In Defense of Not Turning Your Hobby Into A Side Hustle

A closer look at modern-day hustle culture

Photo: Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

Growing up, I always had a little side hustle in me. Yep, I was that kindergartener who sold papier-mâché hats and beaded bracelets to fellow six-year-olds. With fake money, of course.

Now that I’m in my 20s, not much has changed, not even my obsession with arts and crafts projects, although these days I prefer real money as payment. Sadly, the idea of making additional income alongside a day job excites me more than I care to admit. Especi ally if that additional income is earned passively while I sleep, or if it could one day replace my day job. My obsession with the side hustle is all too real.

At one point or another, my entrepreneurial mindset has led me to turn most of my interests into some form of a side hustle. Not that we’re counting, but I’ve been a babysitter, dog walker, t-shirt designer, eBay seller, luxury fashion reseller, focus group participant and even a movie extra.

My point is, I’ve done it all. Or at least a good percentage of it. Plus, I have a whole list of side hustle ideas in the notes section of my phone, waiting for me to take my pick. Trust me, if I had a driver’s license or a spare bedroom, Uber driver and Airbnb host would probably be on my resume right now.

Our obsession with the hustle

A few weeks ago, I half-jokingly told my mom I was thinking about starting a candle making business. This was after I made two candles. I know I should be ashamed of myself.

Or should I?

I mean, how many times have you and your friends talked about one day starting a podcast, YouTube channel or Etsy store, just because you’ve seen so many others do it successfully?

Undoubtedly, it is all too easy to start a side hustle these days. If you have a phone, you’re halfway to running your own business. And with the internet continually bombarding us with people who have found success in their side hustle and perpetuating the idea that side hustles are cool, trendy, and so rewarding — who wouldn’t want one?

It seems more and more people are jumping on board. 43% of Americans reported having a side hustle to supplement their income, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey. This was a 6% increase from their 2018 survey, where 37% of Americans reported having a side hustle.

The post-pandemic figures are sure to be even higher, as employees fear for day job security. According to a GoDaddy survey, one in five workers stuck at home due to Covid-19 are using the additional time to set up a new business.

Side hustles make the world go round

It’s safe to say that side hustles occupy a lot of our thinking and working time. Hustle culture has us convinced that something as simple as reading a book is a waste of time; unless you read it aloud and sell the recording. Or unless it’s a self-help book.

Ironically, side hustles used to be a way to escape the grind of a regular job and focus on a passion project. Now, side hustles are the norm. That makes them not only boring (in my humble opinion) but also quite dangerous (according to actual research).

With so many of us having some kind of side hustle to supplement our income, it’s unsurprising that this 24/7 hustle culture contributes to mental health issues like burnout. A 2018 Harvard Business Review study revealed that “25% of entrepreneurs felt moderately burned out, while 3% felt strongly burned out,” as a result of the work-related pressures they experienced.

To add to this, 3 out of 10 Americans with a side hustle say they need one because it helps cover the costs of their regular living expenses. Without those extra hours of paid work, many wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

The overall trend from the past few decades shows that low and middle-class wages have stagnated, but the cost of living continues to rise. For example, the average middle-class household in America had $17,867 less income in 2007 compared to 1979 due to rising income inequality. Therefore, it’s understandable why so many people have been pressured to monetize their hobbies into side hustles to make up for net losses in income.

This is depressing stuff — technology and innovation were supposed to make our lives easier. Instead, despite work productivity being up 74% since 1973, hourly wages have nearly flatlined, making it harder for regular people to support themselves and their families.

How I learned to stop hustling and love my hobbies

It’s an unavoidable fact that side hustles have been part of our civilization since the dawn of time. Even da Vinci dabbled in the art of the side hustle, though back then, they preferred to call themselves Renaissance Men instead of hustlers.

Lately, however, we are giving side hustles more power than they deserve. After being fascinated by the side hustle for over two decades, I recently had a change of heart following a conversation with a friend. She started making wall carpet decorations as a way to pass the time during lockdown. She’s gotten very good at it and I, being me, suggested she sell her stuff on Etsy.

Her response stopped me in my tracks and made me feel awful for trying to turn her art, her therapy, her fun, into profit:

“I thought about it, but I’ve literally monetized everything I ever loved.”

I don’t deserve my friends or their pearls of wisdom. But I’m determined to take action on it. Since then, I’ve tried to focus more on doing at least one thing a day just for myself. This has mostly been in the form of other arts and crafts projects like candle bedazzling and making polymer clay candle holders. I’ve also become a big fan of exercising and going for walks without my phone in an attempt to control my obsessive stat checking with my various other ventures. Though it’s only been a few weeks, even I am surprised at how these simple changes have made me a lot happier and less stressed.

Hustle over hobbies?

When everyone has a side hustle — and seems to work 80+ hour weeks — it’s easy to feel like you aren’t ‘producing’ enough. Simply put, our society values making money over rest and relaxation, and we’ve become workaholics who forgot what it’s like to enjoy life.

This is why we need things in our lives that don’t revolve around work and making money. There are good reasons hobbies exist — hobbies not only help us meet new people and make us more interesting humans, but they also encourage mindfulness, reduce stress and push us out of our comfort zones. Sign me up!

Despite how nice I make hobbies sound, capitalism usually gets its way, and the side hustle craze is likely to grow in the future. “There is no way back,” says Bernd Vogel, Founding Director of the Henley Centre for Leadership, which researches leadership and organizations. “We can expect growth in side-hustling, possibly even doubling, in the next ten years.” Research shows that working over 39 hours a week is a risk to wellbeing. The rise of the side hustle is likely to accelerate health problems.

There is now even a growing anti side hustle movement, where people sell their expensive wellness retreats and self-help books about how to disconnect from our chaotic lives. Thank you, capitalism, for turning everything into profit.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a free and simple cure to toxic hustle culture that we can all take part in normalizing rest.

I know all too well how difficult it can be to switch off from work and take time out for ourselves. It’s almost like we are expected to stop enjoying things as soon as childhood ends. But not everything needs to be optimized, tracked, measured or turned into a number. After all, we’re not robots just yet!

Simply put, we can’t let the popularity and lure of side hustles convince us that everything in our lives is worth monetizing.

In Conclusion

Hustle culture has made me feel a lot of things. But mostly, it’s left me feeling anxious about running out of time, ashamed for not being successful yet, and regretful for spending all of my waking time working.

But then I have to remind myself: It’s ok to enjoy life. Most of us aren’t meant to work ourselves crazy. The people who do, end up making other sacrifices — for their mental health, their loved ones and their own happiness. Some of the happiest, most fulfilled people in the world know that rest and relaxation are crucial to wellbeing.

There will always be money to be made, but things like our wellbeing and happiness are more important. By carefully choosing how I balance my work with other activities, I’ve started walking down a better path with less conflict and guilt when not engaging in work. So enjoy your friends, family and hobbies. Savor those evenings and weekends off. And if you don’t need to, don’t sacrifice your happiness for more hustle.

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