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The M Dash

Live with purpose.

Can You Have a Day Job and Still Pursue Your Passion?

Plus, contribute to M.M.’s time capsule, and we’ll follow up in one year with reflections on what has (and hasn’t) changed.

By Sarah LaFleur

There’s this trend I’ve been thinking about, and I call it the “yoga teacher phenomenon.” It’s where successful, high-achieving women in their mid-30s to early-40s say, “Life as I know it has become unmanageable,” or, “I’m no longer fulfilled by my career” and feel compelled by a desire to blow up their professional lives. They wonder, “Should I just quit everything and go become a yoga teacher? Or move to a sheep farm and raise animals?” It’s a desire to make a swift and dramatic exit from professional America in search of something more creatively and spiritually fulfilling. (It also often entails a lifestyle you might find on Instagram.) 

Rightly or wrongly, I hear this desire significantly more among my female friends than my male ones. It may be because of the immense societal pressures and care-giving responsibilities women shoulder, or because it isn’t socially accepted for men to be anything other than the breadwinner of the family. Either way, I’m troubled by the fact that the only way many of my female peers feel they can create change in their professional lives is by lighting a torch to the careers they’ve spent years—decades, even—building. There has to be another way.

That’s why I’m so inspired by Stephanie Hodges and Stacey Gillett, who, in 2021, founded Once Upon Our Time Capsule, aimed at amplifying the stories and experiences of children across America. (Stephanie, or Steffi, as she’s known to her friends, is one of my college roommates and closest confidantes.) They first launched the project in Chicago at the height of the pandemic to help kids process and share all they were navigating. The gist: Kids contribute their story to a community Time Capsule, allowing them to document their experiences—and then use those stories to process their feelings, connect with other kids through storytelling, and, ultimately, preserve their stories for posterity.

But Stephanie (who works in tech) and Stacey (who works in philanthropy) didn’t quit their jobs to work on Once Upon Our Time Capsule. Instead, they see it as supplementary to their full-time positions, allowing them to exercise different parts of their brains and develop skill sets outside of their day jobs. Rather than saying, “I’m going to quit my job entirely and do Plan B,” they said, “I’m going to keep doing my job, which provides me financial stability and intellectual stimulation, and I’m going to do Plan B, which fulfills me creatively and spiritually.” Both are the moms of three young kids. 

Below, read our conversation about what it was like to develop a side project during the pandemic, how this project complements their full-time careers, and why they landed on the idea of time capsules. Plus, inspired by Once Upon Our Time Capsule, we’ve created our very own M.M. time capsule. Submit a reflection here, and we’ll re-share the responses (anonymously) in one year for a reflection on what has and hasn’t changed.

On keeping their day jobs and starting a side project.


In some ways, it didn’t matter what job I was at or how fulfilling it was—I was always going to want to do something more. I think the pandemic has put so many high-achieving women into “yoga teacher mode.” Everyone we know is making some major life changes that, in some ways, they always knew they wanted to. We’ve seen that with so many people who are moving into new places, taking new jobs, or leaving their jobs. It’s been a disruptive time, but it’s also been a moment where people are realizing, “Oh, I don’t have all the time in the world to do the things I want to be doing.”

In my role at my company, I spend most of my days thinking about things at the macro level: How do we show up for communities? How do we help governments and civic institutions leverage our platform for good? My role is global in scope, so it’s complex and exciting—but when the pandemic hit, I felt in my bones that I needed to do something for the community right outside my door.

I haven’t felt a need to choose between Once Upon Our Time Capsule and my job, because they don’t compete with each other at all. They each use different parts of my brain and my energy. They both are incredibly rewarding.


I love the work that I do, and I know it is valuable. I feel like I’m helping to solve this weighty, complex problem of how to make government work better for the people. I was able to contribute to really important work in those early days of the pandemic as governments were trying to figure out how to navigate all of the complexity.

At the same time, I was feeling like my world had gotten so much smaller, because we were suddenly at home all the time. We had so few opportunities to interact with people outside of our close circles, and I really missed meeting and talking with people with different experiences, perspectives, and interests. Launching Once Upon Our Time Capsule rallied the whole city behind kids—bringing together leaders in the arts, education, mental health, and more—and my world expanded tenfold.

Want to help kids across America tell their stories? Reach out to to learn how you can get involved or donate here.

On starting a time capsule for kids.


