Last week, I was at a networking event thing for activist-minded women in their twenties and thirties. Lots of rad women, lots of big ideas. Because I was feeling chatty and confident, I told myself to stay a little while longer, if just to finish my glass of “OMG It’s Finally Spring!” celebratory rosé. Because I’m an extroverted introvert and do one-on-one conversations, I gravitated toward the gal standing by the wall who was finishing her glass, too. A kindred spirit.
I ask her a little bit about herself – who she is, what she loves, what she cares about, how she spends her time on a daily basis and why (because I go hard right out of the gate). She asks me what I “do.”
So I tell her about WANT.
(And you guys, I was on fire. I promise it wasn’t just the rosé. I’d just gotten back from a speaking engagement and booked two more, I was high off of reading your beautiful emails sharing your incredible stories, and I’d finally started to own some of my long-term goals and get them rolling. I felt in my freaking element and ready to share the love!)
And then she asks me “So is that your side hustle?” And I stumble.
“…Well, no, that’s where I put my energy and efforts on a daily basis. That’s where the majority of my focus is.”
She cuts me off. “Yeah, but is it MAKING YOU MONEY.”
That’s not a typo. It’s not supposed to be a question mark. It’s a period.
Like she was trying to school me on “what I do.”
After years of struggling with “what I call myself” and how I explain who I am and what I’m about to other people – and, honestly, after reaching a really good place with it all and finally feeling like I can answer people in a way that’s succint yet doesn’t sell me short – I found myself thrown off-guard by her haste and candor. Plus I just didn’t want to talk about other things, ya know?
Thankfully, my self-awareness prevented me from getting defensive or snapping back at her. After what seemed like twenty seconds of gathering myself (probably more like two, not twenty), I calmly replied, “Well, it’s not my primary source of income, but I am, yeah” (which is not untrue)
“Oh,” she trails off…
We wrapped up our conversation and I made a beeline for the door. I couldn’t stay in this networky environment much longer.
I know. I know she didn’t mean anything by it. I know she was just trying to compartmentalize and simplify the information she was gathering. But her words stuck with me for days. Especially because she was…well, she was like me. It’s easier to brush off comments that rub you the wrong way when they come from people outside your age range or career or interest field. But peers are different. She wasn’t someone who was unfamiliar with the kind of “work” I was talking about. She was just…assuming it was on the side.
I have big problems with the terms “Side Hustle” and “Day Job.” I think they’re stifling, I think they’re suffocating, and I think they’re stupid.
It’s like when actors or painters or writers (hi) get asked what their “real job” is, because their work as an artist isn’t work that’s usually associated with paying the bills. To the artist, whose art is as real as it gets, asking “So what’s your day job?” feels like a passive-aggressive slam.
I have so many problems with this – where do I start? Using the words “day job” and “side hustle” assumes that one is serious and one isn’t. One pays the bills and one brings in a few dollars a month at most. One is a career at most and paycheck at least, one is a passion at most and a hobby at least. One is the big juicy main steak dish, one is the sad asparagus spears.
I realize that it’s human nature to want to simplify and find structure…but I think it’s downright dangerous to label what you do as a side dish instead of a main course. Or downplay the main course as merely something that gives you nutritional value.
If you’re constantly referring to what you love as unworthy of the spotlight, then how can you ever expect it has a fair shot at success?
I never, ever, ever refer to any of my jobs as Day Jobs or Side Hustles. To me, they’re all just different projects that serve different purposes. Never once did I refer to my job at a vegan restaurant in L.A. as my Day Job – and yet it was what paid the bills most of the time alongside my acting gigs and spin classes and freelance work. I never once referred to my acting or teaching or writing as a Side Hustle – and yet they brought in a handful of change each month at best. My restaurant job was not how I defined my days. My art was never on the side.
The restaurant helped me build community. The art helped me use my voice.
Instead of compartmentalizing my life into Day Jobs and Side Hustles when I go to parties or meet new people, I always lead with what I’m most excited to talk about. Most of the time, it’s WANT. Sometimes it’s my classes. Sometimes it’s a small one-off project I’m doing that fascinates me to no end. Sometimes it’s just a riff off of “I’m a writer.” But very rarely do I answer “What Do You Do” the way people expect I will: with a passion justified by a more “sensible” job.
I’m lucky enough to have multiple jobs that pay my bills. WANT is one of them. But I’ve also been working in the fitness and wellness industry for over a decade, and I love that too. And go figure, it’s the primary thing that pays my bills right now. There are a LOT of people who talk about turning your “side hustle into your main hustle” – screw that! Why can’t your side hustle be your main hustle right out of the gate? Why can’t your day job and your night job live harmoniously? In high school we had multiple classes that carried equal weight. Why not the same with how we spend our days? Nay, our lives?
Here’s the thing: you are where your energy is. What you do and how you make money MIGHT be the same thing, but might be the answer to an entirely different question. The concepts of Day Jobs and Side Hustles speak nothing to what you’re actually putting your energy toward – because they focus on quantity of hours and dollars, not quality of passion and vision.
“‘Side Hustle?'” my mom chuckled when I repeated the networking story to her. “I’ve never heard that term before!”
Mind = blown. Every third Instagram post, every other blog – everyone talking about how to develop a side hustle or turn your side hustle into your main hustle or whatever. It had been exhausting for quite some time now. The fact that she had never even heard of this was absurd. How was that possible?
And then I thought about it. And I remembered how she’d never encouraged me to have a Plan B like so many of my artist friends’ parents. “What will she do if she doesn’t make it?” people would gasp. “Katie is a smart girl. And she loves many things,” my parents would say. “She’ll figure it out.”
That mentality was such a gift to me. They knew I didn’t need to plan for “real life” with a passion on the side. Real life lived everywhere.
No one who is in my life would ever think of WANT as my side hustle. They know how many hours I put in working, and they know how much energy I spend making it the very best it can be. Maybe it doesn’t look like a “regular job” to people on the outside…but that doesn’t mean they’re allowed to shove it in a corner of generalizations and assumptions. The same goes for the other ways I choose to fill my days, whether they make money or not. I streamline when I need to, but I thrive on strategic variety. Nothing I do looks normal to the naked eye, and I am alright with that. It’s normal to me.
What I propose is this:
Down with the Day Job.
Down with the Side Hustle.
Let’s ask people what they spend their energy on, and tell them where ours is as well.
Let’s view what we do as different aspects of who we are. All main courses in their own right.
Plan A all the way.
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