Side hustle, outside hustle, inside hustle
What is a side hustle, really? How are they different from work or a creative project? And why the fixation on making money?
I’ve been mulling over these questions for months. It started back in April when I left my job to go freelance. I was always clear about how I would pay the bills. I’ve been working in content for a long time, I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and lots of organisations need the skills I have. If you look at the Japanese concept of Ikigai – the ‘happiness of being busy’ – content work is close to the middle of that Venn diagram for me.
But despite having a fulfilling career, I knew I wanted to have something on the side. There’s other stuff I like doing that gives me something my work doesn’t. But having a job – even a flexible one – has always seemed to mean that it gets deprioritised. Part of what motivated me to go freelance was wanting to find a good way to combine my content work with the ‘other stuff’: writing, photography and making art.
The problem with side hustles
‘Side hustle’ seems to be the name everyone is giving their ‘other stuff’ these days. But the trouble for me, is that side hustle culture leaves me cold. The prevailing narrative says a side hustle is all about money. It’s either making you rich now, or you’re building something that will make you rich later on. We’ve all seen the landslide of articles…50 side hustles to earn an extra $1000 a month. In debt? Get a side hustle. 24 side hustles you can start while you work full-time.
There’s not a lot of joy in the way people talk about the topic; it’s all about struggle, grind, and relentless ambition. It sounds tiring. There’s also something privileged about it; a side hustle is totally different from the harsh reality of needing a second job to make ends meet. It’s something you can do because you have some kind of financial stability and free time to invest.
I want to find a different way to think about my ‘other stuff’. Something that will help me prioritise the work I’m not earning money from (yet) while preserving the joyous, creative side. Which brings me to the idea of ‘outside hustle’ versus ‘inside hustle’.
Outside hustle versus inside hustle.
‘Hustle’ is a tricksy word when you look at it. There’s a few different definitions, some with negative and some with positive connotations:
- Hustle (verb): to get something dishonestly.
- Hustle (verb): to push, bump or shove.
- Hustle (noun): a fraud, a dishonest way of making money.
- Hustle (noun): a state of activity, excitement, busyness, animation.
So maybe then, there’s two kinds of hustle?
- Outside hustle: something ‘exotelic’ that we do for an external purpose, like to make money, or to win admiration or approval.
- Inside hustle: something ‘autotelic’ that we do for the sake of the thing itself, where the purpose is just to do that thing e.g. a lot of creative activities, sports and hobbies where we reach a state of flow.
To me, a lot of the side hustle conversation feels like outside hustle: trying to get rich quick on the side, maybe using some inside hustle to get you there. But for me, my side projects are all inside hustle: things I do with energy and flow, but no outside purpose. I write and never publish. I take photos and don’t exhibit or sell them. I’m trying to develop an art practice, but I’m not sure why.
I’ve tried to steer clear of outside hustle. Someone asked me whether I sold photos the other day, and I told them no, and that it was because if I sold them, I’d have to think about what people think, about what they want to buy. And with Curio (the conference I cofounded with Louise Whitfield) again someone asked me why we weren’t trying to make money from it. Not making money from it was freeing – we could approach it without the worry of turning a profit and having to get a return on our investment of time.
Keeping outside hustle out of things means I can use my ‘inside hustle’ do things for fun, just because, to benefit someone else, for the joy of the thing itself, because it’s cathartic, or because, as my friend Beth told me, doing unproductive things is a ‘radical anti-capitalist practice’.
Finding the middle ground
But I think a bit of outside hustle might help me. Even now I work for myself, if it’s not paid, it’s not prioritised. And funnily enough, that’s not getting me anywhere. To make my business successful, I put in the hours, I invest in training, I buy the software or tech I need, I network, I seek out feedback, I collaborate, I big myself up. If I treated my creative endeavours like I do my business ones, I could achieve so much more.
Until this point, fear and self-deprecation have been stopping me. It feels arrogant to say I’m good enough at something to deserve to be paid for doing it, or to imagine that one day it might be part of how I make my living. But at the moment, I’m not even really trying.
I spoke to an exceptionally creative friend about this. Alongside work, they manage to complete (and earn money from) a pretty dizzying range of ambitious creative side hustles. They gave me a set of brilliant tips to get me out of the rut:
- If you feel weird about earning money from creative work, give it a higher purpose to start off with. They suggested making the first things you sell a charity fundraiser, or a fund for new equipment. This is a great way to start small and get around any initial awkwardness you might feel about charging for your work while you’re still learning your craft.
- Have a routine and stick to it. They have an incredibly structured routine, that makes the most of little bits of dead time that you might think are too short to get anything done. But they wrote their novel while walking to work and on the bike at the gym. The key is consistency and doing something – however small – each day to chip away at your goal.
- Give your big goals waypoints and a timeline. People like to say that creativity can’t be rushed and you need to wait for inspiration to strike. I’m sure there’s a few people that’s true for, but for many of us, we just need to pull our finger out and get on with it. Knowing what the ultimate destination is, the stop offs on the way, and how long it should be taking can really help you if you’re procrastinating.
So that’s how I’m going to make my side hustle happen: inject some outside hustle into my inside hustle; treat my creative projects like I do my business, and plan out a goal and a routine to get me there.