The enslavement of Africans in the Americas has had profound physical, psychological, social, political, and economic impacts that are so embedded into the fabric of civilization that generations today still feel its effect. Upon emancipation, granted by governments that still benefited from this form of caste system, many Black slaves were limited in the options made available to provide for themselves and their families. As a result, a new caste system of sharecropping took hold for many Blacks while others moved to the North for industrial opportunities; and, even a select talented few went to college and entered highly skilled professional industries. This new stratification within a group of people was born — a stratification of socioeconomics that has continued, if not been exacerbated more over the nearly two centuries later. But, go back to the slavery period in America, slaves had roles to do during the day for their owner such as butler, valet, blacksmith, gardener, or other manners of the terms “house” or “field” nigger; and, they also had skills that they worked on at night to hopefully become profitable to purchase their freedom or that of a loved one. And, with that was the birth of the side hustle.
Today, we are not utilizing side hustles for our literal freedom as human beings, but we are using side hustles to find our physical, psychological, social, political, and economic freedom. For me, I trace my first exposures to side hustles to growing up in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood of Cleveland and seeing folks running lottery numbers and other gambling rackets, boosters selling Avon, Mary Kay, clothes, tapes and other electronics out of the trunk of their car, the handyman types who would fix your sink at 10pm in exchange for a fifth of E&J and even the local weed man who worked at McDonalds. Regardless of the virtues or vices of the side hustle, the goal was always advancement, and more often than not it was met with success. I remember growing up my own personal side hustles; from running lottery numbers to sweeping hair at the barbershop to an all-purpose slime/salve called Jamber to selling candy and mix CDs in middle school to writing papers for $20 in high school to selling my best friend’s t-shirts. My side hustles not only leveraged my existing skill set as a writer, organizer, and planner but they allowed me to develop new skills as well an entrepreneurial mindset which I find invaluable today. For myself and my friends — who have side hustles in business, coaching, lobbying, consulting, communications, interior design, music, visual and performing arts, handymen, and wedding planning just to name a few — our side hustles are equally as vital to our physical, psychological, social, political, and economic freedom; but, they are not met with the same level of success as a generation prior despite it becoming more paramount to our personal and collective advancement.
Some of the lack of success can be attributed to the saturation of the market due to the American culture’s myth of busyness equaling productivity, social media decentralizing connectivity and audiences, student loan debt necessitating the need for more than just a career to thrive, and a fledgling economy that has moved towards requiring multiple part-time employment and stagnated wages despite demanding more output and hours to name a few. But, it is clear that the side hustler culture and ethos has become ubiquitous, — through entertainment (music, movies, television), sports (Magic Johnson & LeBron James), politics (Donald Trump & Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” Tour), and others — but should it be necessary or the norm? Shouldn’t jobs pay workers their fair market value and not require side hustles? Shouldn’t side hustles merely become options for supplementing one's earned income or further their professional passion? What are the social, health, and behavioral impacts of side hustling and when does it become more than a side hustle? Finally, does the side hustling culture have us hustling backward, forward, or in place?
As I mentioned, the side hustle culture has physical, psychological, social, political, and economic effects, and ensuring balance is key to making it successful. Approximately 44 million Americans work more than one job, and a lot of those side hustles include ridesharing, real estate sales, fitness training, freelance or consulting work, tutoring, and e-commerce to name a few. According to CNBC data, over 50% of millennial side hustles earn $0–200 a month to supplement their income. First, when examining the physical impact of side hustles, three areas come to mind: time management, familial pressure, and health. Time management is key in every facet of life because time is money or value added. We must be specific and strategic in the allocation and management of time because in a world of the 40+ hour week, non-stop availability professional with a side hustle, it can be easy to lose track of time via distractions like social media or busyness. With a side hustle, it is important that we are leveraging our time in order for the side hustle to work for our benefit and not us slaving for it. If not, slaving away at a side hustle takes the joy and passion out of why you started. Familial pressure can also be a physical impact because while being a full-time professional and side hustler you are also likely a full-time parent or caretaker, etc. No matter what we do or how much we make family must always be a priority, particularly as we seek to be present and participatory. However, with proper time management, we can ensure that our hustle is met alongside familial commitments because a true hustler does both. Also, health is of the utmost importance in making sure that our side hustle is running but also that it is never so serious that it takes us out of commission because you cannot grind and thrive from the hospital or the grave.
