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I have long been an advocate of dedicating a small percentage of your free time to developing your next possible career. Whether this is painting or poetry or poker, you should be pursuing an interest that has the potential (however unlikely) to become a future career. 

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with staying in the same job for your entire life. I’ve been teaching elementary school for 19 years and don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.  But I still believe in creating options, cultivating personal interests, developing the possibility for multiple income streams, and preparing yourself in the event of unforeseen catastrophe is a good idea. 

Once you’re homeless, you feel like catastrophe is just around the corner. 

In 1997, my friend and I launched a wedding DJ business with no experience or equipment and uncertain if we would ever find work. Twenty years and almost 500 weddings later, that experiment has paid off well.

Over the course of my DJ career, I also became an ordained minister in order to officiate a friend’s wedding. Then I offered my ministerial services to DJ clients, uncertain if anyone would ever hire me. Fifteen years and more than three dozen weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and baptisms later, I’ve created a small but interesting business for myself. 

The same has been true for storytelling, poker, writing, and Speak Up. All began as simple pursuits of personal interests and have turned into profitable ventures. 

My poker earnings paid for our honeymoon.

My first four novels allowed Elysha to remain at home until both of our children entered school. The writing has also led to a position as a humor columnist, the opportunity to write for magazines, and this year my first nonfiction and young adult books.

Storytelling has turned into a professional speaking career. It prompted us to launch Speak Up. It has allowed me to teaching storytelling all over the world to countless people from all walks of life. Salespeople. Politicians. Performers. Writers. CEOs. Archivists. Therapists. Professors and teachers. Priests and ministers and rabbis. 

Even with these opportunities, I’m always looking for the next thing. Cultivating further interests. Today I’m writing musicals with a partner. Though they have yielded almost nothing by way of profits, the musicals are excellent, and perhaps someday someone will take notice.

I produce and co-host Boy vs. Girl, a podcast with a small but growing audience. 

I’m taking the stage as a stand-up comedian this year.

I’m seriously considering pursuing careers in educational consulting, unlicensed therapy, and screenwriting. 

Here’s what I’ll never do:

I won’t ever refer to any of these pursuits as “side hustles.” This is a phrase that has gained popularity in today’s fractured economy as Americans seek to fill the wage gap with additional income steams. A look at Google Trends shows that the word has recently surged into the lexicon.

But my pursuits outside my teaching career are not side hustles. They represent areas of personal interest that were identified, cultivated, and grown into something meaningful.

“Side hustle” implies something less important and less focused. Something easily ignored or discarded.

It’s these so-called side hustles of my life that have made my life interesting. 

I ask people to find something they love and pursue it. It’s rare that an area of personal interest can’t ultimately result in profit if done exceptionally well. And while you may never reach the level of exceptionality, if it is something you love, you will inevitably enjoy yourself during the pursuit.

You may never sell a painting, but if you love to paint, why not try?

You may never become a golf pro, but if you love the game, why not work as hard as you can to be the best?  

Your recipes may never find their way into a cookbook, but if you love to cook, why not make delicious food for yourself and others and see where it takes you?

Your knitting may never grace the cover of Love of Knitting, but you’ll still end up with an array of under-appreciated sweaters, hats, and scarves while trying. 

Choose something you love. Try to do it better than most. Then see if someone wants to pay you to do it.

That is not a side hustle. It’s the systematic approach to maximizing your passion for possible future profits.