Advice Mega-Column, Part I: Side Hustles for Academics, Face-Blindness, Your “Friends” Who Keep Trying to Sell You Nail Wraps

advice mega post Part I


OH NO! For the last year-plus, a Contact form on our website was not functioning properly. Instead of sending your questions to me, your questions were being stored in a database. We finally figured this out, and discovered a TREASURE TROVE of burning questions! I can’t answer them all, but I can certainly dive in. Enjoy!


Jen! I am really glad I found GetBullish – I have read so many posts that have helped me feel more confident, start to think differently about my career, and just laugh my ass off. I just watched the webinar on “How to be incredibly confident pretty much always” and was struck by the interaction you had with Jennifer W. about your height (she thought you were much taller than you are) and it reminded me of two things that happened to me that made me question my own confidence, self-perception, and how I am perceived by others.

One time, I was sitting with a colleague who commented that “maybe people find you intimidating because you’re really tall?” We literally had to stand up and compare our height before she’d believe that I wasn’t freakishly tall – somehow she perceived me as a tall person even though I’m not (I’m 5’6″) and I was in fact the exact same height as her!

The same colleague also commented one day that I was “softly-spoken”. This amazed me, as I’d always thought I had a voice like a fog horn and was perhaps even embarrassed by it or tried to tone it down. Once she’d pointed it out though, I started to notice how often people asked me to repeat things, or just smiled politely and said nothing when I spoke – they couldn’t hear me! I’ve since been conscious of talking more loudly. It’s amazing what you can learn by finding out how other people actually perceive you.


It’s amazing that in the age of omnipresent video, we can all still have these delusions about ourselves. I seem to have the opposite of body-dysmorphic disorder, which is a fabulous way to live (not to make light of that condition).

I’m trying to think of a socially appropriate excuse to get video of yourself in normal work situations so you can get a better idea of how you actually look, sound, and interact. For example, “Hey everybody, I’m working with the Disadvantaged Girls Club on a mentoring activity, and a crew wants to come take some footage of me in the office for a video on what different kinds of jobs are like.” And then you actually have to get a cameraperson to come shadow you for a day, and then you actually have to do some kind of project with disadvantaged girls so you aren’t caught making shit up. That’s not the world’s most practical idea there.

Another option is a 360 evaluation – executive coaches often administer these by personally interviewing your bosses, peers, and direct reports, although of course this can also be done online. I once got a call from a friend who was involved in a mentoring group in her workplace, and she needed me (and several other people) to describe her in three adjectives. I was happy to do it, although I would have been more honest if it had been anonymous.

Maybe you’re not going to get video of yourself actually at work, but it would certainly be possible to set up some other situation where you could interact with people in a professional way on video. Set up some kind of women in business forum. Decide on a topic and invite panelists. You moderate. With not-for-profit, uncontroversial do-gooding, it should be easy to get space for free. Then get the whole thing videotaped. You’re benefiting others while also discovering that you have terrible posture (for instance). I fixed my own terrible posture with weightlifting. Yay!


I’m bad with faces. I’ve known most of my friends 10 years & I STILL mix people up. I remember friendships attached to names, but when I look at a face sometimes I literally don’t know if I’ve met it before. I often re-introduce myself to people 5 or 6 times. I just realized I only have white friends because if I did this to a poc it’d be seen as racist. I don’t want to miss out on friendships anymore, but telling people up front feels like I’m asking for a free pass to be racist. What can I do?


Wait, you have face blindness! Prosopagnosia! That’s totally a thing. You know that, right?

(I Can’t See Faces: 5 Weird Facts About My Life; What It’s Like To Be Profoundly Face-Blind)


The only thing racist about this is avoiding POC as possible friends. (And probably acting weird around POC at work, which is worse.) So stop doing that! Just go ahead and tell people you have face blindness.