Next, psychologically, you should seek to find balance when examining clarity of focus, competitiveness, and inadequacy. Today, there is such a focus on being busy and productive, making money, and meeting standards of life that we seek to emulate via social media that we often lack clarity of focus on our passions, purpose, and power. I am chiefly guilty of this. Competition is an essential motivator and predictor of success — those who are the hungriest to go above and beyond generally land on top. However, that same focus, competitiveness, and feelings of inadequacy can either become greed, envy or make you vengeful of other’s success. This is destructive to our individual and collective goals and feeds into the myth that there is only room for one successful minority in the room and we risk cannibalizing each other. We must seek to find a healthy balance in setting high standards to raise our individual and collective game, while inspiring and encouraging each other on successes and uplifting each other during setbacks — just remember Avon Barksdale of “The Wire” said, “Everybody eats.” Then, similarly, in combination with a lack of clarity of focus and hyper-competitiveness, in the side hustle culture we can get trapped in a fear of inadequacy — fear of not doing enough or too much, fear of not being worthy enough, fear of falling behind our peers or not being where we expected to be at this point in life, and many other fears. This can lead to overwork which can lead to the aforementioned physical impacts. We must never let our own thoughts get in the way of real passion, purpose, and power that will lead to our success. Keep your eyes on the prize while keeping your head on straight and clear.
Also, there are social impacts to be accounted for when engaging in a side hustle which includes consumerism fatigue, social worthiness, and collective social impact. First, in terms of consumerism fatigue, I recommend a person find innovative means to avoid people feeling the pressure to “buy” something from you. I believe that the best side hustles leverage peoples’ inherent skills and passions as a service. A service does not have to be sold like a tangible item. This ensures you are bringing more than just an ask to the table. People often try to imitate other side hustles or do side hustles that reinforce consumerism fatigue because of perceived social worthiness. Essentially, social worthiness is the peer-pressure culture that has made it acceptable to believe that if you are not always grinding or seeking new side hustles that you are not progressing. This belief can lead people to imitate or find side hustles that may not emphasize or leverage their skills and passions or bring them the joy and success that they seek. Social worthiness is a byproduct of both, social media and the stagnant economy’s impact on the cultural psyche that we must always find a way to make more money in order to achieve the success we desire. That is simply not true and the social worthiness of a side hustle must be found internally. Then, collective social impact is demonstrating that your side hustle does more than bring money or publicity to you, but also positively adds to the economic and social benefit of the collective black community.
Looking at the political impacts of the side hustle there should be a focus on policies that seek to advance the socioeconomic benefit of the individuals and the community. Not all side hustles will be an altruistic endeavor, but all side hustles can serve as an internal and external reflection of the hustler and their community. So, with that in mind, it is important that we support each other, promote and partner with each other, and seek to find ways to “pay it forward” when possible. Doing this will help leverage the social capital to request, advocate, and execute policies that will support the side hustles, the economy, and the community. Effective side hustles can become the experiential data needed to bring public and private investment. With political leverage, work can then be done to reform the areas that prohibit some side hustles (ex. marijuana, hemp, etc.) or alleviate the economic constraints that contribute to needing a side hustle (ex. living wage increase, full paid maternity & paternity leave, student loan relief, etc.).
Finally, for the economic impacts, I want to focus on debt. Debt — credit card, student loans, mortgage, car note, etc. — plays a huge role in our financial habits and decisions, particularly for millennials because we are saddled by so much of it. Debt is a primary factor in considering a side hustle for many. However, debt should not consume our thoughts and time nor be a boogeyman to our future and happiness. Having a side hustle to alleviate debt as a means to a larger plan is one thing, having debt be the only reason for a side hustle means that there are bigger issues at hand. Build a plan that allows a percentage of your side hustle revenue to go towards debt while dividing the rest towards other priorities, that way debt is not the driver towards your hustle and you are attacking that debt on multiple fronts.
All of this is to say that you should be encouraged, not dissuaded from pursuing a side hustle. Side hustles should be pursued for the right reasons which are individual and community benefit. Most importantly, side hustles should be a passion or a skill, not essential for survival in today’s economy.
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