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Starting a Business

The Best Employees Have Side Hustles -- Here's Why

How does an entrepreneur get started? By busting out of someone else's box.
The Best Employees Have Side Hustles -- Here's Why
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Magazine Contributor
Editor-in-Chief
4 min read

This story appears in the January 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

People often tell me how their entrepreneurship journey began. And it regularly starts like this: “I was working at [insert big company here], and they disapproved of my side hustle, so I quit.” Then the person’s side hustle became a full hustle, and now they’re more satisfied (and maybe even making more money) than they ever were before. I heard this just last night, in fact, before writing this column. A woman told me about working at a big bank and leaving when her superiors gave her a hard time about a financial literacy program she’d started on the side.

Related: 12 Entrepreneurial Traits That Will Tempt You to Quit Your Job Immediately

What a stupid bank. What a big, dumb, stupid, shortsighted, stuck-in-the-past, shooting-itself-in-the-foot, unable-to-retain-its-top-talent, dedicated-to-mediocrity bank. This woman’s program is now thriving, and her former employer doesn’t have access to her, her ideas, her energy, or her drive. The bank seems intent on limiting itself to employees who don’t think big, and who don’t reach beyond boundaries. The bank seems to think that it should be the only opportunity available to its employees -- as if it alone can inspire people to infinite greatness. That’s implausible. No: impossible! The bank blew it because, like so many employers, it could not understand the limitless capacity of people who think big.

Related: 22 Successful Entrepreneurs Share What Inspires Them to Keep Going

I’m here right now to offer a different theory. It goes like this: There is a word for someone who is always discovering and creating and building, and that word is entrepreneur. An entrepreneur doesn’t have to own a company; it’s simply someone who lives entrepreneurship as an ethos and a mindset. An entrepreneur inspires others. An entrepreneur works at 150 percent capacity -- and if they’re on your team and afforded the freedom to thrive, they’ll give you 100 percent and keep 50 for themselves. If you are an employer, seek out and embrace those people, because they are your future. And if you’re one of those people, you should refuse to be contained.

I believe this strongly because I see it all the time. It’s my personal story; I am where I am because I side-hustled throughout every job I’ve ever had, including this one now. (During my first gig at a local newspaper, I even wrote a piece for a large publication about how terrible it was to work in local news -- because I knew my sleepy boss would never see it. That was reckless, and I wouldn’t advise it… but hey, I did get away with it!) It’s also the story of many people at Entrepreneur, who juggle their work here with other passions and projects. And it’s something I’m increasingly hearing from executives at huge companies. One such exec, who works at an international technology firm, recently asked if I’d come inspire its young staff because, in her words, “corporate life is beating the entrepreneurship out of them.”

Related: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Side Hustle While Leveraging Your 9-to-5

That tech exec gets it. There’s a counterintuitive logic at play: Flexibility is a retention strategy. A company’s best people -- its entrepreneurial minds! -- are going to feel itchy. They’ll always want to do more, to create things for themselves, and to leave no good idea unexplored. If a company won’t give them that room to thrive, they’ll leave. If the company supports them, then they’ll stick around for longer, solve problems more creatively, and provide value for everyone.

We’re beginning a new year, which is always a good time to assess how far we’ve come and where we’re going next. And so, as we stare out upon the blue sky of 2019, here’s my message to everyone feeling that itch: Do not let someone tell you no. Do not march in time. Do not settle for “It’s either this or that.” You, and I, and everyone bold enough to call themselves entrepreneurs, know that life is fuller than those two options. Life isn’t “this or that.” It’s both. It’s all! Or at least, it’s “this, which I have chosen.”

We’ve entered a new year. There is so much more left to do. We won’t be told otherwise.

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