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It's a Side Project, Not a Side Hustle

side projects not side hustles

They're Projects, Not Hustles

Recently I’ve been hearing more buzz and conversations around side gigs or “side hustles.” Personally, I hate the term “side hustle,” and I don’t particularly like “side gig” either.

Side projects or just projects would be better.

As the economy (and world) changes, the way we work will also change. The way companies hire is myopic and transactional. It’s nearly impossible to pivot your career at any point if you feel it’s not going down the path you’d like.

Networking, Not Applying

Especially if you don’t know anyone working at one of your target companies – at least someone in an influential role. If you’re applying to positions and not going a more personal or networked route, you’re going to be spinning your wheels.

Ultimately, it’s going to take relationships and doing the work you seek to do in your new career to make a pivot work. You can’t have one without the other.

That’s why I think side projects are so important. Even if you aren’t looking to change careers or companies, exploring new disciplines can be beneficial. Not only will it get you out of your comfort zone, stretching your learning capabilities, but it can also allow you to see your current work through a different lens.

My Story

Several years ago, I had decided to go back to school and get an MBA. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew that my Environmental Science degree wasn’t opening the doors I had expected and working closely with the government was become frustrating.

I knew I needed to learn more about business and thought an MBA would be a great way to gain exposure to everything.

As I progressed through the graduate program at The University of Colorado at Denver, I began to find myself gravitating toward marketing. My cousin had also recently left her role on the Google AdWords team (now Google Ads) and started her own digital marketing agency in Indianapolis.

The combination of marketing classes, combined with conversations with her about the industry, stoked an interest in marketing.

However, like many people, my career got off track again. This time, it was with good intentions. I had taken an internship with a boutique recruitment agency in Denver to help them build a marketing plan. Their business began to pick up for them, and they found themselves short-staffed with recruiters and asked if I could help out.

I said sure, thinking it would be temporary until they could hire someone else. I made a few hires, and they asked if I’d like to keep doing it and make more money in the process.

Since I was a grad student with no other job, the prospect of making some money seemed good. I thought I’ll just do this until I graduate, then make my transition into marketing.

As many people have experienced themselves, once you start down a path, it’s tough to make a move into something different. I had just earned an MBA focused on marketing, and it still proved difficult. My sense of loyalty toward the company I was now working for was also a factor.

Five years into recruiting (and three years after getting my MBA), I decided I needed to take things into my own hands. The only way I saw out of recruiting was to do whatever I could to get digital marketing experience in my free time.

So that’s what I did. I spent countless evenings, weekends, and early mornings – for nearly five years – soaking up everything I could about digital marketing. Acting as if I knew what I was doing. I spun up a company I called RainierDigital so I could legitimately tell friends and people I would meet that I ran a digital marketing consulting company.

It worked. I began receiving referrals from them. These prospective clients would explain to me the problem or problems they needed to solve, and I would tell them I could solve those problems.

Most of the time, I had never solved a similar problem, but there’s a difference in telling someone “I’ve solved that problem before” and the statement of “I can solve that problem.”It didn’t take long before I could then tell people, “I’ve solved that problem before and can help you as well.”

I may not have really known what I was doing, but I loved the challenge and the opportunity to solve problems, learn, and get paid to do it.

Eventually, I was able to quit recruiting and focus 100% of my time on marketing consulting.

My very first client eventually became my employer, and now I’m their Director of Marketing. I still don’t always know what I’m doing, especially since this has been my first management role with direct reports, but I feel like I’ve figured it out, done an excellent job, and I continue to embrace learning.

The Stretching Never Stops

I continue to explore different things, and over the past year have begun writing regularly and producing a podcast- which is how The Winding Road came to be. I’ve also started to do some career coaching through another brand I’ve created called Mauka Career Marketing.

The learning, pivoting and stretching out of our comfort zones never ends. At least, it should never end. The moment it does, your career is then on a path to nowhere.

In closing, side projects are essential to your career (and general enjoyment in life), regardless of if you wish to change careers or want to change your perspectives and stretch your capabilities.

The most important thing to realize, though, is there are no shortcuts. You have to be patient because it will take time to learn something new and become good at it.

You have to learn to enjoy the process more than the outcome. If you can do that, you’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of and where your career will go.


Photo by Octavian Dan on Unsplash