She lost her corporate job. And she couldn’t be happier. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Damia S. Causey

“My side hustle was something I was passionate about. I am so much happier,” Pamela McCreary says.

As the coronavirus continues to disrupt the job market, side hustles are gaining popularity.

At first glance, you may not think making fish dinners, landscaping and personal shopping have much in common, but as “The Rona” digs its heels in, a new wave of “side-hustle entrepreneurs” is emerging. Side hustles are jobs usually worked to supplement jobs and income.

As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” During the pandemic, this rings true for many workers who have been laid off or had hours reduced.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 10.2% as of July. In 2019, unemployment was hovering around 3.5%.

Pamela McCreary understands the impact of sudden unemployment. In 2019, after working as a product specialist for eight years at Northwestern Mutual, her department was downsized and she was laid off.

She had one month to find other work within the company or take a severance package. McCreary, who had been making jewelry as a side hustle since 2007, decided to step out on faith and bet on herself.

She fleshed out the numbers, and after discussing things with her husband and her daughter, Jamila Riley, who owns J. Riley, a jewelry and clothing brand, McCreary, who is in her 50s, decided to give herself six months to pursue her creative passion full time. If things didn’t work out, she would go back into the traditional workforce. Buoyed by her severance and a strong support system, she leaped into full-time entrepreneurship.

“I’d worked in corporate jobs since the age of 13,” McCreary said. The stress of working in corporate America and all the politics and schemes, to let that go is so liberating.

“I didn’t realize how fed up I was with corporate America until I wasn’t there anymore.”

A business flourishes

Since the end of April 2019, McCreary hasn’t had any regrets about her decision to pursue her passion full time.

Before her departure from Northwestern Mutual, she was offered an opportunity to have a store and sell her wares inside the Sherman Phoenix. Previously, she had worked at craft fairs and outdoor markets.

“I didn’t want a store initially,” she said. “How could I have a store and work my job at the same time?”

Her layoff opened the pathway to what is now a flourishing full-time business, At Peace Design.

McCreary’s products include stickers, bracelets, earrings, shopping bags, mugs, masks and numerous other products.

This December, she will celebrate one year in a brick-and-mortar establishment at the Sherman Phoenix. A business incubator formed after the Sherman Park uprising in August 2016, the Phoenix sits on the site of the old BMO Harris bank building at 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave.

“My side hustle was something I was passionate about,” McCreary said. “I am so much happier.”

McCreary’s top pieces of advice for those looking to pursue their side hustle:

  • It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of hard work. Do a self-assessment and make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about.
  • Don’t do it for the money.
  • Have a good support system. It doesn’t necessarily have to be family, but you need a great support system, because you will have freak-out moments.

We may have to deal with this pandemic for the next one to two years if science holds true, and adjustments will continue to be made.

In the meantime, McCreary believes there can be peace in the uncertainty.

“Through this pandemic, you just gotta believe everything is gonna be all right,” she said.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on 15 city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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