Ah, the side hustle. More commonly known as the “second job,” side hustles are a badass, creative, independent—yet completely romanticized—way to increase your income. They’ve become a symbol of entrepreneurial go-gettership, a way to show the world that your ideas and goals are far too important to contain in a single 9-5. Side hustlers are super humans with the energy and vision to Get Shit Done.
Or at least, that’s the rhetoric we all perpetuate by romanticizing the side hustle.
Let’s call a spade a spade. A side hustle is a goddamn second job, and if you have one it means either a) your first job is failing to pay the bills, or b) you’re willing to trade all of your free time in order to retire early because your job sucks and doesn’t pay enough to achieve this goal. Neither scenario is particularly inspiring or empowering.
I’m not saying we should all revolt against the concept of side hustles and give up our efforts to make extra money. You can pry my side hustle from my cold, dead hands, as a matter of fact. But I think a dose of realism is in order lest we get carried away romanticizing the side hustle.
The normalization of poverty
Put simply, all that glitters isn’t gold. The reality is that the contemporary ubiquity of side hustles is just another sign of the normalization of poverty wages and our current shitty economy. While a side hustle might indeed shower untold wealth upon many, for others it’s just shiny new packaging on the solution to an old problem: stagnant wages in the face of inflation and the need for two or more jobs to make ends meet.
Like the tiny house craze, the romanticization of the side hustle is a way of normalizing wage stagnation. A family of four was not meant to cohabitate in thirty square feet of impractical, made-for-HGTV decorating during a Michigan winter. And given an affordable choice, I sincerely doubt they would. (Trust not the charlatans of Tiny House Hunters. Theirs is the snake oil of willful discomfort.) Tiny houses likely started out as a practical solution to rapidly rising housing costs in major cities. But what used to be a way of surviving a tough economy became an Ethical Lifestyle Choice™, a trendy way to display to the world how minimalist and efficient you are.
Likewise, the side hustle. Or rather, as most Americans making minimum wage call it, the second job. It’s something the poor have done out of necessity for ages. But now we slap the fancy label of “side hustle” on the packaging and suddenly it’s a glamorous vocation!
Really what you’re saying with your side hustle is “I am not making enough money to meet my goals with one full time job so I need a second one.” Or even worse: “If I rest I’ll lose my home.”
But I like my side hustle…
This is not to say that the practice of side hustling is totally unhealthy, evil, or self-defeating. Far from it! I myself have a couple of side hustles going (freelance editing, babysitting), and I find them both emotionally and financially rewarding. And not because I’m a workaholic or a masochist (though I am absolutely both). I’ll freely admit that even if my salary was $30k more per year, I’d likely still keep up my side hustles, partially because I enjoy them and partially because I relish the idea of making as much money as possible so I can say FUCK YOU to The Man as soon as possible.
I am not alone in this. And if side hustles were just a convenient way to make “extra” cash, then there wouldn’t be a problem. But for many people, they are neither a convenient way to make extra cash, nor a road to self-employment. They’re a way of literally making ends meet because your full-time job does not pay you enough to cover your basic living expenses.
Many use their side hustle as a way to transition into full-time self-employment. And that’s great! But it doesn’t always work out for the aspiring entrepreneur. A cursory Google search reveals sad stories about side hustles gone horribly wrong, companies that take advantage of independent contractors, and jobs that suck all the joy out of the hustle. So I guess what I’m saying is, you better love driving a whole helluva lot if you’re going to sell your soul to Uber.
Leisure time is meant for leisure
The biggest drawback to the side hustle is its unique ability to murder your free time. If you work an eight-hour day only to come home and work another four hours on your side hustle before squeezing in a shower, a food, and a sleep, then at what point do you take a break? At what point do you read a book, catch up on the news, learn a new skill, clean your house, spend time with your family, walk your dog?
Leisure time is meant for leisure. The whole reason we have a culturally accepted eight-hour work day is because labor rights activists fought to keep employees from working to death by dividing their lives into thirds for working, playing, and resting. Studies show that human beings work better when they get to fully experience the rest and leisure thirds of their lives. You need a respite from work so that you can continue to be good at that work. It’s healthy to pursue other hobbies outside of your career. That underground gingerbread house-making tournament could literally be saving your life!
So if you’re filling the leisure third of your life with a side hustle, exactly when do you expect to… leisure?
Why are side hustles so common now?
Despite all this, I support side hustling precisely because it is necessary for so many of us. The world has changed. No use denying it. One income often doesn’t cut it anymore and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.
For some, a side hustle is a necessary buffer between them and homelessness. For others, it’s a great way to pad savings and investments. And for others, it’s a stepping stone along the transition toward full-time self-employment. It can be a rewarding way of making your hobby your career, of meeting your financial goals faster, and of monetizing your free time.
But side hustles are more common than ever, and it’s hard to ignore the historical precedent this sets. In the 1960s, 70% of American families survived on the income of a single breadwinner. In 2012 by contrast, 60% of households were supported by two full-time incomes. That’s right: what many of our grandparents could achieve on one salary, we now, on average, need two to achieve. So it makes perfect sense that to get ahead, those households already supported by two full-time, salaried workers would find a side hustle—a third or even a fourth job—very, very appealing.
So let’s cut the shit. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a grueling and not entirely voluntary way of trading your precious spare time for money because you really, really need that money.
Side hustle if you need to or want to. But don’t kid yourself about this trendy new mode of financial freedom. For far too many it’s just another form of struggling to make ends meet.