Survival of the Side Hustles

Zeitgsty
9 min readSep 4, 2023

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Image made using Dall-E

Remember the good ol’ days when hobbies were, well, hobbies? When stamp collecting or stargazing didn’t have a dollar value attached? Welcome to 2023–the age where we’re compelled to trade our crochet needles and paint brushes for cash. Today, it’s less “Do what you love in your free time” and more “Do what pays, and then maybe, if you’re lucky, fit in that episode of The Office.”

So here’s a fun idea, brought to you by modern society: why not slap another job on top of your 9–5? I mean, we’re all just trying to keep up with the job of…living, right? Makes total sense. And we call this the side hustle. For those out of the loop, a “side hustle” isn’t a dance move from the 80s — it essentially means a smaller job you juggle on the “side” of your main gig.

Still think it’s an anomaly? Think again. More than half of Gen Zers (53%) are side-hustling their way through life. And they’re not alone. Half of millennials and a solid 40% of Gen Xers are riding the same gravy train, according to an April 2023 Bankrate survey of 2,505 U.S. adults.

But before you sign up for that clown school or dive too deep into the world of professional dog petting, let’s delve a bit deeper into this growing trend. Why is everyone suddenly turning passions into paychecks? Stick around and find out.

Why the sudden storm of side hustles?

Raise your hands if you’ve ever been personally victimized by inflation. 🙋‍♀️OK, and if not directly victimized, likely at least affected. And perhaps you have a side hustle yourself? After all, they’re almost as necessary as that morning coffee for many of us. In fact, it’s becoming eerily commonplace to occupy 2, 3, or, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, a bajillion jobs.

First and foremost, let’s spill the beans on money. Or the lack thereof. Oh, inflation, you sneaky bitch. A little birdie, named BLS, let me in on a little inflation figure–this past May, it’s up 4% year-over-year. Though it has seen higher skies with a whopping 9.1% in June 2022, the aftermath still lingers.

Chart from Statista

To put things further into perspective, the cost of homemade tacos, or any food prepared at home really, has spiked up by 6.7% year-over-year. And don’t even get me started on the rent, which decided to play the high stakes game with an 8% year-over-year increase.

Adding fuel to the fire, while our wallets are shrinking, wages have decided to take a little snooze. The middle class, our beloved backbone of society, was earning $17,867 less in 2007 due to the growth in inequality since 1979.

Chart from EPI

Yet, expectations at work have been piling on like those unread emails in your inbox. We’re now working 2.2% more hours than before, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the zinger? CNBC found that no state offers a minimum wage that matches the living wage for a solo adult.

Chart from CNBC

Not to mention the residual WFH culture that did more than just knock on our doors in 2020 — it barged right in. Consider this: in 2023, 12.7% are permanent couch office-holders, myself included, and 28.2% are playing hopscotch between home and the office.

What about back in 2019 when things somewhat resembled normalcy? A mere 6% dared to tread the remote path. So now, with no boss peeking over your shoulder every 5 minutes, there’s a newfound liberty to race through your tasks and then shuffle off to your personal passions or your side hustle. Of course, we can also largely thank our beloved AI tools, which make efficiency look like child’s play.

More so, the youth is restless! They’re not just looking to fill their pockets but also to take the reins of their careers. A recent survey showed only half of the U.S. workers are genuinely satisfied with their jobs. This might explain the 36% uptick in new business applications in 2023.

The side hustle buffet offers quite a spread. There’s OnlyFans, whose valuation has skyrocketed, now standing tall at a staggering $18B. Then there’s Fiverr, who lets us know that the freelance world is in vogue. Freelancers aren’t just fresh college grads either. A solid 26% of them are armed with postgraduate degrees.

Image from Use Sign House

Fun fact: The Dow Jones and searches for side hustles seem to be in a playful tango, almost inversely related. Perhaps this is because there’s a universe of platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and FlexJobs ready to serve your hustling needs on a silver platter.

Searches for “Side Hustle” from Treendly
Dow Jones performance from Google

Now, here’s the silver lining, side hustles aren’t just beneficial for the hustlers. They’re doing wonders for the economy. For one, small businesses contribute 44% of the U.S. economic activity. And just take a peek at the U.S. side hustle industry, casually sitting at a worth of 2 trillion dollars.

Where can we see the side hustle impact?

Image made using Dall-E

Let’s play detective for a moment, shall we? Where, oh where, can we spot the telltale signs of side hustle burnout? Grab your magnifying glass. 🔎

First, the physical clues. AKA the classics. The pounding headaches that make you feel like a gnome’s inside your head with a drum set. The fatigue that makes crawling from the bed to the couch feel like a marathon. The frequent colds that make you wonder if you’ve been cursed by some wicked witch with an endless flu spell.

Then, there are the emotional and behavioral misfits. You’ve got feelings of helplessness as a starter, a sprinkling of cynicism, a generous serving of self-doubt, and procrastination. Let’s not forget the occasional outbursts — think of them as the little spice in your routine.

CNBC has already spilled the tea about Gen Z’s escalating mental fatigue. And guess what? The American Psychological Association joined the party by unveiling a jaw-dropping stat — 79% of employees were singing the work-stress blues last year. Yep, it’s a full-blown chartbuster!

