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Yes, you need a side hustle.

Everyone’s talking about the future of work. It’s easy to find headlines about the AI and robots replacing human workers, the rise of the contract worker, the pressures millennial employees are putting on recruiters to think differently about retention, and about the economic and social factors that got us here (one read I love is Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book, The Job). Just about everyone agrees: the context we’re in is ever-changing and we should be prepared for just about anything.

But how? And what does this mean for you? Can you really disruption-proof your career?

One way to build some resilience in the world we work in is to explore new forms of work (the gig economy, freelance, contract work, etc.) As a place to start reading, Diane Mulcahy writes frequently about the benefits of the gig economy and even guides her MBA students to prepare to join the gig economy as part of their career planning.

A key component of your exploration can be the development of a side hustle. I think of side hustles as a type of work you do outside of your primary work to build out your professional portfolio. Ideally, it’s work that generates income or something else of value to you, although I know plenty of people for whom a side hustle started as a volunteer service before it became paid. Hopefully, the side hustle is also something that helps you learn new things and is something that you truly enjoy.

You may love your current full-time job, you may be considering a pivot, or you may be desperate to make a change. In any of these cases, I think a side hustle can help. Here’s why:

  • Side hustles provide a chance to flex work muscles that aren’t used during your day job. It’s difficult for a single role to meet all of your needs over the full course of your career. Even in a role that’s mostly satisfying, many of us wish we had the chance to do or learn something that’s doesn’t quite fit in our day job.

I have several clients who are deeply satisfied by teaching, but don’t have the opportunity to do so at their primary jobs. So, in the evenings and on weekends, they find ways to share what they know. Sometimes the teaching is directly tied to their primary profession (an experienced project manager sharing those skills in an adult education program), sometimes it’s quite distinct from their main work (a friend of mine who works in a medical office teaches Spanish–her native language–in the evenings).

  • Side hustles make great experiments. Think you want to make a move from your current field into something that’s really different, but cautious about the unknown? A side hustle can ease the transition by serving as a form of experimentation. Conducting experiments releases some of the pressure of having to make a permanent decision about a career step, with the added benefit of providing feedback in the form of personal career data (what do I enjoy about this new field after all?), allowing you to make more informed decisions along the way.

  • Side hustles contribute to professional wellbeing and resilience during stormy times. My research shows that people who thrive during career disruption are inventive about using side hustles to ease the pain and burdens of a layoff. Several of my clients have been able to turn a skillset or interest into a source of income during periods of un- or under-employment.

When a computer programmer I interviewed starting hearing about potential layoffs at his company, he started blogging about his first love–video games–in the hopes of turning the content into a book, something he’d always toyed with, but never had time for. By the time he’d been laid off, launched a search and found full-time work again, he’d written a full book proposal and was in talks with a publisher. Another friend who is quite senior in a volatile industry with lots of leadership turnover converted her love of design (not at all related to her primary work) into a side hustle buying small vacation properties, redesigning them and renting them out. It provides her a source of joy and creativity, and a financial safety cushion for the professional disruption she anticipates.

Start by borrowing some of the ideas from my clients above… look into teaching and coaching, consider taking a hobby and learning how you can monetize it into some kind of service, or create something new through writing, art or other crafts. While you’re at it, journal and track what you’re learning through the process.

Want to strategize about how you can experiment with a side hustle, or turn your side hustle into your primary work? Reach out.


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