I’ve always believed that side hustles are good for the soul, and nobody proves that more than my friend Carleanne O’Donoghue. Through her involvement with the super inspiring Books on the Underground project (yes, the one with Emma Watson!), she has turned her pain into something positive. Here’s her story…
I’m so interested in your side hustle, Books on the Underground. How did it all begin, and how has it felt to see the project grow and get global attention?! Particularly while juggling a day job?
I’d been looking to push myself into doing more of the stuff that interests me, and to meet new people. I loved the Books on the Underground movement and saw they had a book club, so I tweeted them to see if they needed an extra pair of hands. It turns out they did, and I met Cordelia, manager of Books on the Underground, and was given my book fairy wing there and then along with two other girls!
As time went on, the movement got bigger and more book fairies appeared, each of us distributing up to 200 books between us a day on the Tube.
Then, we managed to partner up with Our Shared Shelf and Emma Watson to drop copies of Mom & Me & Mom on the Underground over a couple of days and it was a HUGE success. Our following on Instagram and Twitter grew massively and the story was hugely reported in the media.
We also started receiving a lot of requests from other people around the world who wanted to set up a similar scheme, but maybe didn’t have as much public transport so Cordelia came up with this idea of The Book Fairies and sharing books with people in any location, anywhere in the world. Emma Watson got involved in the launch and on International Women’s Day 2017, we launched.
That day, we distributed 1200 books in 26 countries, and gained 50k Instagram followers in only 2 and a half months. We gave away 40,000 stickers for free to people in over 100 across the globe (today, we’ve sent stickers to 195 countries). Getting global attention was crazy! I honestly can’t explain how crazy and weird it was to watch these books we’d spent hours packing, being distributed and found in places as far as America and Australia.
We are lucky that people tend to understand we all have full-time jobs, but we make the effort to get out onto the tube before and after work and at lunch if we can. I work right by a tube station so it’s not much effort for me to pop out on my way to Pret with a tote bag full of books, jump on the northern line for a stop, sprinkle some fairy dust and then circle back to the office.
My bosses love the fact I do it, so they’re very understanding and don’t mind that I stack the place up with boxes and boxes full of books from publishers. Right now, I can’t fit my legs under my desk!
That is such an incredible story! You are quite literally putting good out there into the world, sprinkling creativity wherever you go.
Yes, I love it! I try to remain as anonymous as I can when I do it, but I’ve had a few people chase me down tube trains and platforms to tell me how amazing the scheme is, or that I had just made their day, which is always very lovely to hear.
How have your side hustles, particularly your work with Books on the Underground, contributed to your overall wellbeing and even your mental health?
This is probably the most open I have been about this, but right now I am having a bit of a struggle with my mental health. In November, I lost somebody who was very dear to me and I can quite honestly say that I haven’t felt the same since. It was like, all of a sudden, the lights had been turned off. I had no idea where I was going, but I was expected to just keep on going.
At first, it was fine and I carried on just doing the same things I’d usually do, dropping books and updating the BOTU website. The other Fairies were all so lovely and supportive.
Since this has all happened, we have become this amazing family and being a part of something that brings joy to so many people is a great reminder that there is good out there, even when life can seem so cruel at times.
It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true.
The smallest things can really make all the difference, which is also why I’ve recently joined the volunteering team at the MediCinema at Guys Hospital in London Bridge. I basically spent my Thursday evening wheeling people up and down from the wards to the cinema so they could watch a film in a comfy chair and it made such a huge difference to both my day and theirs. I like feeling like I have contributed to somebody’s day, even just a little bit.
A lot of the time you can’t tell whether somebody’s had a great one, or a terrible one, but you can bet that after finding a Book from the Book Fairies or if they have had a couple of hours off of the ward down at the MediCinema, you’ve made an impression and given somebody at least one thing to smile about that day.
I should add that I went back to work a couple of days after this huge loss, and I lost all enthusiasm.
Doing the Book Fairies and Books on the Underground stuff were the only things I felt that contributed to improving my mood and making me feel a little less gloomy.
What you’ve just shared is so honest and important. Thank you. Having suffered with depression, I know how hard it can be. This topic reminds me of that fantastic Maya Angelou quote, “you can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have”. And I think the same applies to kindness. What advice can you give to anyone who feels stuck in a rut? How can a side hustle help?
Just do something that makes you happy, even if it’s for five minutes. There are so many things you can do that don’t have to take up a lot of time, on your own terms.
For example, Postcrossing is another thing that has really helped. Basically, you register on the site, press a button and it generates an address and an ID you write a postcard to this person, include the ID, they register it when they receive it and then you get a postcard back from somebody else somewhere in the world.
Sometimes I will just send a bunch of postcards off and forget about them and then come home to a load of postcards on the map from amazing places like India, Taiwan, across Europe and America.
Side hustles don’t have to take up a lot of time, or make you any money – they just have to make you happy. For me, making other people happy makes me happy. It’s just all about finding what works for you and what you enjoy doing.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a job we LOVE and want to live and breathe. You may not be able to necessarily control what goes on 9-5, but you can spend those remaining 16 hours doing what does truly make you happy.
My life is by no means a big happy fairytale, but getting involved in these projects really helps me see the beauty in things when I’m feeling low.