Both through my own kids and through a friend of mine who’s a public school teacher, I got curious. What are kids experiencing during this time? What’s their story? Covid was such a disruptive time for us, and I knew it must be even more disruptive for kids whose parents work in healthcare, or whose parents were now unemployed, or who were in foster care. I felt like we weren’t hearing from kids, because there was no platform to understand what was happening with them.

I had started a book club when I moved to Chicago, and Stacey joined around a year and a half ago through a friend of a friend. We first met over Zoom, but I could sense right away that she was someone who would be equally excited about doing something big (and a bit out-there) to help kids during these fast-changing times.


I was a little bit of a crazy person at the start of the pandemic. I didn’t want to be scrolling on my phone reading news every night, so I was trying to find a way to occupy my brain. That turned into my planning these “trips” for my family every weekend during lockdown. All from home, we went to different countries around the world, to space, to the Jurassic period, and to the Wild West. Each trip entailed a full weekend of getting takeout from different local restaurants and doing activities that represent those places and times. For example, when we visited the Jurassic period, we went to a local butcher, picked up a bunch of really big ribs for dinner, and called them “dinosaur ribs.” Then, we got 80 cardboard boxes from the grocery store, painted them green, and built a massive dinosaur in our backyard.

All that time, I was looking for an outlet. A few months into the pandemic, Stephanie reached out to me, and lo and behold, the Time Capsule took the place of that outlet. I liked the idea of doing something fun and meaningful, not just for my kids, but for other kids.

I wanted to find a way to help more kids across the city process and share what they were going through.

On the importance of storytelling.


One reason we homed in on the time capsule idea came from conversations we had with pediatric psychologists, who explained how important it is for kids to recognize that they have navigated through a lot of change and complexity. They need to have the awareness and the vocabulary to say, “I made it through something hard,” because inevitably, they will experience hard things down the line. Developmentally, this allows them to say, “I’ve been through hard things before, and I made it through okay.” We try to weave that kind of storyline into many of the resources we put out.


Time capsules are about creating something long-lasting for others to experience. It’s so cool to think about a future kid finding something you left behind and learning about you, and it sort of allows you to think about your experience in an objective way. You have to ask yourself, “What do I want someone to uncover about me? What do I want to share about myself?” In some ways, a time capsule is just a vehicle to tell—and own—your story, whether you’re sharing it for someone in the future to find, or for someone to hear today. And, let’s be honest, time capsules are just cool no matter how old you are.

On why their side project makes them better at their day jobs.


I love building things. I feel incredibly motivated and excited about the opportunity to continue to build things that bring communities together in new ways. The Time Capsule has reiterated my desire to do more of this type of work in my day job, and then at some point, those things might converge more. Working on the Time Capsule has also helped me do my job more efficiently and given me more appreciation for my job than ever, because the structure and financial stability it creates allow me to do this side project.


I’ve found that the busier and more energized you are, the more you actually get done. There’s no slog to it. I never thought of myself as entrepreneurial. I always thought of myself as a big company person, someone who builds things within an existing infrastructure. This project has changed my perspective of myself in terms of what is possible and what I enjoy.

On advice for others looking to start a side project.


My advice would be to listen to yourself, to understand what interests you, and to start small. Just start sketching things out. Putting something on paper is not rocket science, but it really does help. It forces action, it turns something abstract into something tactical, and it allows you to share your ideas with others.


People always say, “Do what makes you happy.” And usually, that’s not helpful advice. But something clicked in my brain recently, and I started thinking about it as, “What are the things I enjoy and that make me happy, and how do I intentionally build them into my life?” It doesn’t all need to come from one thing. Your paid job doesn’t have to fulfill all parts of you. It’s more like a puzzle: I like the scale and value of the work that I’m doing in my job, I like the creativity and constant problem-solving that I get from the Time Capsule, and my kids bring me joy. Also, your hobby doesn’t have to be separate from your kids, and the Time Capsule has been an example of that. 90% of the time, my kids aren’t involved, but sometimes they are, and I think that is also going to be a really powerful memory and experience for them, which is also motivating.

Inspired by Once Upon Our Time Capsule, we’ve created our very own M.M. time capsule. Submit a reflection here, and we’ll re-share the responses (anonymously) in one year for a reflection on what has and hasn’t changed.

Written By

Sarah LaFleur

Sarah LaFleur is the founder and CEO of professional womenswear brand MM.LaFleur . Her mission: to take the work out of dressing for work.

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