How the Side Hustler Life Is Redefining 'Work-Life' Balance

It's about more than babies and friends -- work-life balance can also mean finding career fulfillment through a side hustle.
How the Side Hustler Life Is Redefining 'Work-Life' Balance
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This story appears in the December 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We talk a lot about maintaining a healthy work-life balance. And rightly so. It’s a good thing that employers are giving people with kids more leeway to let them be both good parents and good workers. But what if your baby is, in fact, a little startup you’re running on the side? Odds are that’s not covered by what many companies think of as “work-life balance.” It definitely wasn’t at my old company.

But it should be at yours.

Related: 5 Secrets to Achieving and Maintaining Work-Life Balance

I was a derivatives broker in London for six years. I loved my job, I loved my boss and I had a good rapport with my co-workers. The experience helped shape me into the confident, capable person I am today. But I also knew from a very young age that I wanted to be part of something more entrepreneurial that could have a positive social impact.

So in 2014, I launched a part-time ecommerce business, Whistle + Bango, with a friend. Seeing a gap in the market for luxury, personalized jewelry that could also do some good, we started out making bangles embossed with zip codes. For each bangle bought by a customer, we would donate a percentage of the profit to a charity that served people within that zip code -- from London to Los Angeles.

Related: 6 Tips for Making Social Impact Essential to Your Business from Day One

Demand soared. Product flew out the door, allowing us to develop new lines. We had a database of celebrity clients. In our first year, we managed to grow our initial personal investments by nearly 900 percent. But we still carried on at our day jobs and kept our little secret from most coworkers. I’d get into my firm at 8 a.m. and work hard until 6 p.m., then I’d go home and work on Whistle + Bango. 

In 2016, we began getting some press, and the secret was out. One headline read: “Glamorous city workers who set up a celebrity-loved jewelry company on the side of their regular jobs get set to turn over a quarter of a million -- and they still work on the trading floors.” That didn’t go over so well in the office, especially with the older generation, who refused to believe that you could run an ecommerce business smoothly outside office hours. The snide comments mounted. People became suspicious. I was told HR even checked my computer to make sure I hadn’t been working on my side project during working hours. (I hadn’t.) It made no sense. If a co-worker had been talking about how his kid got into college at 13, I’m sure HR wouldn’t be checking his computer to see if he was secretly quizzing her on differential equations. 

I have no ill will toward my former employer, but I think it’s a prime example of how companies look at ambitious employees all wrong. In our effort to balance work and life, we’ve defined “life” too narrowly, making it almost exclusively about family or hobbies or vacations. But for entrepreneurs, side hustles can be as personally fulfilling as any of that, giving us a creative outlet and fresh inspiration, which we can harness to become better employees as well.

Related: 10 Habits That Will Dramatically Improve Your Life

I quit my job earlier this year to focus on Whistle + Bango. Soon after, I joined the founding team at Nimbla, a fintech startup, and sold my share in Whistle + Bango. I’m now always looking to hire people with great side hustles, because I know these people feel more satisfied with their lives, are more well-rounded, develop diverse skill sets and, contrary to what some might think, are more likely to stick around, because they appreciate our trust and encouragement.

And what if my new employee’s definition of “work-life balance” means family vacations and bragging at work about their daughter’s gymnastics trophy? That’s lovely. I’m all for it. But let’s not forget, we all have our babies. They’re all welcome.

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