Many of us have held a second job at some point in our careers. While you may think that working a side hustle signals you’re having a hard time making ends meet, I believe just the opposite: the gig on the side can be the place to meet all kinds of positive ends, especially when you’re young and not too caught up in family responsibilities and upper-level career demands.
A side job can let you pursue a private dream, take a mental breather, build up a war chest, get used to juggling priorities, learn skills that actually help you in your primary job, or take risks that aren’t possible in your full-time job. And if the side hustle starts pulling to the center, you might realize that Plan B was Plan A all along.
Do it for the leadership opportunity
Volunteering for a nonprofit whose mission you really care about can add fulfillment and purpose to your life—and it can also be an opportunity to grow as a leader. Volunteering your skills, joining a committee, or serving on a nonprofit board will raise your profile within the community, enable you to meet passionate people outside your industry or typical sphere of influence, and help you gain leadership skills that are transferable to your professional endeavors.
Whether it’s related to your career (let’s say you’re in financial services and decide to serve as treasurer on the board of a local arts league) or not (you love animals and want to take the lead on a campaign to find adoptive homes for rescued dogs), put your passion to work for a worthy cause, and the personal and professional benefits will follow in abundance.
Bonus tip: Keep your fellow volunteers in your network for years to come. This is key to building a broad and diverse network full of good social capital!
Do it to safely test a new venture
Quitting your job and forgoing the security of a steady income to start a company is a scary proposition—but burning the midnight oil to write and execute on a business plan is a less risky way to scratch that entrepreneurial itch.
I know so many women who started businesses on the side—often because they discovered a missed market opportunity after starting a family. Kim Gross worked at McCormick when she had her first child. Disappointed in the lack of developmentally appropriate footwear on the market, she started a children’s shoe company in her basement. Eventually she left McCormick to run the business, Rileyroos.
I believe that in the right context and with the right idea, anyone can be a successful entrepreneur—experimenting with your ideas while staying gainfully employed not only hedges the risk, but gives you the time to get it right. And sometimes your side business can live alongside your day job indefinitely—when Wordsmithie senior editor Alex Kenin discovered there was no single place to find information about hiking trails in San Francisco, she started an urban hiking business. Urban Hiker SF provides Alex with fulfillment and extra income–it’s what she does on the weekends, and she still has her day job.
Here’s another way your start-up business can co-exist with your income-earning job: Tess Brooks and Rachel Hanebutt used their time in graduate school to start Confi, an online community that provides advice on sex, relationships, and mental health to young women. Rachel graduated with an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Tess received her MBA from the Harvard Business School. Here’s the thing: two years after graduating, they are still working their day jobs, and negotiated flexible schedules that allow them to pursue Confi on the side. And it’s still able to grow—they adapted their business model to provide customized sexual assault prevention programs for colleges. They know that the path to financial sustainability through Confi is a long one, and are gaining research expertise and building a business intentionally.
You may find that your “passion” isn’t really where you want to go with your career. Stanford researchers found that following your passion above all else actually narrowed focus and limited other options.
Bonus tip: Blogging or chronicling your new venture in some way adds to your online footprint and personal brand, highlighting your passion and opening you up to new, serendipitous partnerships. So don’t hide your side hustle—share it with the world via Instagram, YouTube, or a website. Just let your boss know so there are no surprises.
Do it to gain tangential experience and knowledge
You may absolutely love what you do and plan to have a long and progressive career within your field. But ask yourself, “How am I making myself an expert?” Are there information silos you can bridge, or up- or downstream processes that would be important to understand if you intend to have a significant impact within the industry? How might a side hustle help you realize those goals?
Say you do B2B sales for a fabrics manufacturer. You may choose to do seasonal work for a retailer like Nordstrom that sells directly to consumers. You are likely to learn something insightful about end users. No matter what you do, the tangential skills, expanded contact list, and industry understanding you’ll gain will help you connect dots and think more strategically.
Do it for the money
Sometimes the side hustle is all about getting out of debt, or saving money for graduate school or a potentially life-changing travel plan. When I was in my early thirties and working at The University of Texas McCombs School of Business, I took a side job reading fourth grade essays for Pearson, the education company administering standardized tests for the state of Texas. It was a three-month gig, every night from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and I did it for two years. Every dollar I made went to pay off my graduate school loans, and that allowed me to save money for a house. Was it exhausting, and did it cut into my social life? For sure! But it was a relatively modest sacrifice for the long-term financial security that I gained.
Bonus Tip: Write down your long- and short-term goals on a sheet of paper. Look through them: are there any that you are willing to give up? What else can you cut out in order to reach your goals? Figure out which goals are absolute “non negotiables,” and then figure out how you’re going to pay for them. Once you know this, you’ll be able to stay focused, manage your time, and save the money to make your dreams happen.
Whether you’re aiming to climb the corporate ladder, switch to a new industry, make some extra money, or start your own company, a smart and strategic side hustle may be the perfect ladder to help reach your goals. The key to getting the most out of a side gig is to carefully consider your short- and long-term goals, and be realistic about your timeline—and your time!