About seven years ago, while I was living in Thailand and working as an English teacher, I read Tim Ferriss’ seminal book, The 4-Hour Workweek. I was three years out of college and it planted a seed about entrepreneurship that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since. Starting my own small business wasn’t something I had ever had my eye on as an anthropology major in college, but since we were coming out of the 2008 recession, the major realization that job security and availability were not guaranteed was still fresh on my mind.
I didn’t end up starting a drop shipping company or outsourcing my life—not even close—but I did start a side hustle in the years that followed and am still solidly following that pursuit. I’m always as surprised as the next person when I hear the words “I’m a modern calligrapher” or “I’m a hand lettering artist“ come out of my own mouth because that wasn’t even part of my identity a few years ago.
And though I still have a day job in the public sector that I love, I’m finding it more and more realistic to see how I could start developing a passive income scheme or a more fully-fledged business based on what I’ve learned so far. I feel like my mind is so much more open to the different ways and possibilities that I can earn extra income for myself from this experience than it was before, which feels pretty exciting to me. I don’t think of myself as particularly talented or gifted or special in art or business, so believe me when I say that if I can do this, there’s a high likelihood that you can, too.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic bullet or secret sauce to give to you, but I do have my journey to share along with some wonderful resources that have helped me along the way.
The Beginning: Exploring and Fine-Tuning My Passions
I’ve always struggled with the idea that you should follow your passion because I’ve always felt that I was passionate about a lot of things but not passionate about one single thing to a great extent. My vote is that we change the phrase to “start developing your interest and skills in areas you find more interesting than others, then go from there”...although that’s not as catchy on a t-shirt.
Artistic pursuits were not even on my radar in the beginning because I had so many personal hang-ups and misguided beliefs about my own capacity to make or share things that it was completely out of the question. The weird thing was that I didn’t even know it was an issue until after I bought a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way while I was wandering around Bangkok one day. I ended up working through the weekly prompts, journaling, and exercises and ultimately realized that it was actually fine to create art as an adult even if it wasn’t your profession. My perfectionist tendencies had made me dismiss creating things because, one, I wasn’t particularly good at it, and two, I was afraid of being judged.
Once I got over those big hurdles, I intentionally started making space for doing things that made me happy whether or not they were serious or important. What mattered, ultimately, is that I just started paying attention and fine-tuning my sense of things I found interesting.
Phase Two: Curiously Bad
It honestly took me a while to put two and two together as far as matching up side hustle and doing calligraphy for others because, well, life happens. I ended up moving from southern Thailand to the Thai-Burma border with my then-boyfriend, now husband, and we spent a few months volunteering with Burmese migrants before deciding to move back to his home state of Maryland. That short time actually helped me hone in on another set of interests which was more related to my work experience and college major, which led to my current day job.
Starting a new job, navigating a new city, trying not to be broke: these were all things that ended up taking lots of my focus and attention. However, since I was deliberate about making space for noticing things I liked, I found a world of inspiration on sites like Pinterest and eventually on Instagram. I had read The $100 Start-Up by Chris Gillibreau, and one day it hit me that the answer to what I could hone in on as a side hustle was sitting in front of me all along. I noticed I loved looking at calligraphy, a bunch of my friends were getting married, and I had always been told I had great handwriting.
The next steps from there were also somewhat slow and painful: I offered to do wedding envelopes for a very supportive friend and she miraculously agreed! However, I tried to teach myself traditional dip pen calligraphy in a very short amount of time but was not successful, so I ended up doing “faux-calligraphy” on them instead with a regular pen - whoops. It was enough to discourage me for a while. But luckily, I decided to just keep returning to it whenever I could make the time.
Phase Three: With a Little Help From My Friends
When I started looking into side hustles, I mistakenly believed that it was a solo gig — something that I, alone, would be responsible for. However, through this process, I’ve learned that the only way forward is with the help of close friends and community.
I forget where I first heard about the concept of a mastermind group, but the idea has apparently been around for a while. I knew I wanted to be a part of a group of people who could help support me, give me feedback, and push me — and where I could do the same for them. I was fortunate enough to find two other ladies in my local running group who latched on to this idea of peer accountability immediately, and it has really been through their encouragement that I’ve been able to be vulnerable, try things, fail at things, and get the feedback to keep going.
I’ve met regularly with a group of three other women for the past two years (and at one point I was a part of two groups!), and it’s been an incredibly valuable experience. They’ve made referrals for me, shared their skills, hired me, and so much more, and it’s made a huge difference in propelling this hustle of mine into a reality.
Phase Four: Investing in Myself
I’m now at the phase where I feel confident in my artistic abilities and feel good about the fact that I’ve even gotten to this point. It has been a major mindset shift that books like You Are A Badass at Making Money have also helped me really believe in my worth. I used to be wary of spending more money on myself, and terrified of charging a lot of money for what I bring to the table, but I’m learning to catch my own imposter syndrome these days. Just last week, I spoke to a business coach that I hired who told me to double what I’ve been charging. Of course, I probably could have figured that out myself but even just hearing it from someone more knowledgeable and experienced was what I needed.
Maybe you’re at the phase where you’re merely intrigued by the idea of having a side hustle, or maybe you’ve already plunged in headfirst. In either case, the most important part is that you’ve identified something you’re interested in and are starting to put in the time and effort to grow that curiosity. Give yourself plenty of grace to make mistakes and be patient with yourself, and enjoy the journey!
Brittany has been very open about sharing her holistic and personal journeys with the Innovative Lifestyles community. We hope you’ll do the same. Comment below. Follow us on social media. Introduce yourself to the community with the hashtag: #WEareInnovativeLifestyles. Inspiring photos, questions of need, supportive responses; the smallest gestures create positive change.
Learn More About Brittany’s Side Hustle at Novel Letter Studio
Photos by @Novel_Letter_Studio