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More than a doctor: My unexpected path to building a thriving business

When I was younger, I could not remember a time I wanted to be anything other than a doctor, and I thought this would satisfy all I wanted in my work life. Many years later, I realized I was yearning for a side gig. Based on the existence of more than 110,000 members in a related Facebook group, I wasn’t alone. A side gig can increase life satisfaction by heightening our sense of engagement, joy, and meaning. A side gig can be a supplemental source of income and, for some, a vehicle to explore entirely new avenues for future work. Whatever the reason, venturing into the unknown can feel daunting, especially when many of us are used to a relatively straightforward and defined path. During my residency, I never imagined becoming a part-time radiologist and a tour operator, curating and hosting women’s wellness travel adventures worldwide. Yet, here I am, engaged, uplifted, and inspired by my reality.

Finding my perfect side gig was a lengthy process, and I tried quite a few different things until I found what I was seeking. Others have done this much quicker, but here are a few steps I took and lessons I learned over the years as I cultivated something outside of medicine I feel passionate about.

1. Identify your skills. At the outset, I considered the skills I wanted to utilize. Although uncertain about the specific direction, I was craving to use my creativity, connect with others, and have the freedom to chart my course. I consulted a career coach for guidance, which led me to pursue nutrition, lifestyle medicine, and health coaching education. I didn’t think I wanted to do one-on-one coaching, but I had to start somewhere. Those fields aligned with what was important to me, and I thought I would find inspiration along the way. Even without knowing where I would go, just starting something positively impacted my well-being.

2. Follow your energy. I tried coaching but felt tired after each session. I began writing newsletters and posting on social media, but it felt like a chore. Then, a friend recommended that I “follow the energy. If it wears you down, it’s not for you.” A great side gig will energize you; although sometimes challenging, time will often fly while you’re doing it. So, I kept searching. At times, I felt disheartened and unsure of where this was going. But I marched onward. I started giving group presentations and realized that I loved creating talks. Hours would fly by as I laid out my thoughts and added visuals to take my audience on a journey with me. I enjoyed networking and interacting with a group and thus morphed my business into wellness education.

3. Stay open to inspiration. You never know where your next best idea will come from. I was talking with a group of gynecologists on environmental health when I saw how exhausted they were, and my following path became clear: I would focus on physician wellness. I gave local and national talks to physicians, medical students, and residents on self-care and burnout prevention (this was before the quadruple aim came out). I enjoyed the workshops, but I was longing for something more experiential.

Let me digress to share something else about myself. I have been a passionate global adventurer my entire adult life. I was the one who took off to Africa alone with nothing but my backpack and my Lonely Planet guidebook before the internet. Once my kids were old enough to color in their books on a plane, we started family adventure travel, and these memories are among my favorites. Travel is so much more than fun to me; it embodies growth, awe, spirituality, healing, connection, wonder, and presence.

Then, the inspiration came. I had the idea of combining two of my greatest interests: Lifestyle Medicine and travel. As I delved deeper into the intersection of the two, I realized the potential to create transformative experiences for women. Using my experiences as a seasoned adventurer and a coach, I designed immersive journeys based on tenets of lifestyle medicine, including movement in nature, healthy eating, stress reduction, and building community. Thus, my tour operator business was born—a manifestation of my passion for travel and commitment to overall well-being. Now, this excited me!! It was clear that this was my next step. I felt vulnerable and a bit nervous, but my kids had just gone to college, and I knew I had to try. I changed the name of my business, joined professional travel groups, morphed my website, learned as much as possible about being a tour operator, and planned my first women’s adventure to Morocco!

4. Secure your finances. Financial stability gave me the freedom and peace of mind to explore each step I took without the pressure of immediate income generation. I was searching for a side gig to enhance my life, not leave radiology. I am grateful for the steady income and found that having a financial cushion allows me to be creative, receptive, and resilient. If you are considering transitioning out of medicine, you may want to consider holding on to a regular source of income until you have a viable business if you are dependent upon a salary to meet your needs.

5. Build community and support. Starting a side gig demands considerable time and energy. Having the shared wisdom and support of others doing the same is invaluable. I joined groups to engage with fellow entrepreneurs and travel professionals who offered insights, resources, and encouragement. Moreover, the unwavering backing of family and friends sustained me through difficult moments and uplifted me during triumphs. This type of support helps keep the momentum moving forward.

Uncovering a fulfilling side gig was challenging and exhausting at times, yet also exhilarating and transformative. Through identifying the skills I wanted to utilize, following what energized me, remaining open to inspiration, embracing evolution, securing my finances, nurturing a supportive community, and persistently journeying forward, I eventually found my way. In addition to being a radiologist, I now run a thriving boutique global tour company for women, and I am thrilled. I hope that anyone with a desire to create something new will also discover their own path forward.

Stacey Funt is a radiologist.


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