I think you should compensate for this by:

  • Putting special care into learning names. Say a new name back to the person several times. Ask how to spell it, if that helps.
  • Trying to memorize other details about people: height, voice, hairstyle, clothing style. Look at people’s hands – they can sometimes be quite idiosyncratic.
  • Making a very diligent effort to remember things people tell you about themselves, and to follow up with them. Get the person’s business card or write down their social media handle along with a little note about what you talked about. You can actually write down a note about someone right in front of them as long as you tell them what you’re doing (”Pardon me, I’m emailing myself a reminder to introduce you to my cousin who works in the solar field.”)
  • Just make people feel really good when they’re around you! That’s good advice for anyone.
  • Now, towards the END of the encounter, tell the person, “By the way, I have face-blindness. It’s a brain problem where I literally cannot remember faces AT ALL, even my own mother’s! So don’t be offended if I don’t recognize you right away next time I see you. Just say ‘Hi, it’s Tanya’ and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh, Tanya from the alumni group who majored in environmental engineering and was wearing that awesome pink watch.’ And then we’ll be fine!”

Now go tell all your existing friends and family that you’ve just discovered there’s a NAME for the thing you have! Ask them to introduce themselves by name in the future (and not to play jokes on you!) And say that you’re so relieved to finally figure this out, and you look forward to LESS AWKWARDNESS next time you run into them.

It’s a whole new world for you! Yay!


I’m a Ph.D student (nearing-ish the end of grad school), often deeply frustrated with the system in academia and with graduate students, particularly the women, and their learned helpessness. Grad students engage in a massive fantasy world of “fallback options,” i.e. what they might do if they have to leave grad school or can’t find a tenure-track faculty job, TT faculty jobs being sort of like unicorns these days.

I have started to think that maybe some of these “fallback options” could instead become multiple income streams, but if you plan to pursue academia in spite of the bad market the pitfalls are many and strange. For one, the academic “market” as it were is deeply suspicious of capitalist enterprise, which can have real consequences for your career, even if your income streams are unrelated to academia. For another, your “career” is often measured non-monetarily, in publications especially, which don’t pay, but do take time. I think academics, particularly women, need to diversify. Many will scoff, saying that they already are crushed under their workload, and that is often true, although often could be improved by some ruthless bullishness. I also think that some of your advice is both fantastic and needs to be altered or augmented slightly for women in academia – for example, consulting work or opinion writing may need to be pseudonymous to avoid situations like the Stephen Salaita case. Senior faculty knowing that you have a side hustle can lead to failing your tenure case if your department thinks you are insufficiently committed. This leads people (again, especially women) to be held hostage to exploitative, poorly paying jobs unless they leave the system completely.

Do you have any advice on tailoring your Get Bullish advice for an often deeply anti-capitalist (and broke) customer base? For academics who need everything you have to offer, but need to be very specifically (often bizarrely) strategic in how they go about it? On anonymizing/pseudonimizing, running a business that does not need your name or location to be known (especially since academics relocate regularly), or how to do it publicly anyway knowing you may be punished? On struggling with the extreme high rates of mental illness in academic ranks?



Not being an academic myself, I wouldn’t say I have advice so much as ideas. You tell me if this helps.


Anonymous business? More possible than ever before. If you have a partner, consider starting a business that you both work on, but your partner is the public face of. Protect yourself by having in writing (even if you’re married!) that you are 50% owner of the company and that you each intend to invest 50% of startup capital, perform 50% of the labor, etc. This is one easy way to mask a side hustle, if you care about income more than credit. “Oh, my husband runs a brewery, isn’t that nice. Look at me publishing ALL THE PAPERS. No, I don’t smell like hops, why do you ask?”

I’ve certainly seen male entrepreneurs start a fashion company and make their wives the public face of it. If it came time to divorce, I’m sure that dude set his shit up right.

As for one’s “whole loss of identity as a scholar,” this is something a person with one foot out the door could work on without raising any red flags. Make friends with regular jobs. Friends who are winning at capitalism, even! (They don’t bite!)

In the book Choke – about stress that causes us to “choke” while competing in sports and taking standardized tests – author Sian Beilock cites a study in which participants improved test performance by reflecting on their own value as whole people. For instance, I make a mind map in which the middle circle says “Jennifer” and then I make some more circles that say things like “Good cook” and “Kind to cats.” I think something like this might be helpful.