Speaking of chartbusters, let’s turn our attention to TikTok. Remember that viral trend, “bed rotting”? Sounds like a zombie apocalypse, but it’s just a bunch of Gen Zers embracing their inner sloth. It’s all about lying in bed, doing nada, zilch, zip until you…well, metaphorically rot.

I mean, I get the whole embracing-your-laziness vibe, and honestly, who hasn’t felt like melting into their mattress after a draining week? However, branding it as “self-care” is akin to calling a tub of ice cream a “salad” because it has a cherry on top. This trend screams “burnout”, and it’s less about chilling and more about chilling by default.

Because the underbelly of this trend? It goes well-beyond fatigue. It’s the empty wallets. As some young souls candidly point out that their bed rotting is less about exhaustion and more about being too broke to venture outside, lest they splurge on a latte and dent their savings.

To wrap it up, the side hustle’s footprint is all around us, from bed rotting to water cooler chats. We’re juggling, struggling, and sometimes, just snuggling into our beds, hoping the world slows down a tad.

Honestly, can you blame us?

The seeds of something bigger?

Image made using Dall-E

Time for a pop quiz. What do overcooked spaghetti and the mental state of modern-day side hustlers have in common? Sogginess. Probably not the best metaphor, but bear with me. The long-term stress of juggling jobs like a circus clown tossing flaming knives around is, unsurprisingly, not too good for the noodle (the brain, not the pasta).

While we’re busy hustling and rustling, chronic stress is sneakily compiling a to-do list of conditions that reads like the script of a medical drama. Anxiety? Check. Depression? Double check. Personality disorders? Oh, they’ve got a front-row seat!

But the show doesn’t stop there. Cardiovascular disease, menstrual hiccups, unhappy tummies, and even misbehaving skin and hair join the party. So trust me, this isn’t a party you want an invite to.

But let’s take a magnifying glass and focus on the bigger picture — the long-term impact, not just the day-to-day side effects. These aren’t just numbers; these are lived experiences. In fact, I’m shaking in my proverbial boots about where this stress could lead. One quick glance at Treendly and we see searches for “SSRIs” skyrocketing faster than Elon Musk’s space ambitions.

Searches for “SSRIs” from Treendly

Speaking of dramatic stats, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey dropped this bombshell: half of the young adults, aged 18–24, are now grappling with symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Let that sink in. And then, do some mental math. Why is the younger crowd bearing the lion’s share of this stress pie? Could it possibly be… the economy? My gut immediately said hell yes!

As such, let’s talk numbers for a sec. Millennials, you know, that group always blamed for killing industries and whatnot, own less than 5% of the country’s wealth. Plus, I’m pretty sure a chunk of that is floating in Zuckerberg’s piggy bank. Still, I won’t drone on about it–I could truly go all day. Instead, watch this video that wraps up our generational financial fiasco with a neat little bow.

All jokes aside, there’s a storm brewing. And we better buckle up, because this isn’t just about side hustles, it’s about side effects — on our minds, bodies, and bank accounts.

The forever side hustle shuffle?

Ah, the side hustle. A trend that’s basically skin to being the new avocado toast. Sadly, a whopping 44% with a side gig have nestled into the idea that they’re in it for the long haul. While I respect the hustle, I’m lighting a candle and wishing on every shooting star that we’re not doomed to moonlight forever.

Speaking of stars, let’s talk passion. What’s it got to do with it? Well, everything. While a side hustle may begin as an inkling of passion, doesn’t everyone deserve a tad bit of me time? That precious little chunk where you aren’t grinding but, dare I say, lounging (in moderation, of course)?

As these side gigs grip the youth, I’m clanging alarm bells. Young folks, fresh out of the oven of adolescence, are forming habits. And if side hustling is the appetizer, main, and dessert, when do they breathe? We’ve all heard it, early habits stick like super glue on a misadventure.

So, here’s the million-dollar question — what will put an end to the notion of a side hustle life sentence? Step one, employers, let’s sprinkle some fairy dust and pay people more.

Imagine a team of all-star employees, each pulling 100K. They’d be worth their weight in gold compared to a larger group of just-OK folks cashing 70K. More dedication, less musical chairs in roles, and stellar output.

Next on our wish list: shopping small. If we help the little guys grow big enough, today’s side hustles can proudly wear the badge of “full-time gig” tomorrow. No more juggling acts. Just a straight path to the dream.

And let’s address the elephant in the room — our obsession with productivity. It’s like a treadmill that’s forever speeding up. We’re so neck-deep in creating and producing, we might forget the art of living. Trust me, technology’s racing ahead like Usain Bolt with jetpacks. Let’s not let our own lives lag behind.

In the midst of this pressure-cooker, even if the heat’s getting to me too, we need to occasionally slam on the brakes, step back, breathe some non-conditioned air, and hey, remember friends? Those folks who surpass pixels on a Zoom call? Maybe catch up with them too.

To cap it off, here’s my 2 cents, guard your free time zealously, treasure it passionately, and never, ever let it melt away in the hustle and bustle.

Cheers to living, not just existing! 🥂

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Zeitgsty

Zeitgeisty = your compass to the culture cosmos. 🔭 Ideal for the marketer's muse, the journalist’s journal, or if you just love being culturally in the know.