Finding and maintaining productive side hustles

[Writer’s Note: This article is part of a series of LinkedIn articles about my personal and professional growth through my time as a content publishing intern at Microsoft, and how this experience is influenced by my identity as a person of color. I hope that this will serve as an outlet for reflection and a reminder to bring all of myself to the table, while also providing a few helpful tidbits for anyone else doing an internship.]

We are always trying to put the pieces of our lives together in the most vivid way, or develop compelling narratives about the products we create so a target audience will engage with them. In my own life, I love to collect people’s stories and watch them light up as they recount stories of heartache and heartbreak, but also of struggle and survival. That’s why I chose to share my journey to understand my identity as Pakistani Muslim woman by performing in the Blank Monologues, write LinkedIn articles, and pick up stories for my school newspaper, The Daily of the University of Washington. It’s a way for me to capture the wise words of people in my life, and share their perspective.

Even though journalism isn’t my primary industry of interest, the skills that I develop, particularly related to storytelling and active listening, are integral to every profession. My internship helped me realize that my background as a journalist and identity as a storyteller make me better at my job.

I realized that a skill like storytelling, and my pursuit of journalism, could be such a strength, especially at a tech company like Microsoft. This became apparent when Dona Sarkar, head of the Windows Insider Program, discussed the value of productive side hustles. Side hustles are any activities that you’re involved in outside of your normal work flow. In Dona’s case, she outlined how she started out as a software engineer and worked her way up, but people often remember her for her pursuit of fashion design, writing, and entrepreneurship in addition to her technical workcheck out this article from Microsoft Story Labs if you want to read more about her interesting background.

In other words, Dona’s unconventional interests, and fervor in pursuing them, make her stand out.

Journalism has been my side hustle, in addition to my coursework as a student, and while working as a writing adviser. I’m compelled by this art and try to work on at least 1–2 stories at any given time to ensure that I’m continuing to develop my storytelling skills. I have to be really intentional about how I spend my time to make room for these hustles because they don’t ostensibly inform my career as a future professional in UX — but, Dona and others would argue that side hustles can be the most interesting things that we do, and they may even provide a fresh perspective to the problems we solve at work.

Dona inspired me to validate my journalism skills and see them as a strength. Journalism hasn’t always been my full-time job, but it’s helped me feel like I’m creating something that isn’t temporary. Oftentimes, it can feel like my projects occur in a vacuum, and I don’t always know how they will live on beyond my time with a company or publication. The articles I write celebrate people’s passions and contributions to their community and serve as a marker of their progress. Similarly, the content I create as a content publishing intern will go on to impact actual customers and inform the work of future writers who work on the same feature. My ultimate goal is to work on projects that matter to people, and creating meaningful stories seems like the best way to do this.

Being at Microsoft has taught me that flexing these skills and developing strengths in related fields like journalism is always valuable because it offers a fresh perspective or new approach to writing at Microsoft. So, whatever your side hustle, know that there’s value in developing those skills in addition to your day job — and these two areas of life can exist in harmony. Here are Dona’s suggestions for being intentional about identifying productive side hustles:

1. Make some room, and think deeply about how you spend your time: What do you really value, and how much time do you dedicate to pursuing your passion right now? Be intentional about making time to pursue your side hustles because you only have 24 hours in the day. Also, remember that your side hustle of the moment can change — it’s just a matter of prioritizing the skills you want to develop right now.

2. Run a small experiment to test drive the experience: Test drive your interest by volunteering at an event or attending a class. You may love it, or you may hate it — either way, you’ll learn something about whether it’s a fit.

3. Hustle the experts: Find people who need your skills and expertise, and establish yourself as a peer. In Dona’s words, “convince people that they can learn from you.” This can help you identify next-steps to level up your skills, and you’ll start to build a network of people who you can learn from! In the process, ask for specific help about your own techniques in addition to offering your own expertise.

4. Do the thing: It can help to have some core values in mind when you’re deciding what side hustle to choose from — for me, my side hustles have to make me a better writer, storyteller, or educator in some way. Additionally, I want to have opportunities to be curious and collaborate with other people because I do everything with my community in mind.

Interesting side hustles are a way to remain a lifelong learner, so keep searching for opportunities to keep your skills active and relevant.

Now, I recognize that my identity as an interdisciplinary storyteller with a passion for social impact, inclusion, and higher education is part of the reason that I’m at Microsoft — it helps me tell my own story a little bit better.

So, what are your ideas for potential side hustles, and how do you plan to make room for them? What skills do you need to make room for to get there?

This is the fourth article in this series. If you’d like to see the previous articles, you can read about my journey to Microsoft and how this was influenced by my identity as a Pakistani Muslim woman, or read about how I identify role models in my field of interest and find ways to learn from them!

Writer at Microsoft | Human Centered Design and Engineering Alumna | Lifting as I climb | www.aleenahansari.com