Anonymous income streams? Try writing small ebooks to sell on Kindle Direct Publishing. The winner of this game is Chuck Tingle (NSFW), author of Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt, among other titles. But people post all kinds of minibooks on KDP, including summaries of or responses to bestsellers, study guides, recipe books, and every other category of books that people are willing to buy from an unknown author (that is, not literary fiction or poetry). “How to Brew Beer in a One-Bedroom Apartment” would work just fine. Surely Chuck Tingle is not really named Chuck Tingle. He may not be male. He probably did not, as he claims, receive his PhD at DeVry University in holistic massage. I don’t think side-hustling academics should all write erotic fiction. But surely a bunch of very smart people can see how instant publishing to millions of potential buyers might work for them.

Whatever your field is, can you dial it way, way, way down for kids? Post worksheets on TeachersPayTeachers. Run a summer camp.

If rules attached to your position allow you to earn money outside of the university, but you fear being stigmatized – it seems possible that you could consult for business while making your consulting practice seem very intellectual, like something you do out of pure curiosity and intellectual energy, while the fact that you just happen to charge a lot of money is beside the point. Maybe you went to undergrad with some people who now work for those big businesses. Maybe that’s a way to get started.

Is there some specific thing in your field that would be interesting to regular people? Can you express it in a way that is clear and interesting, and without displaying contempt for those regular people? Develop a TED talk. At very least, study TED talks. Do you hate Malcolm Gladwell? Because he does pretty well for himself. Neil deGrasse Tyson does not suck. There is nothing wrong with being a popularizer, or a popular educator.

If you hate all rich people, you’re going to stay poor. Find a money role model. Toni Morrison’s net worth is $24 million. Do you hate Toni Morrison? No, you do not. Do you hate that capitalism has resulted in her having $24 million? Examine that.


Hi Jen, I love everything about being a Bullicorn – and a lot of the advice is helpful as I build my (early) career in academia. However, I am still struggling on how one might side-hustle while in STEM academia — is it even worth it? Sure, I’d love to consult for big-organizations and get paid for it, but as I’m still in the beginnings of my career most of the focus is on research (and more research) rather than external opportunities. Any thoughts or places you suggest for resources? Will I just end up over-extending myself? Should I wait until I’m tenured? (yikes)


Ooh, see above! Keep in mind that the above questioner was asking, I think, more about people who don’t think they have a great shot at getting tenure. But you’re just starting – you’re not these burned out people hitting their thirties and wondering how they’re ever going to be able to live a normal life with a sustainable income.

Everything’s a gamble. If you have a great shot at a tenure-track position, or if you want tenure for its own sake more than you want anything else, go all in! Focus your external efforts on saving money, living elegantly while broke, and wisely investing the money that you do have.

Bamboo Lunch Boxes


You can also work on developing skills that you could monetize later if you needed or wanted to. Were you an award-winning piano player when you were 12? Maybe you want to pick up piano again, and teach a friend’s kid just for fun. If you ever need or want to teach piano (or open a piano studio, or develop an online course teaching people piano), you could. Maybe there are volunteer positions available that would introduce you to people you might want to work with in the future, give you new ideas outside academia, etc.

If your bills are paid and you’re going for a big goal, you don’t need a side hustle. But there’s nothing wrong with meeting people and taking in lots of information. If you ever have to walk away from some total bullshit, I want you to be excited about all your options, rather than broken and terrified.


Hey Jen, First – I’ve been following Bullish for just over a year now, and I LOVE what you do!! Ever since the article on not hate-nesting with a guy, I’ve been hooked. I’m writing you now, though, because I have a request for a topic I think is very important lately: could you look at Multi-Level Marketing companies (MLMs) and write/talk about what you think of them for professional women? I’ve noticed that some of my friends (most are college educated) have joined MLMs in the past few years, but most have joined within the past 6 months. One of my friends is knee deep in Mary Kay. She’s invested thousands of dollars in them, but has only earned less than half. My opinion is that MLMs prey on people financially, specifically targeting young, intelligent women who seek to progress professionally (your audience). But maybe there’s an angle I’m not considering?


