SIDE HUSTLE. WHAT’S THAT MEAN THESE DAYS? Recently, on an academic Twitter feed, someone asked what everybody’s side hustle was. Because, academia. (See Rutgers University’s historical strike as an example of why the majority of academics hustle on the side). The Twitter responses were witty, interesting, and a tad bit depressing. I did find a fellow academic who also teaches boxing, so that was kind of cool. There were the usual suspects, like barista and Uber driver. Personally, I have a good friend with a PhD, a number of publications, and a decent title at her university who still works at Wawa during the summer. (That’s an East coast 7-Eleven, my West coast friends). There were also some academy-adjacent gigs listed, such as proofreading, editing, and tutoring. And then there were all the others, so many I cannot possibly list them all — but here are just a few: food delivery, magician, musician, baker, dogwalker, house sitter, plant sitter, and sex worker. Yup, there was a whole thread on sex work as an academic side hustle. Strangely that thread has been taken down. I guess Monsieur Musk did not approve.
Now side hustling is obviously not unique to academics. Artists, for example, are famous for their side hustles. When I was an actor in NYC, I did all sorts of things to pay for acting classes and rent, from opening a rich guy’s mail to building sex toys from medical equipment. I do think it may surprise some people, though, that a bunch of folks with a whole lot of education — and probably a good amount of publication — have to have a second (at least) job in order to support their supposed job-job. This is, at times, especially difficult to understand for those who have more traditional occupations that include regular schedules, long-term contracts, pensions, and automatic salary increases. Those people.
We people, who have numerous plates in the air, are constantly making decisions about which plates to keep spinning, and which to let crash to the ground. Inner narrative questions abound for us: do we say yes to that unpaid gig over there because it’s a great opportunity for exposure (major code words for free labor)? Do we put aside a passion project and go wait tables for the summer just to put a little bit of money aside so we can get back to work on the not-yet-paying project? Do we forge ahead on a wing and (many a) prayer, believing that a big financial lift is just around the corner? And what about travel? Do we spend money we don’t actually own to see friends, family, or just to take a friggin’ break? Should we go to that conference because, again opportunity — even though we might not have any kind of funding available? What about that residency? Maybe there’s some funding somewhere else. (This then becomes yet another job, the researching of funding streams and the filling out of applications). Wait, what if I plan that trip and then a Really Good Opportunity comes my way?
This is the life of the side-hustler — the contingent faculty, artist, undocumented, undereducated, underemployed, previously incarcerated… All the people struggling to keep their heads above financial-ruin waters. It is a way of life, a gerbil wheel that some of us (kind of) choose, and others are forced onto. If more people in power, you know, the ones who make decisions about salary distribution, benefits, union membership, labor practices and so on, had ever lived the life of a side-hustler, perhaps there would be a more even playing field for American workers toiling in those fields. The Bible tells us that, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…” (Matthew 9:37), yet it looks a little different from where a lot of the laborers I know are sitting.
There’s been much writing of late about society’s changing attitudes towards work. And we keep being told that the nine-to-five job structure just doesn’t exist anymore. But the fact is, whether those jobs are still the norm or not, the culture created by that framework is most assuredly still the social norm. There exists a kind of expectation that the majority of American citizens have the opportunity — and desire — to go to the same workplace five days a week; know their schedule more than a few weeks ahead of time; receive just one W-2 form every year; and are able to pay for shelter and food on a regular basis.
What I want to say is, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Or just don’t judge because it’s not nice. If your side-hustling friend, or child, or partner can’t make definitive plans, give them a break. If they cancel because someone has offered them financial compensation, understand. If you want to go out with them, don’t pick the most expensive place possible. It ain’t easy out here on these side-hustle streets. But the secret is, for some of us who (kind of) chose this route, it’s exciting, interesting, and — the thing I hold so dearly — full of possibilities.
One thought on “Do the Hustle”
Your post about side “hustles” reminded me of a revelation, many years ago, that not all professors are created equal. When I was a kid, our family had dinner at the home of an economist at the University of Michigan. I remember how his comments revealed that he looked down on those members of faculty who taught during the spring or summer terms. The implication was that they weren’t successful enough as academics, that they were “less” than him and his colleagues who could afford not to teach in the summer. Up to that point, I’d thought that a “professor” was a “professor.” Now I understood there was a chaste system. That dinner conversation made me aware of the subtle differences in a workplace where I’d assumed that everyone with the same title was more-or-less at the same level. It also made me aware of how someone who initially seemed friendly could have a dark side. Two big take-aways from one dinner conversation.
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