Keep Your Mouth Shut (About Your Moonlighting)

Eight out of ten times, I enjoy reading the Harvard Business Review. If you look at my professional Twitter feed and this blog’s feed, I retweet and comment on those posts often.

This brief on telling your passion at work (summarized from this longer article by Rebecca Knight) was one of the two times that I frowned and cursed at the HBR blog content. Here is the advice the authors gave:

You want to make sure your side project doesn’t impact your day-to-day work, of course, but it’s in your best interest to be transparent. Being honest about your outside interests and pursuits reduces suspicion, and externally committing to your project increases accountability and ups the ante for you. So when talking to others, frame your project in a way that shows value to your company (e.g., you’re learning new skills that you can apply to your job). Your coworkers can also be allies and offer valuable feedback. That said, if you really don’t think they’ll be supportive, talk with family and friends instead.

This advice is utter bullshittery and nonsense in the ivory tower.  The above statement does not fly in academic settings. For the love of all things academic and empirically sound, do not do blather about your prospective business or current moonlighting opportunity to your faculty colleagues.

Note: I strongly recommend that you limit any and all conversations about your gigs to family and non-academic friends. Some of you may have true friends in your workplace. If you feel in the depths of your bones that you can trust those individuals, speak your truth and tell them about your side hustle. The friends at work may have some great ideas for possible collaborations or better understand your strengths and potential avenues for practical gigs. However, you may have colleagues who will snitch on you to others in the department, and this business venture could be used against you. Choose carefully and wisely.

Faculty in many areas are genuinely suspicious about those who have active consulting, freelancing, and other side business pursuits. This is anecdotal knowledge I have received across university departments and within multiple universities. A guest advice columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education echoed this belief when he blogged anonymously about his own freelance writing business:

Far from making me feel more cynical about my chosen profession, becoming an entrepreneur has rejuvenated my career in a way that carries over to the classroom and even to my research. I’ve never felt more content or fulfilled, professionally. And my family has enjoyed the fruits, as well.

The administration would probably not approve if they knew the full extent of my “outside activities.” But the truth is that the university would be a much better place, a happier place, a more dynamic and vital place for both faculty and students, if more of my colleagues embraced the entrepreneurial spirit.

At this point in time in your career, especially if you are a graduate student or a just-on-the-tenure-track professor, your colleagues haven’t embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and will see you as someone who is avoiding work and service in pursuit of money.Create your works in private, champions a blogger at 99U, writing:

….side projects are, truly, often thought of as little strongholds of serious potential to turn into an award-winning product or headline-making venture. But there’s real value in carving out time and energy to craft solely for yourself, to make a side project truly a side project, set aside from your main channel of work.

Follow your business passion, but toil in private. Hush any prattle. Don’t rehearse your pitches at work. Keep your mouth glued shut. Above all things, keep your side hustle under wraps.

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