how to be continuously successful in life (and why you need to have side hustles)

How was your childhood like?

In the place where I grew up, we were required to attend a lot of extra curricular activities outside school since a young age. Before the age of 10 I have been learning drawing, painting, ceramics, piano, swimming and abacus. We were a jack of all trades. (Yeh, no wonder I burnt out at a young age.) In my culture, we needed to learn a lot of skills in order to get into a prestigious high school. That would increase the chance of getting into a higher ranked university, hence getting a good job.. you know the deal. So some may argue that all the activities we did outside school were still academically related. Especially if we were forced into them and we hated every minute of doing it.

As we grow up, we eventually forget about those activities we did outside school, no matter whether we enjoyed them or not. When work became the sole focus in life, some of us struggle to find work-life balance. They burn out quickly.

Is work-life balance just a myth?

You have experienced this: you focused on one aspect of your life and eventually the other areas suffered. For most people, it’s always the job that steals the time and energy away from exercising, down time and relationships with others. This is the reason why it is almost impossible – and you shouldn’t – be the top 3% of one specific area.

If you use the general rule of thumb that it takes around 5-7 years for someone to be an expert in one thing, then we all should have at least 7-8 cycles to become expert in different areas throughout our lives.

Think about all the items on your bucket list, a.k.a. your “Maybe Someday List”. How many dreams and inspiration are lost in different life seasons, where you were too focused on just getting the days by? And what’s the meaning and fun in life without hobbies, side projects and things that excite you outside your profession?

How my side gigs helped me pivot my career

As mentioned in the beginning, I had a hectic life outside school. In high school I joined the Chinese Orchestra, started learning Japanese, became active in church groups, learnt hip hop dance, and went quite serious about learning piano. There was a public exam we needed to pass in order to get into university. One year before that I kind of stopped all the activities and focused on my studies. When I moved to Australia and attended university, I picked up different hobbies from time to time.

Joining workforce is a completely different story. It was quarter-life crisis for me, and I got drained out every night after work and study. After I got my CPA, I decided that I wouldn’t just go to work and call it a day. My main argument was like, if there were people who manage to finish a master degree while they work full time, why would I settle for just a day job, especially when I absolutely hated it? After much contemplation and internal battle, I started a YouTube channel. I also started learning handpan a year before that. I didn’t know anything about microphone, camera, audio software, YouTube SEO. But it wasn’t going to stop me from doing it. I put myself out there and I learnt along the way. It was scary at first, but I quickly realised no one would care. I made 1% improvement every time I uploaded a video.

This YouTube side project has become a constant in my schedule. Over the years I have covered more than 50 songs I liked, and I learnt music theory, audio engineering, the power of prioritising and task batching, and I have connected with a few like-minded musicians. The discipline I developed to learn and practise eventually helped me ace the audition of the master of music therapy degree. Since I had so much experience managing different projects and covering songs, I didn’t need to start from “the beginning” to pick up my musical skills. My piano skills were a bit rusty, but I managed to stick to a strict practice schedule due to the discipline I trained myself from video upload. And all the songs I covered over the years were still applicable during my placements.

I could talk all day about the benefits of managing side projects. The point is, not only do you need to have a life outside your main gig, you also need to understand it is okay to take things slow. Love painting? Spend 2 hours on your artwork every weekend. You don’t need to force yourself to do it every weekday after work. It is okay to move slowly, but towards the right direction.

So how do I find hobbies and turn them into side gigs?

This is what I tell all my friends:

1/ pick something you enjoyed doing when you were young (hey I know you are still young, think of something you enjoyed doing in your childhood.). By enjoy, I mean activities that you easily lose track of the time since you are too focused on the process.

If you can’t think of anything, or you are keen to do something new, try this:

2/ explore activities that would improve your skills that make you thrive in all other aspects in life. For example, patience and endurance (rock climbing, boxing), or problem solving (puzzles, video games). Do not underestimate the importance of play. Life is supposed to be fun and enjoyable!

How to work on side gigs consistently with a demanding job?

Understand this: discipline, willpower, or whatever you like to call it, is a muscle that can be trained.

If the side gig is something you enjoy doing, you don’t need willpower to start. If it is a skill you need to explore and train, go register for some courses where there are coaches to keep you accountable and can correct you along the way.

Look, I get it. It can be hard when you first start off. But as time goes by, you become better at it, and you get more momentum to keep doing it. I call myself YouTuber and blogger now because I create content regularly and consistently. In time, you become what you do. You paint and become an artist. You surf and become a surfer. You write and become an author. When you keep stretching that muscle and putting yourself out there, you eventually ditch “willpower”. You don’t need motivation because it is WHO YOU ARE. It is part of you. Nothing will stop you from reaching your goal.

Final thoughts

I hope you are inspired to start a side gig. Life is more fun when you have multiple identities. Now, when I’m in the process of turning my passion (in music) into my profession (becoming a music therapist), I have new hobbies and gigs outside my music world. I go boxing, and I enjoying mixing cocktails.

Side gigs are also the way out when you need to take a break from your work, studies, or the real events happening in the world. I strongly believe that happiness comes from within. I hope you find yours too. x