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The Hidden Benefits of Side Hustles and Volunteering
by
Colin Welch
, 9th April 2020
7 min read
Insights
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In this article you will learn:

  • How side hustles and volunteering can help explore potential career paths
  • The benefits of these new skills and experiences
  • The impact of growing your network in new circles

If you want more details on how you can specifically help right now please check out our article on How you Can Support your Community During the COVID-19 Crisis

I’ve had lots of odd jobs over the years, mainly because I valued self-sufficiency and wanted to achieve early financial independence. I raked leaves and shovelled snow; I was a soccer referee and a student lifeguard; I picked up many temporary jobs including work as a wedding photographer and manual labourer. My industrious youth enjoyed the concept of “side hustles,” and even today, in addition to my consulting day job, I hustle sideways as a freelance writer.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that side hustles, defined simply as activities you’re paid for beyond your primary occupation, offer much more than extra income alone:

  • They offer the chance to pursue activities based purely upon your interests, which may help you identify passions worth pursuing professionally;
  • They provide the opportunity to learn new skills and experience new things in those interest areas;
  • And they promote interactions with groups of people outside your normal network who share some of your interests.

I’ve also realized that the benefits of side hustling apply equally to volunteering, albeit without the monetary gains. While my current side hustle is freelance writing, I also volunteer at my local library. I will use some of these experiences to inform this post. Now, the obvious reasons for side hustling and volunteering are additional income and altruism, respectively, but here, I want to address the less obvious or “hidden” benefits of both.

Exploring Potential Career Paths

It seems silly to write down, but it’s important to emphasize: side hustles, like volunteering, are voluntary. Barring certain obligations, you have total control over how you spend your time. If you choose to volunteer or pursue a side hustle, it follows something that you would (or think you would) like, enjoy, or care about it. Otherwise, why bother? And because of this optionality, the time you spend will seem less like work and more like a side project or personal challenge. You may even identify professional paths you hadn’t considered before.

My Side Hustle:

I started freelance writing because I wanted to improve my writing while getting paid to do so. I wanted to develop my narrative voice by actually writing content, not just by crafting emails to clients. Side hustling has allowed me to don the “writer’s hat,” seeing if it’s something I truly enjoy vocationally or whether it’s of fleeting interest. But if it endures, I may try to make it a full-time gig! My side hustle could become my main hustle, and that potential is one of the biggest selling points of side hustling.

My Volunteering:

I’ve always been enamoured with library life: the neat rows of endlessly shelved books and the all-knowing librarians. However, despite what I had in mind; the reality didn’t live up to the ideal. Regardless, the act of volunteering has allowed me to more closely examine that life. I learned that I like reading books more than organizing them, talking to librarians more than being a librarian. By performing day-to-day library operations on each shift, I realized that doing it full-time wouldn’t work for me.

And that’s okay! Not every interest becomes a full-blown passion; not every pursuit pans out. But it’s this pursuit that enables us to make that decision for ourselves. Side hustles and volunteering allow for deliberate exploration into topics you think you’d enjoy, which is an amazing professional benefit. Like test driving a car before purchasing, figuring out potential career paths, trial-and-error style, enables you to “try on” many professional “hats” to see if they agree with you.

Gaining New Skills and Experiences

In addition to job exploration, these “beyond 9 to 5” activities also allow you to build new skills and have new experiences outside of your professional swim lane. In my last post, I talked about developing skills as a way to stay relevant in the workplace, but the experiential learning of side hustling and volunteering can be just as beneficial to your professional life.

My Side Hustle:

I remember watching a pro golfer effortlessly drive a ball 200+ yards and thinking “How hard could it be?” Yet, when I swung a club for myself, I was (and still am) hilariously bad. Turns out, I grossly oversimplified a specialized practise that takes years of effort to hone.

It’s the same with writing—how hard can it be? But like golfing, good writing takes years of practice. Because I’m interested in getting better at it and because it’s my side hustle, writing has become a priority in my life, which ensures that I devote time to developing it. Through this deliberate effort, I’ve not only refined my outlining and brainstorming processes, but also learned more about topic selection, audience research, paragraph structure, and team revising. Further, I’ve been exposed to some non-writing-specific skills such as argument construction and contract negotiation.

My Volunteering:

When I began volunteering, I thought I’d be helping out librarians and (maybe) getting a feel for some new book titles. I did not expect a great learning opportunity. However, beyond my role of addressing patron concerns, I learned to use the library’s materials database, which has sharpened my relational database skills and my understanding of records management. I have also become much more familiar with the archaic, but widely-used Dewey Decimal System, which, while not relevant to my current occupation, has definitely contributed to my working knowledge of the world.

Whatever your side hustle or wherever you volunteer, your experiences in those pursuits will offer plenty of learning opportunities that may (or may not) be translatable to your career. Side hustling has improved my writing skills, which directly helps my day job. Volunteering positioned me to settle disputes between many different people, which is vitally important in my client-facing consulting role. By side hustling or volunteering, you can complement your main hustle with new skills and experiences.

Growing Your Network

Finally, as they introduce new experiences and skills, side hustling and volunteering also link you to other communities of people, which, once engaged with, will grow the value of your network through their diversity of experience and thought.

My Side Hustle:

Throughout my side hustles, I have worked with many organizations and, more often than not, found reliable and competent partners. These partners, whose experiences and expertise frequently diverged from my own, have caches of knowledge they’re willing to impart—years of understanding in areas I’m just beginning to explore.

For example, writing for Hiperpool has introduced me to the Hiperpool team, whose mission is “connecting great talent to the right opportunities” in the finance, consulting, and strategy space. I am now connected to their company, network, and process. Maybe my work with them will lead to further writing opportunities for me down the road. Maybe my future employer uses the Hiperpool platform. These possibilities only exist because I joined a community outside my normal network.

My Volunteering:

As a volunteer, I have engaged with almost the entire library staff, but one person, in particular, stands out. My normal shift supervisor, we’ll call her Debra, is a knowledgeable and steady manager who cares more about libraries than anyone I’ve ever met. She is also an author of short stories and science fiction.

When I discovered she was a published author, our conversations deepened because I have authorial goals of my own. Through volunteering, I expanded my network in my discretionary time and found a person with common interests and different experiences, an untapped resource who I can learn from and discuss writing in a way I couldn’t before. My pre-volunteering network didn’t include a serious occupational writer and had I not volunteered at the library this year, I would not have established this incredible connection.

These chance encounters, born from side hustling or volunteering, have enormous potential bubbling beneath the surface. Because of self-selection, you will often find people who share your interests and who may be helpful to you in some currently unidentified way. The more you connect with these people, the more likely you are to find meaningful bonds that add value to your career or personal life. You don’t know what someone has to offer until you connect.

While our interests may differ, I’m positive the hidden benefits I’ve discussed will apply as much to you as they have to me. By pursuing a side hustle (or in volunteering), you may find a future career in something you started just to earn some extra cash; you’ll learn the skills and gain the experiences necessary to carry it out; you’ll connect with people with your interests who will help you along the way. I hope that reading about my experiences with side hustling and volunteering can help you envision your own potential side hustles, your own areas to volunteer in. The only limits are your own interests and how much time and effort you’re willing to dedicate to them.

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