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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Emma Gannon: How to turn your side-hustle into a career

Ahead of her talk at the Sharjah International Book Fair, the British author explains why having one career is no longer enough

Emma Gannon will discuss her books at the Fair on Monday. Courtesy Emma Gannon   
Emma Gannon will discuss her books at the Fair on Monday. Courtesy Emma Gannon   

Emma Gannon was in her mid-twenties when she landed her dream job working for a glossy magazine at global media company Conde Nast. It was, she says, “the one place where I had always wanted to work”. But Gannon was soon feeling unfulfilled and miserable. This, surely, was not what she had spent her whole life grafting for.

Gannon began to busy herself with side-projects. She started a blog, a podcast and then a consultancy company. “I had all this knowledge and no-one was asking for it at work,” she says. “So I thought, ‘Fine, I’ll make a business of it on the side.’”

I’m sure you can guess where this story is going. Gannon eventually quit her job to pursue these side-projects full-time. The results have been extraordinary.

Her podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete, in which Gannon chats to celebrity guests, including Greta Gerwig and Lily Cole, about their relationship with the internet, has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times. She has published two books, the latest of which, The Multi-Hyphen Method, explains why we should all be seeking business and creative opportunities away from the office. Or as Gannon puts it: “Turn your side-hustle into a career.” And this year, she was included in the prestigious Forbes “30 Under 30” Europe list in the media and marketing category. Amazingly, walking away from that "dream" job was the catalyst for all this.

“It is about embracing the fact that you’re a jack-of-all-trades,” says Gannon, who is speaking about her latest title at the Sharjah International Book Fair on Monday. “Historically, there has been a stigma attached to this – there is nothing worse than being average at a lot of things. But actually, by being a ‘multi-hyphen’, I’m earning five times more than I did in my office job.

“I’m now happier, healthier and I don’t actually work as much. Having a portfolio career can be very rewarding and it allows you to future-proof yourself. You can’t do just one thing anymore.

“My Conde Nast job might have looked good on paper but I was unhappy. What does that say about our society and the way in which we reward people for having these shiny jobs? What I do now isn’t instantly recognisable as ‘successful’ but you have to be brave enough to work out what you want.”

Gannon, who is still only 29, will also be discussing her first book, Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online. Her generation was the first to really incorporate social media – remember Bebo and Myspace? – into their lives from a young age. It wasn’t a blip. The rise of the smart phone has ensured that internet use is now more prolific for all ages than ever before.

“People assume that it’s just young people who are ­addicted to their smartphones when actually the parents are, too,” says Gannon. In a lecture last year, she admitted: “I spend more time in an online world than the real world.” Truth is, most of us do. She is particularly concerned with the impact this is having on young people and, on Monday, will explore how best to deal with this problem. “The influx of perfect lives and images projected onto screens [via social media] is a real problem,” she says. “We know that the more time you spend online, the more your mental health suffers. And then there’s bullying. The internet didn’t invent bullying, but sadly it does make it more pervasive and intense.”

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Gannon is aware, though, that much of her success has been built on the back of the internet and social media. She has nearly 34,000 followers on Instagram, which has been the key tool tool in creating and growing her personal brand. “Social media allows you to take more power over your own voice,” she says. “Having this platform means I can tell stories in my own way.”

Gannon, then, is a rare example of someone who has managed to harness the power of the internet without letting it damage her. It is all about capitalising on the benefits, while also having the strength to resist social media’s Siren call. That may not sound radical but how many of us can really say that we, too, have worked out the right formula?

In her approach to the internet and to the ways in which we structure our career, Gannon, not yet 30, is already proving to be a very modern revolutionary.

Emma Gannon will be speaking on Monday at 9.45am at the Literature Forum, Sharjah International Book Fair