What it's like to launch an unusual side hustle, from a mom starting a gig as a death doula

How one lawyer and mom has approached starting her "soul side hustle," and what she's learned.

Hannah Genton.
Courtesy Hannah Genton

Hannah Genton has "had a close relationship with death from my most formative years," she says. "From the ages of 12 to 17, I lost five people very, very close to me." These included her best friend and her grandparents.

"That has shaped everything I've done in my life," says Genton, 34, a founding partner at distributed law firm CGL and a mother of two. "It gives me kind of an urgency to live." As part of that urgency, Genton realized that she needed an outlet outside of work and family, a passion project to help bring more balance into her life.

In 2019, after moving to Costa Rica, Genton discovered an unusual gig: death doula. While many people think of doulas as providing nonmedical support to people before, during, or after a birth, a death doula provides such support for those nearing the end of their lives.

"They are an emotional support person that is hired by the family or the dying person to assist in the transition process," she says. A death doula might help someone in their final months or days build a legacy project chronicling their life, for example. They also help families process grief, help caregivers with daily tasks, prepare the dying space, as well as providing other aid.

Genton and her family moved back to the U.S., to Salt Lake City, in October 2020, and she has since been working to get her death doula certification in hopes of starting work in late summer. "This approach is like a soul side hustle," she says. It will help her serve others and feel more fulfilled herself, regardless of how much money she'll end up making.

Here's how Genton has approached starting an unusual kind of side hustle and her advice for building up a passion project on the side.

Follow your passion — and your experience

"I just fell in love with" the idea of helping families through death and grief, Genton says.

Having had so much experience with it at an early age, "death is something that's near and dear to my heart," she says. "I'm always reading books on death and talking to my kids about it." So when it came time to find another outlet outside of her day job, "I was journaling and it came to me that I really need to work with the dying."

Genton didn't really know what job opportunities that might entail. During her family's time in Costa Rica, "I was just googling and looked up different programs and somehow stumbled across death doula certification," she says, "and that started a spiral into researching about it."

When setting rates, consider 'a sliding scale'

"It's a really long process to get your death doula certification," says Genton. "You need a lot of clinical volunteer hands-on experience, a lot of educational books, training." She's currently about a third of the way through her training, including hospice volunteering in which she's cooking, cleaning, and acting as a companion. "Some people just need somebody to talk to."

Genton is currently spending about 40 hours per week at CGL and 8 to 10 hours a week on her death doula certification. She tries to frontload her weeks with work at the law firm so that Fridays are dedicated to her training. It's a cadence she hopes to keep up even after she's certified.

I was journaling and it came to me that I really need to work with the dying.
Hannah Genton
Founding partner, CGL

She has flexibility in terms of setting her own rates, too. "Because this is not a side hustle I'm using for financial fulfillment, I have the luxury of setting things up on a sliding scale," she says. "The highest priced doula I've seen in my area is $75 per hour."

Whatever arrangements she'll ultimately work out with her clients, as she gets her feet wet in the field, "for the first bit I'd probably be doing it for free," she says.

'Be true to yourself'

For anyone keen to follow a passion on the road to a side hustle, "I think the advice I'd give to people ― it sounds kind of cheesy, but be true to yourself," says Genton. "If something is calling you, if you're interested in photography, go for it!"

For her part, when it comes to her own side project, she "felt called" to do it. Certainly, if her experience in life has taught her anything thus far, it's that, "I don't know how long of an opportunity I'm going to have to explore this."

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