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'What I Learned From a Year of Side-Hustling'

The reality of being a boss can be exhausting.

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What do you like to do with your spare time? For me it’s all about trashy TV. Give me a double-bill of Don’t Tell The Bride watched with a large glass of wine and I’m blissful.

At least I used to be. Nowadays I’m more likely to spend a free Tuesday night tapping away on my laptop, and even when I do gift myself a Netflix binge I’ll be glancing at my phone throughout. I’m part of generation side-hustle and my spare-time is now a money-making opportunity.

Loosening my grip on the glories of a night in with a whole series of Come Dine With Me began about a year ago. I was fresh out of a brief but intense relationship and had a lot of feelings about it. I’d always loved writing but never thought I was good enough to really do anything with it, and so instead had gone into a career that I felt was the next best thing—editing other people’s work in book publishing.

That’s why, when I poured out my heart into an essay on the dramas of dating with anxiety, I certainly didn’t expect to get paid for it. I pinged an email to an editor and it was accepted for publication. And I felt a bit better.

I didn’t really think about monetising my work until a couple of months later, when I sent off another submission. The response was not only an acceptance but an offer of £100 for the piece. Ridiculously it hadn’t really occurred to me that I could charge for my writing.

Still, in a month when I’d been scrimping to make my salary last this unexpected sum was pretty handy. Although I had a full-time job I still didn’t have the money for a package holiday to Benidorm in savings and had lived off beans on toast in the lead up to payday more than once. The idea of saving for purchases our parents’ generation might have taken for granted - a house or a car - was laughable.

The side-hustle generation

It seems that I’m not alone in finding a side-hustle to be a financial life raft in the stormy seas of adulthood. Rising rent and living costs combined with stagnating wages mean that many jobs don’t quite make ends meet for millennials. Yet we have skills, and we have the digital know-how to turn them into paid work. This is what makes twenty to thirty-somethings the prime candidates for cashing in on our spare time.

“The key factor driving young people to take up side-hustles is having an additional source of income,” Dr Rita Fontinha, a Lecturer in Strategic Human Resource Management at Henley Business School tells Cosmopolitan UK. “However, that is not to say they see it in a merely transactional way. For young people, especially those who desire to eventually grow their own business, side-hustling is a way to do this progressively, with the greater security offered by their primary job.”

The glorification of work has led to side-hustles being touted as a glamorous way to spend your time. The rise of #workporn, where everyone seems to be selling something in their spare time or building a business from scratch from their bedroom, means that you can feel guilty for not monetising your downtime and Instagram storying your hard-earned gains.

The reality of working in your spare time

On the inside this isn’t exactly how a side-hustle looks. For me, side-hustling is dashing home from your day-job and wolfing down a pack of instant noodles because you’re on deadline and you don’t have time to cook. It’s blearily heading towards bed on the night bus instead of staying out because you have to be up early on a Sunday to send out hopeful emails to potential clients. It’s checking your diary and regretfully declining that drinks invitation because you only really have time for one social plan per week. It’s feeling a constant low-level anxiety because you could always be working a little bit harder. Cashing in on your free time can be all-consuming.

Whilst the outside world sees only the successes - for me the articles that are published and shouted about on social media - each one represents hours of unseen, and often unpaid, labour. Seeking out work is half of the battle, and although I now have a fairly consistent stream of commissions there are countless rejections, disappointments, and pitches that go nowhere.

Working over 40 hours a week can also be bad for our wellbeing. Experts suggest that plugging extra time into our working week can cause anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular problems. In fact some studies suggest that working significant amounts of overtime can increase risk of heart disease by up to 60%. Anyone considering taking on a side-hustle should be mindful of the additional stress this is likely to cause and take measures to prevent burnout.

I find that scheduling in social activities and taking a few days away from my laptop when I’m feeling especially stressed is helpful to maintain balance.

So why do I do it? Although side-hustling can be a tough and unwelcome reality for millions of people unable to make ends meet in one career, I am fortunate enough to genuinely enjoy my work. It fulfils my ambitious and creative nature, and gives me a sense of control over my life and finances that I didn’t have before.

Side-hustling now makes up around 20% of my income. That extra pay packet is the difference between feeling the pinch around payday and being able to make it to the end of the month without worrying about whether I can pay my credit card off.

"The rise of side-hustling may be an imperfect solution but it's also an opportunity for empowerment"

Side-hustling has shaped me both personally and professionally in ways that I never expected. I’ve believed in myself enough to pitch to magazines I’ve always loved and could barely have dreamed of writing for a year ago. I’ve marketed myself to the max and convinced people that I’m worth taking a chance on. I’ve known the value of my work enough to negotiate the right rate for it and to say no when people haven’t valued me in the same way. I’ve dusted myself off after rejection, picked myself up, and pitched my ideas elsewhere. All pretty handy skills to fall back on next time you need to, whether you’re being talked over in a conference call or ghosted by a guy who doesn’t deserve your time.

“I recommend that everyone gets a side gig,” says Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy. “A side gig can improve your skillset, expand your network, generate income, and open future opportunities for work.”

The rise of side-hustling may be an imperfect solution to a faltering economy but it is also an opportunity for empowerment. We are all multi-faceted and multi-skilled individuals—your main job might not make the most of all you have to offer.

Whether you’re working an extra role out of necessity or to fulfil a long-held dream you can take advantage of the ways that it can shape and grow you as an individual. The most important thing that I’ve learned in a year of side-hustling is self-belief. It’s not often you get that from a 9-5.