Want a better career? Get a gig on the side

I constantly advocate developing a side gig to people who are seeking to expand their professional horizons and excel in their chosen career.

Why? Because success and focus are about so much more than academic accomplishments, client lists and qualifications. In fact, you can learn a huge amount from non-work experiences. As we get older, we can become too focused on our job. The old adage ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ holds true.

Indeed, spending too much time working is to our professional disadvantage. While it’s vital to be informed and diligent, life experiences are invaluable. When I say ‘life experiences’, I mean something that is personally fulfilling. For me, that means voluntary work in developing nations.

For example, last year I visited Zambia with Unicef to learn about a programme that provides financial and employability skills to young people in communities where opportunities are limited. I headed back to Africa earlier this year – this time to Malawi. I danced to Rudimental while they played on Lake Malawi to raise money with Love Support Unite and Beating Heart for food gardens in schools.

Later that week, I visited female entrepreneurs taking advantage of the small loans available to them. They receive such small amounts, yet they are transforming communities and families. Talking to these women gave me invaluable insights into why and how they are doing this.

The lessons I learn about commerce, interacting with people in business and good practice remain the same, whether I’m sitting at my desk in the UK or on a straw mat in a village in Malawi. Whether you travel abroad or do something for your local community, you will learn something valuable that you can take into your career.

Don’t think you have time for anything else? Make some. Don’t know where to start? Check your company’s corporate-social-responsibility commitments. Perhaps you have skills that would be invaluable to a local charity, start-up or good cause that you feel passionate about? Email them. Or maybe you simply have friends who could benefit from a hand.

That’s how my relationship with Malawi began. I met two women at the Lake of Stars music festival who were selling their wonderful Love Specs glasses to raise money for their charity, Love Support Unite. I asked how I could help, and a year later I found myself at their orphanage. Think about defining conversations you have had with people who have truly inspired you – or where you yourself have inspired someone.

It is unlikely you were talking about the latest article in your trade magazine or the next industry event. More likely, you had an unexpected interaction with someone about something that resonated with you. I made time to go to Africa, and it made me a better, more informed person. Everything I saw relating to work, family and life was echoed in the journeys of the people l live and work with every day.

The stories I heard were all about seeking a better future through access to opportunity, as you are doing, but from a different perspective. So explore what’s out there, because I assure you that it will lead to a better, richer professional life too.

Emma Sinclair is a serial entrepreneur and the youngest person in the UK to take a company public. She is co-founder of EnterpriseJungle and columnist for Accounting Technician magazine.

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