to make that work count.