Maybe I’m late to the party, but it was only recently that I heard the phrase ‘side hustle’. Apparently it has been around a while: way back in 2013, Entrepreneur.com tacked up an online definition, calling ‘a way to make some extra cash that allows you flexibility to pursue what you’re most interested in’. It can also be your true passion – a chance to delve into fashion, travel or whatever it is you care about the most without quitting your day job. More recently, it has been attached to the Millennial Generation who apparently have the right mix of creativity, tech savvy and financial need to makes the Side Hustle something of a given. In fact, the Side Hustle may work well with another trend, that of people being unhappy with their work lives. As it turns out, having a second, compelling career may make you more tolerant of your day job.
This article from Quartz spells out the way that it works. Quoting the author of a book called The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau, the author makes the point that in this day and age there is no need for ‘occupational purity’. That’s a new phrase to me too, but I like it. For so many people, the skills they now have and the jobs they now occupy will have to be re-thought every few years in the future. That is true for all workers – think about unemployed 50 somethings who need to think up new careers – but especially true for those just entering the labor force. Telling a 20something to pick a profession and assume they will be working at it for the next four decades or so seems like poor advice to me.
And so you have the Side Hustle. It has always existed for some out of economic necessity: for those pursuing a dream (wanting to be a rock star say), their reality also may mean being a barista or whatever. Which one of those jobs is the side hustle is a matter of opinion. The new-style Side Hustle is the one where the full time accountant sings in a rock band on weekends, or the customer service rep makes jewelry and then sells it on Etsy after hours. The singing accountants have always existed of course, as have the jewelry makers. What has changed is the technology that allows the jewelry to reach a wider audience – and perhaps as well the attitudes that now say it is a good idea for the accountant to channel his inner-Steve Tyler.
So why does it make people happier to have that side hustle? Well, clearly it makes them less invested in your regular job, which as we all know is hardly to be a job-for-life these days. More simply though, the side hustle can just make people happier and more excited about life in general, and that no doubt will have positive spillovers for their regular jobs, however mundane they might be.
While I like the tone of the Quartz article and do not disagree that having a richer life makes you happier, I think that we are going to see side hustles rise at an exponential rate, but for reasons more related to economics. These days, more and more companies are getting less and less committed to having huge numbers of people on the payroll. That means we are moving to a world with a mix of full-time work, side hustles, freelancers, part-timers and temporary workers. A lot about that mix makes those who study the economy and the labor market uneasy and worried about what that means for income security and economic growth, and I would not disagree that those are valid concerns. If those ‘new work world’ workers figure out how to make themselves a little happier amidst all of that, that might constitute a benefit that is harder to quantify but is a benefit just the same.