Why You Need a Side Hustle
Finding a job in the current market is no easy task — and it's often hindered by limited education and experience, particularly for recent grads or job seekers in the midst of a career shift.
Four-year universities often train students to focus on one — or at most two— paths, and once you start developing skills in a career, it's easy to start to feel stuck. Suddenly, you find yourself several years down the road and heading down a path with seemingly no return. How can you avoid getting stuck in an industry silo? Enter: the side hustle.
Side hustles come in many shapes and sizes, varying from mere hobbies to very profitable companies. The idea is simple: When you have some free time, take on a new task. Then evolve the idea and iterate.
Maybe this means taking a class, or perhaps it’s as simple as reading a book on the subject. Where you end up may be surprising.
Side gigs offer exposure to new experiences
Jonny Goldstein, a freelance visual communications specialist, knows that taking a class in a subject that interests you can pay off in the long run.
"Back in the late '90s, I took a video editing class. From that, I made a few animations and showed them to a video art collective, and before I knew it I was tagging along with them, projecting my visuals live in front of tens of thousands of fans at concerts and music festivals — and getting paid to do so. That never would have happened if I hadn't taken that one class," says Goldstein.
Side hustles often lead to accidental discoveries of new interests, which stem from exploring a novel experience without a planned outcome. Rather than focusing only on the skills that support your current career, the side hustle’s premise recognizes that the thing you do for money and the thing that drives you don’t always coalesce — and that’s okay. Starting a new side hustle is like engaging in an extracurricular activity in school — just because it’s on the side doesn’t mean that it can’t be fruitful (or make money).
Test your boundaries by exploring new avenues
Jennifer Shaw is the organiser of New York Tech Women — a meet-up that began as a side hustle and a welcome break from her job as a corporate data analyst. Recently, Shaw left her job to found her own company, Bella Minds, a business that helps rural women get involved with tech. Shaw crowdfunded $28,000 to get the business off the ground.
"Diversity is king. While it's critical to become an expert in your field, having a side hustle often affords us the luxury to test our personal boundaries, always pushing our expert levels," says Shaw. "Additional benefits include a forced focus and a better understanding of your priorities. I believe this inward view is [the longest lasting form] of learning."
Anyone can have a side hustle
You don’t have to be a freelancer or an entrepreneur to take advantage of side hustling. Mike Caprio is a software engineer who’s worked at several large tech companies in New York City, and he attributes much of his success to hackathons.
"As a software engineer, I always need to improve my skills and learn new tech in order to maintain my marketability for future jobs. Working on a project with strangers in a pressure cooker is a great way to network and really get to know people," says Caprio. "Hackathons are a chance for me to find future co-workers or collaborators, and to rapidly learn from peers."
In 2011, Mike set aside his career for a chance to compete in the StartupBus competition, a three-day bus trip where riders are encouraged to build tech products on a bus on the way to SXSW. Through his connections on the bus, he’s been able to land several mid-level engineering positions within large tech companies in New York City.
BONUS: Resources for getting started
Whether you plan on founding your own company, going the freelance route or simply moving up within your industry, starting a side hustle is a great way to diversify your skill set, meet others and discover hidden talents. Below are a few resources that may help get you started.
By Nate Cooper is founder of Simple Labs, a entrepreneurial and technology training company. He is the author of a comic book about how to build websites.
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