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Embracing Your Side Passions with Gusto | A Conversation with Kevin Gordon

Kevin Gordon smiling at the sun.

If you’re like many Idealists, in addition to being passionate about developing your career in the social impact space, you probably have a side passion (or two). What’s it like to have a “typical” day job yet also carve out a hefty chunk of time for an outside passion that you truly live for?

Kevin Gordon, the director of the Shine On web series, explores that very question. Delving into the two very robust aspects of the lives of each of his subjects, the series not only explores their deep commitments and the “why”s behind them, but urges viewers to join a movement towards a richer, more engaged life.

Kevin is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has produced projects for PBS, Discovery, and The New York Times. His first feature-length film, True Son, premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and was acquired by Fusion TV. During my conversation with Kevin, I learned more about his first foray into the world of web series:

I'm excited to speak with you today, Kevin! As I'm sure you know, many Idealist Careers readers are no strangers to having a side passion.

What was the inspiration for the Shine On documentary series?

The short version is that I finished a feature film last year and was looking for a new project. I was looking through my list of ideas and found a recurring theme - people with jobs who have serious passions on the side. As I did more research, I found that there is an important story there. Too many of us don’t make enough time for side passions, but research shows that there is tremendous value in having them. They boost your happiness, feed your creativity, recharge your body and mind, and ultimately serve you by living a more balanced life.

An ad for the Shine On Series.

How did you get interested in filmmaking?

My background is in nonprofit work, actually. I worked in human rights abroad and then in the US as a criminal defense investigator at a nonprofit law firm. I was planning on going to law school but then became disillusioned with law as an instrument for social change and started to explore other avenues for change.

I felt like I wanted to try something more creative, but wasn’t sure what. While working for a human rights group a few years before, I had said to them, “you guys need to make a movie about your case, so people can know about the work that you’re doing.” And they said “that’s a great idea but we don’t have the money for it, but if you want to make a movie, go ahead with it.” So I did. I had been on such a strict legal path that I had considered it a one-off experience. It was only later that I realized there might be something there that was calling me.

What was your first exposure to filmmaking as a personal pursuit? As a career?

I always loved photography and got my first toy camera when I was eight years old. I always loved the power of the image and how the search for the image can take you on adventures. I always thought of it as a hobby though and not as a career.

What have you learned from the individuals you’ve featured in the series?

To have a full-blown career and a side passion requires a lot of time and in some cases a lot of money, if you’re committed to it as much as they are. So in my interviews, I framed the question as “what are the sacrifices you’ve made to participate in this?”[pullquote] But they don’t see it as a sacrifice- they love what they are doing. Even if it takes up all their free time.[/pullquote] They don’t have a “social life” outside of this thing, but their social lives are centered around this thing.

Another interesting thing- I’ve also kind of imagined that people with side passions would have a job that they’re not that excited about, but in reality, they are excited about both.

So you would say they are generally passionate people, whatever the topic.


How do you like to spend your own free time? If someone was to do a Shine On feature on you, what would you want them to focus on?

In the past, my outside passions were improv, photography, and salsa dancing. These days it’s backpacking. Really, what drew me to the series is that I don’t have an all-consuming passion right now. Through working on the series, I’ve been inspired to start up improv again.

So I see you’re casting for future episodes. What do you look for in a casting call?

Basically, stories of people with careers and an outside passion that is completely unrelated but that they are truly passionate about and that they LIVE for.

The key thing is the WHY- why they do this, and what it is about this passion that they can’t get at work. The hope is that the “why” will create an interesting backstory for the each episode.

The only other criteria is that the side passion is visually interesting. We are pretty agnostic as to what the side activity is. 

Editor’s Note: amateur car racing and roller derby are the passions featured in the first and second episodes, respectively.

How do you decide which people/side passions to feature?

We are looking for a diverse range of people and stories. We want to feature all types of people in the series. At the end of the day, it’s just a gut feeling of which story has the x-factor that attracts you to it.

How can Idealist Careers readers with side passions get involved?

To be considered, complete our casting call form. The deadline for applying is March 20th. If your story seems like a good match, we will reach out in the weeks ahead with follow-up questions and ultimately a phone interview.

What would you say to someone who is struggling to find their way, career-wise?

You don’t need to put so much pressure on yourself to have it all in that one job. It’s going to be very challenging, almost impossible to serve all parts of you in your job. Know that the parts of you that are not reflected in the job can be served in an outside passion.

Also, don’t get so stressed on the search for the job that you ignore your passions, because sometimes those outside interests can lead to a career.

What are three challenges people encounter when pursuing their side passions?

  1. Time- it’s a challenge to have a 9 to 5 job and an outside passion you’re committed to. It means cutting many other things out of your life if you’re going to go straight from work to what you’re excited about.
  2.  Money- this can be an issue depending on the activity. You need to budget for your passion in order for it to work in your life.
  3. Haters- this refers to someone in your life who does not get why you love this thing and they are giving you a hard time about it.

What are three tips for people who want to embrace their passions in their free time?

  1. Just explore and try out new things with no expectations. Don’t go out on a search for your passions. Try something out and if you like it, you’ll go deeper.
  2. Make time for those explorations.
  3. Remind yourself that studies have shown that having these outside passions ultimately make you better at work as well.

Thank you for speaking with us today, Kevin!

By Victoria Crispo

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