There’s a lot hidden behind the words “side hustle,” a term gaining popularity thanks to social media hashtags and self-help articles that make work productivity a practically spiritual life goal.
I hadn’t heard the term until a few weeks ago. But then, as is often the case, I saw and heard it everywhere until I wished the time when I didn’t know it. A story on ABC’s website late last month went so far as to say the side bustle is “the latest ‘it’ accessory”, and likened it to what a handbag used to be. oversized for early years.
A side hustle, for those who don’t know (i.e. me two weeks ago), is a job undertaken in addition to your main job. It’s a side job. Driving for Uber, designing resumes, selling crafts on Etsy, cleaning houses, writing think pieces (that last hustle, by the way, can net you zero to zero dollars).
The side hustle looks cool. It makes you think of rap or hip-hop in the same way the related term “gig economy” alludes to rock ‘n’ roll. But like the gig economy, the term “side hustle” hides more than it reveals. It puts a veneer on grim reality by passing off insecurity and despair for freedom and empowerment.
One thing you can be fairly sure of, however, is that those who applaud the loudest for the culture of sideways hustle are not those who make it and live it. Capitalism and its masters have always had ways of revering work in a way that distracts from all its unpleasantness. And there are a lot of unpleasant things about doing multiple jobs when once upon a time one of them.
Secondary turmoil became a thing because finding secure full-time work became more difficult and wages stopped rising for average workers by the time Chandler married Monica. Lateral hustle is a response to need, not a path to liberation.
The word “side” in side hustle is also something of a con, since it implies a center – a main job – from which a side could exist. But closer to the truth for many workers jostling through the gig economy would be an experience of all sides, and no real center, with working life a mind-bending hodgepodge like something drawn by Escher.
Like other corporate words and idioms that seem to have emerged from Silicon Valley and spread to every corner of the world – agile, synergistic, flexible, stakeholder, thought leader – lateral hustle is an act of rebranding to make undesirable changes fashionable. The least we can do in response is call it out for what it uses in plain language. Secondary agitation is a second job. It’s a third job. This is a fourth job.