Among the Financial Independence crowd, the Side Hustle reigns as one of the primary means by which we create additional income and reach our goal of “retiring” early.
I’ve been thinking about side hustles for a while now and I’ve decided I have a problem with the words.
It’s a cool concept, and a nice catchphrase, but words matter and I don’t think the name “Side Hustle” does our efforts justice, given the amount of energy and dedication and the extent of the hopes we pin on this area of our lives.
They’re not hustles, they’re careers, because any project that takes that much energy and has that much ambition deserves to wear that mantle.
The Importance of Semantics
“It’s just semantics“, you might say.
“Words matter”, would be my reply.
What’s the difference between a hustle, a job and a career?
A hustle has no setup costs, is something you can earn money by picking up at any time and can drop again with little consequence. It’ll never earn you very much, because it’s just a hustle, and if you need to make more money, then you need to just hustle harder. If someone else does better at the hustle than you, they’re a better hustler.
A job is something you do for someone else, under contract, that pays you a salary or a wage. You can also be self-employed and selling your efforts under contract to a number of different people – legally here you work for yourself, but that’s just appearance. At the end of the day you still earn money for the work you do for others.
A career is a job with a strategy behind it. It’s an effort that seeks to contribute to something, either tangible or intangible, that will have greater value the more you contribute to it. That can mean that you work for a large company but your ambition is to rise in the ranks, and you choose to deploy your efforts in such a way that each new project you do contributes somehow to your skill-set, reputation and experience, making you more valuable as time goes by. It can also mean working for yourself on a profit-generating endeavour that grows over time, thanks to your efforts, gradually growing and taking on more substance – something you can hire other people into, automate, delegate or sell for the value that’s now baked into it.
A career has a purpose – a hustle is a quick way to make a buck and a job is a long way to make several bucks.
Hustles Have Their Place
If your month-end is a few hundred bucks short, by all means jump on your bike and deliver a few pizzas. That’s a hustle.
If you need an extra thousand a month and you don’t mind working double shifts, get a people-carrier license and sign up for Uber. For sure you’ll make the extra cash.
In both cases however, you’re exchanging your time for money in a way that creates nothing that lasts. It’s a temporary cash inflow and should be seen that way. Don’t kid yourself that your reputation on Uber changes much at all. Your thousand-ride badge and 4.8 reputation on the platform are a digital currency of very little real value outside their ecosystem. The more you invest in getting those badges, the more you find it difficult to leave. After all, look at the investment required to get those numbers to show up on your profile. They’ve gamified the process to push you to work harder and encourage you to stay. But it’s for their benefit, not yours.
So yes, if you need extra cash for 3 months, deliver pizzas and call it a hustle. Just don’t make it a way of life and don’t invest too much of yourself into it. I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s a dumb job for dumb money and should be treated as strictly temporary.
Jobs Are The Main Source Of Income For Most People
We can’t all be entrepreneurs. We should however be grateful to those whose ambition was sufficient to create jobs for the rest of us.
In a job, you get a paycheck at the end of each month that includes your health insurance, national insurance, pension plan, etc. All these additional costs your employer consents to pay for his/her employees is money has to come from somewhere.
It comes from the revenues generated by a business that someone else started. They took risks, invested their time and effort, and perhaps other people’s money. That paycheck comes with a certain reliability and consistency that allows you to plan your life around those revenues. You can budget according to that income, plan holidays months in advance, decide to buy a home on credit and send your kids to school for years to come. All this is possible because the business has the permanence and solidity to offer you a long-term contract.
That’s great. Over time you can even get training, promotions and pay increases that enhance your earnings. Nevertheless, regardless of how grateful we should be for our jobs, they’re limited when it comes to financial independence. It’s not in the company’s best interests to pay you more than they have to for the job you do. Their goal is to maximize profits and retain talent, not pay you enough to retire.
But holding down two jobs is a real challenge. If you have a primary job and you add another to FIRE quicker, you’ll find it hard going. It can be done. You work shifts in the evenings or on weekends, you do freelance writing for blogs or magazines in your spare time, and treat it like a job. But it’s hard.
That’s where the career comes in. The difference between a career and a job is the way you approach it and the expectations you set. You should always try to treat your job as part of a career. This applies all the more to work you do in your precious spare time.
Have A Second Career
Your second job shouldn’t just be for money – it should add something more to your life than extra cash flow.
This isn’t just some emotional concept relating to satisfaction. It’s much easier to maintain the effort required if you are proud of your achievements. Your motivation will be stronger if you’re passing milestones and experiencing growth as your put your heart and soul into something.
Some jobs cannot become careers. They’re not built that way; the business you work for has no interest or incentive to let you grow beyond the role you’ve been given. Exceptions aside, truck drivers don’t get promoted to haulage company managers and burger flippers don’t become fast-food franchising directors. These jobs can make acceptable main income sources if you can’t find anything better, but they shouldn’t be side hustles. They’re soul-destroying when you’re investing precious free time into them.
Other jobs can be re-examined and adjusted to give them career-like attributes. If, for example, you write copy for blogs or magazines, you can set yourself targets. These could be about the number of customers, price per word, quality of publication, readership of your articles, etc. As you hit these targets, your income increases, as does your reputation. The quality of your work improves until your reputation and experience give you options you didn’t have when you started out.
The ultimate side-career is to create a business out of something you enjoy and gradually grow it until it’s meaningful. A blog such as this one is a good example. One day you may pass the milestone where your second career earns you more income than the first. Then you can quit your day job or ask for reduced hours to focus on something you own and love.
A Real Side-Career Has Additional Benefits
Nothing exists in a vacuum. If you take your side-career seriously enough, it has positive impacts across other areas of your life.
If you take a side-career seriously, you’ll meet new people and make new friends that you otherwise wouldn’t have met. One day, you match what happens in one area of your professional life to your other projects, and create value that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
A great example of how this can work is the article below. It’s written by a banker, bestselling author, record producer and US Navy Veteran. How’s that for a collection of careers?
Why you should have at least two careers – Harvard Business Review
What To Take From This Article
The time to think about this is ideally before you start a new project. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I enjoy the idea of working long hours building this income stream for reasons other than the money?
- Will the money, independently of the other reasons for doing it, make this effort worthwhile?
- Can this effort grow over time as I learn more, get more experience and grow it like a business?
- Will I be able to remotivate myself to focus on this project when things have not gone well and I am recovering from setbacks?
If it’s too late and you’ve already invested heavily (or emotionally) in a new project or income source, ask yourself these questions:
- Can I see ways in which this job/hustle can become something I can build on?
- What do I need to change to turn it into something that grows over time?
- Do I enjoy doing this, or am I just telling myself I enjoy this?
- In what ways am I lying to myself or misleading myself when I think about where this effort can lead?
If you can, adjust the effort so that it leads to something. If you can’t consider dropping it, reclaiming the lost time and reinvesting it in something that adds to both your satisfaction and your wallet.
Finally, you should review your side career(s) on a regular basis – say every three to six months, and ask yourself the following questions:
- What did I do over the last 3 months to advance this career?
- Does the career still have the same potential as it did before?
- Am I do what I need to do to reach that potential?
- Aside from just doing the job itself, what actions must I take over the next 3 to 6 months to progress in this career?
- Is my time well spent? How can I allocate it better?
- Do I have too many things on the go? Which is the weakest or the one with the lowest potential? If I cut that project, would the time be better spent on one of my other activities?