For as long as I can remember, each new interest of mine has blossomed into a side hustle. Attending photography camp in 6th grade turned into selling notecards and landscapes at local art festivals around my hometown. Snapping portraits of my friends quickly grew into a booming photography business serving graduating seniors across the Southeast. Journaling turned into a blog. Hopping on the phone with my mentor to advise on growing his digital brand inevitably evolved into a 12-week bespoke coaching program for solopreneurs, educating tech founders on how to build their web and brand strategy from the ground up. I mean you guys... give me free time and inspiration and I just might start a podcast. Hah!
I want to be honest about my experience navigating these hustles, though. At each point along the way, I quite literally never intended on turning these side projects into anything full-time. Maybe, one day. But in the same seasons of working my booty off editing photos, advising my brand coaching clients, and trying to empower the heck out of each of you following along, I was also navigating my young professional experiences, just like you.
Despite my side businesses and passion for writing, I still had to show up and service clients at that summer internship. Even with inbound requests for web design coming in left and right, I had another business to grow and design for first. I've always had friends to connect with, memories to be made, and a new brand to get hype about - but there's also other work to do. And I need you to know that it's hard for me to balance, too.
The following pieces of advice are disciplines and ideas I've genuinely put into practice, tried and failed at, or am learning to implement as we speak. I love my job. I literally love where I work, what I do, and who I do it with. But working on Passages and writing about what I love to write about fires me up in ways I need just as desperately as I need a steady paycheck and a company to call home. The future is wide open and I cannot tell you what to do or how long to keep at it before making a change. But for me, these tips are helping me do both - as best and sustainably as I can.
sweatshirt by Ink Courage
Work on what lights you up.
Let's get this out of the way: do not work yourself to the bone on a side project you do not wake up genuinely amped to keep growing.
You will never see me burning myself out on something I don't love. I understand there's privilege in this; not everyone around the world has the choice to choose. But if you do, my gosh, do not spend copious hours of your free time trying to learn or do something if you do not enjoy learning or doing that thing. The process is the thing. The process of exploring Procreate on your iPad or launching a podcast or learning guitar for the first time is what you will be spending your time on — there is no destination to fully arrive at, and even if there is, there's probably another up ahead. You will not one day wake up to thousands of Instagram followers, millions of dollars in commissioned art, or the lead in Lizzo's back-up band and say "I did it! The end." What journey do you want to take time and space to walk? Does the idea of chugging along in that journey get you just as excited as the initial inspiring vision itself? Then do it with all you got. If it does not, do not.
Set boundaries & separate inboxes.
Huge vulnerable mistake I made throughout college: I would subscribe to a million newsletters, read all the news, and pay attention to all the resources that had to do with my side hustles in the exact same time & space as I needed to be learning and growing in my degree. I was studying software engineering and design but when I checked my inbox and calendar, all I saw were webinars, tips, and tidbits of inspiration to inspire me as a writer and creative entrepreneur. This dilution of distinction between my "9-5" (school) and my side hustle (blog) was so muddy my head hurt. Things really got bad when I started interning.
I loved my internships, don't get me wrong. But I found myself checking the news each morning through the lens of what was interesting to me as a side hustler, not as the intern for my industry. My focus at work suffered as I would spend free time during the day bookmarking new things to read and learn about my hobbies instead of my job. So I altered my habits.
Now, I keep things very separate. From 9am to 5pm (give or take), my inbox, attention, and content absorption is 110% dedicated to my full-time role. I am digesting news about my industry, on-call in case my team needs me, and working to learn about our products and mission full speed ahead. When I log off, or in the morning hours before logging on, I'm in side hustler mode. I switch gears completely, allowing myself to listen to podcasts that have nothing to do with my job and everything to do with how to be a podcaster. I even have two different laptops, email addresses, and Twitter accounts. What's awesome about this shift is now I feel present, grounded, and energized by what I'm learning in each context. At work, I get hype to learn about work. After work, I get hype to learn about everything else. It keeps me focused, and reminds me of my priorities: when work needs me, I'm there.
I have to give credit to the teams I've worked with through the years for being so receptive to the following piece of advice: Do not be afraid to tell your team about what you're doing and why. I get it... I get it. Sometimes, this may not be the best call if you're still navigating early professional experiences, getting your footing, or trying your best to show up with a fresh first impression. But as you inevitably start to develop relationships with work, your network, and your team, don't be shy about telling them how you spend your time and what you're working to grow. I mean, isn't the most interesting thing about the people around you always what they do outside of how you're meeting? When you introduce yourself to new people, it's always: "Tell us a fun fact about yourself" or "Outside of work, I...." Own it, gal pal! Tell the world what you do. And especially: explain why.
I'll never forget, in an interview years back, I was asking the person interviewing me about their goals and how this particular company was enabling them to cultivate that future for themselves. Their answer? They really just wanted to be a dad, and to work for this company gave them the city they wanted to live in, the salary they needed to save, and the growth to get to know themselves and the people around them. Doesn't that make you want to trust and respect that person so much more than if they'd tried to express their wholehearted commitment to working for this company forever and ever and ever? You are human, and it is to your advantage as a creative being to express your humanity through art, exploration, and growth - in and outside of work. You will show up as a better employee if you can be your best self. Do the things you love, tell people at work that you love them, and watch what happens when both aspects of your life grow together.
