This Woman’s Side Hustle Took Her From Cancer Diagnosis To Career Direction
Whether you want a creative outlet or are looking to make a little extra cash, consider starting a side hustle. In this series, Her Side Hustle, real women share their stories of how they found career and/or financial success after starting a side gig so that you can, too.
In April 2013, Vanessa Steil was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She was only 26 years old.
“I felt fine,” she told Swirled. “I went to my doctor for just a routine physical exam, and he found a thyroid nodule. After weeks of testing, it ended up being papillary thyroid carcinoma.”
The American University graduate and Long Island native never expected to get cancer at such a young age, but then again, who would? Papillary thyroid carcinoma is the most common type of thyroid cancer, the eighth most common type of cancer among women and the first most common type of cancer among women under the age of 25. With a degree in political science, Steil was working for a law school, expecting to enroll one day herself. But when she received her diagnosis, her plans changed.
“That was really the catalyst for me changing my career and my view on what I wanted to do, and what I thought I wanted to do,” she said. “I spent six months working on my health and getting myself better. Then, in 2014, I decided that I really wanted a creative outlet and I really wanted a way to share my story, find my voice and just be kind of a resource for other young cancer survivors.”
Launching Living In Steil
Steil started her blog, Living in Steil, in February of 2014, and began with authentic stories about the resources she had found for herself as a cancer survivor. Before she knew it, though, it grew into much more.
“I was amazed by the community I was able to build by just blogging and social media,” Steil said. “All of these like-minded people and other young thyroid cancer survivors that would reach out and say, ‘Your story really inspired me.'”
That’s when Steil realized she wanted to change her career. Instead of law, she found a passion for marketing, with an interest in social media and public relations, which she had never considered before.
“At the beginning, I didn’t have a social media background and I didn’t even have a Facebook page,” she said. “Now, I’m the social media and PR manager for a cancer foundation on Long Island. I always say that my cancer diagnosis turned into a career direction. Having a side hustle has been great, but it’s also led me to take those skills that I’ve learned through blogging and use that in my career. Marrying what was really a hobby and turning it into something that is not only fulfilling as a side hustle, but also has launched my career now, is amazing.”
Balancing It All
Steil’s blog has turned into a lifestyle brand, with content that covers food, fashion, health, fitness, wellness and more. But like any side hustler, balancing the work that goes into the brand can be challenging when you’re also working a 9-to-5 job.
“I have a full-time job, and I have the blog,” she said. “I’m a wellness influencer, and I’m also a caregiver to my 90-year-old grandmother, so it’s a lot that I do daily, personally and professionally. I always remind myself that you can’t pour from an empty cup. If I don’t take care of myself, then I can’t do my job properly, I can’t enjoy my side hustle to the degree that I want to and I can’t be a caretaker.”
Steil’s secret is to keep everything in balance, and know when it’s okay to pull back and focus on self-care.
“Sometimes I just say, ‘You know, I can’t post [a blog] on my normal Wednesday because I’m exhausted and need to go to a yoga class,'” she said. “It’s okay to skip a Wednesday rather than post something that really offers no value to my readers. I put things in perspective and just remember that I’m a priority, too. We have to juggle everything, but we also need to make sure we’re devoting some time in the day to ourselves to bring us peace and joy.”
Building The Brand
A side hustle can be so much more than just that — something you do on the side. For Steil, it quickly helped her find a new career. But it also took time to build up her followers and evolve the brand into a more influential business.
“Know your audience,” Steil said. “For me, it was very natural to be on Instagram. It’s where I have the greatest reach and I see more people coming to the blog from that platform.”
Steil’s advice for others looking to start a side hustle and grow their brand? Share your content on all platforms and then take a survey to see which one is bringing you the most traffic, the most engagement and the most followers. Then follow that success. Steil found that with Instagram and now has more than 6,000 followers on the platform.
Bringing In The Dough
A side hustle is great way to bring in a little more income every month. Whether you’re using it to pay off your student loans, reinvesting it in yourself or are just trying start that emergency fund, a little extra cash never hurts.
Steil makes money through her blog by working with brands on sponsored posts or affiliate links, but it’s not as easy as it looks.
“When you start blogging, if that’s what you choose to do, you need to be strategic in what your goals are,” she said. “It takes time to build up a following, and creating content is time-consuming, so if you’re working full-time, then you need to be realistic. I’m strategic with the partners I choose to work with because it’s not my primary source of income.”
Outside of being strategic with your business, it’s important to also know which brands fit with your own brand. Steil only works with companies that fit with her aesthetics, both personally and professionally.
“I’ll work with cancer foundations, like Susan G. Komen,” Steil said. “It’s not about whether they can afford to pay me or they can gift me products. If I really believe in the brand and their mission, I’ll work with them regardless.”
Steil reinvests the money she makes in the blog and website. A few years ago, she hired a web developer who helped her achieve a custom look, logo and more. If she’s not spending the money on Living in Steil, then she saves it in a retirement account (YGG!) or uses it to attend events that will benefit her side hustle.
Understanding The Benefits
“I think everyone should try to find some kind of side hustle, even if it doesn’t bring them a penny,” Steil said. “If there’s something you want to try or something you want to get better at, a side hustle is a great way to stick your toe in the water. You can never learn too many skills or new things.”
Beyond learning something new, Steil realized that she also gets a lot out of the community that she is now a part of. A side hustle can offer you access to people who you might not have met otherwise. Steil feels she is able to connect with others in the health, wellness and thyroid cancer space like never before.
“I like being able to be a positive voice in this space,” she said. “Even teaching people who don’t have a thyroid condition so they’re aware that they need to get a neck check, and if anything comes up where they need to go and what resources are there. For me, it’s been very gratifying to spread knowledge and be a resource and inspiration for others.”
At the end of the day, Steil’s side hustle is a way for her to express herself creatively, bring in a little extra income and hone in on skills that she can apply to her career. Living in Steil may have started as a result of a cancer diagnosis, but it’s turned into a guiding light for her life and career.
“The cancer diagnosis turned into a career direction,” she said. “Sometimes when you think something is a tragedy, it really just shows you a new path that you can take. I think that’s what happened in my own life. I’m happy that I can amplify that for others now.”
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