Finding your passion outside work

Last week, I spoke at the University of Queensland Young Alumni Conference on finding your “Side Hustle.”

I remember being asked if I would speak.  Not for the first time, I said “yes” and then furiously googled “Side Hustle” to find out what I’d be talking about.  Moments like these remind me of how out of touch I am with new words and phrases.  Unrecognisable lingo materialises from schools and universities at a dizzying rate.  For that, I rely on my younger sister who is a millennial lexicon.

But the term “Side Hustle” is a gorgeous term that represents what millennials do best with words – take old concepts and give them glamourous new meanings that sound vaguely gang-related.  It’s basically everything you accomplish outside work that isn’t re-heating lasagne and watching The Bachelor in Paradise.  It’s joining mixed netball and learning a language.  It’s organising a conference and playing the violin.  It’s the “good stuff” that your grandparents love to hear about and makes your life richer.

Wait, do I really need a side hustle?

Strictly, no of course not.  Few people in your life are going to pressure you to take up badminton or learn to snowboard (your boss cares about you, but doesn’t really care if you make the Ballina ballroom dance finals or not).  But if you choose not to have any side hustles, you choose to focus solely and squarely on work.  You’ll be remembered as a good lawyer, a great lawyer or some other adjective tucked in front of the noun that defines you and never changes.

And if you’re one of the lucky few of us who adores your job with unconditional romance and affection, squarely focusing on work sounds like a pretty good proposition.  Just do more of what you love and history will remember your passion and expertise (after all, Renoir’s tombstone says “painter”).

But if you subscribe to a more moderated proposition of “work matters, and so does everything else“, then you must accept the need for something more.  Side hustling really is just a case of maximising the else and the more.


So how do I choose a side hustle?

This is the bit that most people suck at.  You join a committee because you feel you have to. Or a friend flattered you.  Or they had a funny poster calling for volunteers.

Choose wisely.

In my experience, there are only three types of great side hustles (1) ones that go to the core of your values (charities and political groups); (2) ones that are super hot for your career (industry associations, academic journals); or (3) ones that you absolutely adore and don’t feel like work (music, sport, group dinners).  Anything else saps the residual goodness of your day and turns the cogs for something you don’t really care about.

And choose again.

Passions, even sincere and deep passions, change over time.  Things that start awesome can fall apart.  If your side hustle stops working, leave it.  Make sure you leave it with respect for the people taking over the reigns, but leave it nonetheless.

Okay, now where does sleep fit in?

Remember your days at university?  Waking up with palms red raw from smashing the snooze button, deciding to exempt yourself from today’s lectures and watching Law & Order with a bowl of your housemate’s pasta?  Yeah, those days are gone.

Today, you have sweet all time.  Even more important than time, you only have a very limited reserve of energy and motivation left in the tank after work takes its cut.  And some days, even little disappointments and frustrations like unwashed breakfast dishes or a few unkind words can deplete the rest of that energy and motivation.

So spend anything you have left on things that are absolutely critical to why you joined your side hustle in the first place.  Some weeks, that means you only have two hours to spend thinking about anything other than work, dinner and sleep.  That’s fine.  Spend those two hours focused and productive on what really matters at Side Hustle Inc.

You’re not going to end world hunger in two hours, but you’re going to get closer.  You’re not going to be Rachmaninoff in two hours, but you’re going to get closer.  Some things won’t get done on time and some won’t get done at all.  That’s not the point.  The point is you’re following your else and your more with everything you have.   And whether for 10 hours or 10 minutes, your passion is full and vivid and real.


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