Don't be afraid to let it go.
If, as you begin to really get going with a project, side business, or general off-topic idea, and you find yourself a) dreading working on that thing or b) drowning in a list of things you can't possible do while maintaining your sanity, I'm going to say something a little unconventional: give up. To give something up is not the same thing as failing at it. In fact, intentionally giving something up strengthens the impact all the other things in your life can now bring to the surface. If you are feeling diluted across the board, stretched to your thinnest, or falling fast into utter exhaustion, my friend, I see you. I think what you're doing is amazing. And also, I think you should stop.
When I was facing my peak levels of anxiety and depression during college, the last thing I needed to do was try to grow a blog or business. My priority was my health, the people around me, my faith, my family, my degree, and re-discovering joy. Did I have time to work on a side hustle when I could barely muster the energy to have dinner with my best friends? No. So, I hit pause. And it was the best thing I could've ever done for my mental and physical wellbeing.
In November of 2019, I was actually knee deep in launching a brand and business with one of my best friends. We'd worked really hard on it - waking up hours before work to meet at Peet's Coffee halfway between our offices to strategize and plan for our launch. We'd reached out to mentors, worked on a website, prepped content and planned the entire future of our business out from the ground up. But Christmas break was approaching, she wasn't feeling fulfilled in her current role at her current company, and I was about to go through a major shift of my own. The clarity and passion wasn't there, and even with free time around the corner, neither of us wanted to spend quality time with our families - who we'd moved thousands of miles away from - on our laptops, building a business we really didn't love as much as we thought we did. So we stopped, cold turkey. No more launch plan, no more content, no more late night Pinteresting or early morning coffees. Did we regret spending all of that time working on something we never even started? Nope. I learned so much, and we grew closer in the process. The idea is still there; now just isn't the time to build it.
Get ahead & move the needle.
Practically speaking, I was able to launch a podcast because I had the time, money, and network to build, prep, record, and schedule five episodes before the podcast even launched. Yep, you heard that right. Episode 5, that launched on Friday? I recorded it almost a month ago, and finished producing it two weeks ago. My most tangible piece of advice for anyone looking to launch or grow a side business or brand alongside your 9-5 is to maximize your free time and work on aspects of your project that move the needle. What I mean by this is do not spend all your time Pinteresting for inspo on your beautiful new brand before actually sitting down and working on the dang thing itself. What is the heart of what you're trying to build? Go do that, and get ahead in doing it. I recorded and produced 3 episodes before I even thought about starting an Instagram account for Passages (@passagespod - lol shameless plug), nevertheless growing and perfecting the brand (which, let's be real, will always be a journey and work in progress. See Tip #1.)
I record and produce each episode weeks in advance to release the pressure of having to keep a podcast going at the same pace as I'm working in my full-time role. Maybe for you this means.... batch designing your art and scheduling Instagram posts to your account on an app like Planoly or Hootsuite? Writing once or twice a month and spacing out your blog posts so each is released one week after the next? Planning your workouts ahead of time, so when it's time to exercise, all you're spending that precious free time doing is actually exercising? I firmly believe - after having sucked at this for so long - that spending time learning about, prepping for, gleaning inspiration around whatever it is you want to be doing is not the same - nor nearly as satisfying - as doing the thing itself. Don't fall into the trap of wasting whatever free time you have doing things that don't grow what you're looking to grow. Get ahead. Move the needle. And watch the stress of keeping up fly far, far away.
Bonus Tip: Find the overlap.
The reason I'm categorizing this as a "bonus tip" is because a) the whole idea of a side hustle, for many, is to spend time doing something that is intentionally, entirely unrelated to your full-time job - as an escape or means of expression outside all the corporate mumbo jumbo and b) often, this is just not realistic right here, right now. But if you are able and have the self-discipline to follow rules 1-5 as listed above: I have found working for a company and industry teaching me skills that go hand-in-hand with my side hustles is really, really fun.
I'm obsessed with marketing and communications, storytelling and brand strategy, social media and digital design. To launch a podcast, blog, or other creative endeavor alongside working in Public Relations, Communications, Marketing, and Digital Strategy has catapulted my interest and expertise in the field - inevitably teaching me skills applicable to both my day-to-day and side hobbies. As I learn how to read, write, and amplify compelling stories within the marketing and advertising industry, I'm also building out podcast and blog content for you - my friends and audience here at Place & Passage. The context and audience are entirely different, but the lessons and best practices in one arena have directly translated to my passions in another. Again, I fully understand if this is just... not possible wherever you are at with your current role and side hustle. But what are the disciplines that you can learn in one space, that you can keep learning, practicing, and applying in another? Is there any overlap? If there is, woo hoo! If not, no worries. Remember, this is a bonus tip. Take it or leave it, my friend.
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The more we can spread empowerment and uplifting education, the more people like you and me will feel seen, known, and understood in their young professional experiences. That's the mission. Can you help me get there?
Hi! I'm Chloe, a twenty-something writer and communications strategist figuring it out as I go along. I love airplanes, oat lattes, and deep chats over cheap wine.
I hope you leave here inspired to explore the world and love its people, or, keep reading all the things. It's good for you!
Follow along: @chloe.belangia