Nope, that’s pretty much what’s going on! That, and some pretty pictures of pretty moms hanging out with their kids, seemingly earning passive income in their own time. The actual reality is somewhat different. My mom used to make me and my little brother hang Avon books in little baggies on all of the doors in our neighborhood, and it was very embarrassing. So is inviting all your friends to a home party and asking them to buy something – after which you lose some friends, and then others expect you to return the favor by buying shit at their home parties. So there goes both your profit and your friends!

Also, you have friends who want to buy things? Friends who believe in you and support whatever you do? Why would you burn through that selling $15 makeup? If you have such wonderful friends with disposable income, develop a product, put it on Kickstarter, and mobilize your friends to help crowdfund your business. If you make $4 commission when someone buys lipstick, what’s your best case scenario? How many lipsticks are you gonna sell? You’re never going to level up and get those lipsticks into stores, because they’re not your lipsticks, they’re Mary Kay’s. You don’t own shit.

I’ll repeat what I said in That One Time a Bunch of Bullish Ladies Lovingly Trolled Me With Questions About Manifesting Abundance and Not Intimidating Your Boyfriend:

The problems I have with Mary Kay and other MLMs (Multi-Level Marketing companies) are:

  • They prey on financially vulnerable people, including stay-at-home moms who want income while maintaining flexibility.
  • But flexibility doesn’t mean anything when you’re actually losing money instead of making it. 99% of people lose money in MLM. Mary Kay is among the more legit of these companies (for example, no one is earning commission off new salespeople’s startup fees), but the promises still don’t stack up for most people – see this post from Pink Truth.
  • It is a lie to tell unsalaried sales reps that they’re “starting their own business.” Being a salesperson for someone else’s company is not starting a company. I object to the small-time thinking and boxed-in business models being sold to vulnerable women in emotionally manipulative ways.
  • A few MLM companies have a noble history of providing income opportunities to women in an era in which there were serious structural barriers to women starting their own companies. It is, however, no longer that time. Presenting the best option of 1950 as the best option in 2016 is incorrect and unethical.
  • There is an opportunity cost to everything. Pursuing an unsalaried sales position when you could be starting your own actual business wastes time, energy, and resources – and burns through your friend/professional networks, using up all the favors you might have wanted to cash in for something other than a small commission on someone else’s product.
  • Legitimate companies give their salespeople territories. Scam companies encourage salespeople to recruit their friends, family, and neighbors as salespeople so that there are no actual customers left, and the only next step is to recruit even more salespeople. Supply greatly outpacing demand is BAD.
  • MLM salespeople are profoundly annoying, poisoning personal relationships and infiltrating networking events where they hand you catalogs with their number stamped on the back. Hint: if you have an ID number given to you by someone else’s company, you did not just “start your own business.”
  • In-person, friend-to-friend sales once made sense BEFORE THE INTERNET EXISTED. You think you’re going to compete with Amazon Prime? Or even with fun, glam trips to Sephora?
  • Selling to your friends is a TERRIBLE BUSINESS MODEL unless your friends are MUCH RICHER THAN YOU, in which case you would still do better starting your own actual company. Rich people don’t want to buy Mary Kay. They do like to invest money so as to make even more money.


THANK YOU. I wanted to send a hearty thank you for your direct, helpful, and aspirational content. As a young mother of two that left college to work/get married/raise babies/and various other excuses I have been terrified of starting classes (8 days away!) and reentering the workplace in a meaningful way. I came across GetBullish and Design Your 2016 and I no longer lay awake at night with vague nausea and the overwhelming fear I’m only good for administrative work and getting paid $12/hr. It never occurred to me that my career wasn’t something dependent on the publicly posted opportunities available. I’m so full of hope and excitement for the future I feel like I should be signing somebody’s yearbook.


Hell yes, you bullicorn!


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