How to Turn a Side Gig into a Career


On Jan. 31, Philip Glass celebrated his 80th birthday.

The American composer, whose minimalist style was perhaps most famously showcased in the score for The Truman Show, wasn’t always a well-known musical figure. Struggling to pay the bills in the 1970s, Glass worked as a mover, a plumber, and even a taxi driver.

Glass, of course, is not alone in the fact that, to support the pursuit of his true passions, he had to figure out ways to make money that weren’t exactly glamorous. Matthew McConaughey cleaned chicken coops in Australia. Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillion landed a job at one of the company’s warehouses before climbing the corporate ladder all the way to the top rung. Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian built Reddit when they were in college.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to get paid comfortably while pursuing your hobbies and passions. Unfortunately, it’s not usually that easy. Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson, for example, both cut their teeth in the meager-paying news business before going on to become influential world-renowned authors.

Many singular minds will tell you that if you want to make big bucks, you’ve got to do it on your own. Write a best-selling novel. Build your own business from scratch. Design a transformative tech platform. You get the gist.

But not everyone is after monetary riches. Others enjoy their hobbies because they’re challenging, they encourage you to take a break from your work and they bring you together with like-minded individuals. There are also a number of hobbies—like reading, playing musical instruments and exercising—that can make us smarter and our minds sharper.

Whether you’re looking to sharpen your skills or create amazing work that may one day translate into a lot of money or a lot of recognition, it’s important that you develop and maintain a really healthy relationship with your passion, sideline or night project. Let’s take a look at how you can do that.

Figure out what you want to do

Pursuing a hobby or a side project can be a nice escape from the daily grind. You’ll also have the peace of mind that comes with drawing a steady paycheck while you figure out whether your passions or ideas have what it takes to transform into a full-time gig.

How do you figure out what you want to do? Explore a number of different ideas to see what interests you the most. Do you want to develop a whole new skill to become a better-rounded individual? Or do you want to learn things that will help you in your current role?

Don’t feel like you’re the most creative person in the world? Change your mindset. You have the ability to learn new things and develop new skills. You just need to believe that you can.

Start doing it

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, it’s time to act.

If you’ve always wanted to learn a second language, invest in Rosetta Stone. If you want to learn how to play guitar, grab an instrument, take some lessons or watch videos for free online. If you’re tired of working for someone else, brainstorm ideas and read up on what it takes to build a successful business. Listen to podcasts produced by folks who’ve built something from scratch before.

Keep in mind that if you’re trying to build a business, you probably shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. For every startup that succeeds, nine of them fail. The more ideas you have and the more interests you pursue, the more likely you’ll be to achieve success.

Promote your side project to your network

Your side gig or hobby will never become your full-time job if people aren’t aware of it. To make it a real thing, you have to make the idea public. An easy way to do that is to promote it to your personal and professional networks, depending on what your idea is.

If you want to become a better writer, start blogging regularly and promote your pieces on social networks. If you want to become an artist, start drawing or painting, scan your finished pieces when you’re done and post them online. If you are trying to become a better public speaker, see whether any of your friends or colleagues are interested in forming a group.

The first incarnations of your ideas will never be perfect. So don’t underestimate the power of feedback. As Dilbert creator Scott Adams notes, part of the reason the comic strip became so successful was because he made the decision to attach his email address to the earliest iterations. Readers wrote him often. Through that feedback, Adams learned that his fans loved it when Dilbert was in the office. Rarely again was Dilbert drawn outside of a work-related environment. The rest is history.

Starting a successful side gig is hard work. But by no means is it impossible. Stick to it, do your best to motivate yourself as much as you can and try to make a little bit of progress every day. Visualize success and work hard to get to where you want to be. And get ready to embrace failure. When you fall, pick yourself back up again and move on to the next thing. The more you try, the more likely you’ll be to pull it off one day.

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