FinCon, the financial bloggers conference, is only a couple of days away. I’d love to meet as many of you guys as possible, so if you’re going and you haven’t already told me, please comment with clues on how to recognize you. ;-) And a quick money-saving tip for the conference: The closest grocery store to the hotel is Trader Joe’s at Liberty Station. It’s about two and a quarter miles (3.6 km) by foot each way (directions here), and I will be hoofing it there after arriving Wednesday afternoon. Cheap groceries to get me through the conference plus 9000 steps? I will take it!
Today we’re talking about hustling — both of the generating business variety (ever-present in our careers) and the oft-discussed side hustle. We’ve done a lot of both, and will share what we’ve learned along the way — including giving you permission if you want it to stop side hustling altogether.
The Ever-Present Hustle for Business
We’ve talked about lots of things we aspire to in early retirement: living a life of yes, being our best selves, living with less structure on our time, having time for creativity, and of course making tons of time for adventure. But probably the single biggest thing we’re looking forward to — aside from just having more time to slow down — is:
Escaping the hustle once and for all.
As anyone who works in a consultant or client-serving role knows, there is constant pressure to find new clients or to encourage current clients to do more work with you, and that pressure only intensifies as you move up the ladder. Hardly a week passes when I’m not writing some new proposal or schmoozing people I’ve met to make sure they know all the value my company could offer. Mr. ONL could say the same thing.
It’s exhausting. Though we can both write a pretty good proposal at this point in our careers, neither of us are hustlers by nature. Even the soft sell takes something out of us that’s hard to replenish.
I’m sure some people thrive on the hustle. The natural self-promoters and true people persons (people people?). But that’s just not us, even though Mr. ONL is a definite extrovert and I’m a socially capable ambivert. The hustle is a special skill, and it’s something we have to force in a big way to be even slightly successful at it.
Unfortunately, the nature of our industries is entirely client-focused, so if we want to do anything related to what we do now, it comes with a mandate of having to hustle at least a little bit, to bring in and keep those clients. Lots of people have asked us over time if we’d be willing to do some way scaled back version of what we do now in semi-retirement, and the hustle requirement is the single biggest reason why we aren’t especially thrilled about that idea. It’s the reason why we’re saving enough to never need to work again, even though we will almost certainly work in some capacity.
The biggest takeaway for us is: know thyself. Hustling for business is hard and emotionally draining work if it doesn’t come naturally to you, even with years of practice.
So if we were building for ourselves a retirement focused around freelance writing gigs that we’d have to hustle for, that would be incongruous with our natures, and a big part of our early retirement vision is doing only the things that align with our true selves. Instead, we’re continuing to remind ourselves that the hustle is our least favorite part of the work, and steering ourselves away from considering any post-retirement work that leans too heavily on the hustle.
Our Side Hustling
Of course, the side hustle is a different deal, and may or may not involve actually hustling for work. I had a consistent side hustle for more than a decade that brought me a ton of joy — and some additional income, of course — but didn’t involve trying to find clients. It fundamentally just involved showing up and collecting a paycheck, which helped me pay off my student loans and credit card debt.
I loved my side hustle for a whole bunch of reasons, and though I don’t miss the time commitment of it (I honestly can’t imagine how I could possibly do that these days and keep my sanity), I do miss the work itself in a big way. But like anything, it came with some big pros and some big cons.
PROS of my side hustle:
- It gave me a different way to define myself, outside of my “main” career.
- It gave me a way to make a difference in people’s lives.
- It gave me extra income.
CONS of my side hustle:
- It consumed a lot of time and often led to sleep deprivation.
- It required a lot of driving and time spent in traffic.
- It distracted me from dedicating myself fully to my main career.
I’m grateful for having had that separate, parallel path in my life for so long, but I know that when I quit the side hustle a few years ago, it was the right thing to do. This certainly isn’t true in every person’s career, but I reached the point where I couldn’t continue to progress in my main career without dedicating myself to it fully. (Can you imagine if I was trying to keep doing an in-person side hustle these days with all the work travel? Impossible!) And as work got more demanding, I found myself in increasingly more situations when I was either working in my main job or working in my side job, and I wasn’t giving myself sufficient recharge time.
Fortunately, the story ends well. Within a year of ditching the side hustle, I got promoted and got a raise that exceeded the amount I was earning through my side career. Plus, I can always go back to that alternate career path in retirement if I feel like I want to pick it back up. And right now, I’m much happier not having that extra demand on my time. It was borderline too much back then, and it would be nervous breakdown-level overload if I was still doing it now.
You Don’t Have to Side Hustle
There are a lot of good reasons to side hustle (creating space for a passion project, building a future new career path, working toward a short-term financial goal, etc.), but there are also a lot of bad reasons to do it. Like fear. Or an obsession with earning more. Or you feel pressured to do it… because society said so.
There’s a potentially harmful narrative evolving right now that says that everyone (ahem… millennials) should be side hustling if they’re worth anything. This is also the narrative that says we all need to be entrepreneurs, and that we’re suckers if we work our whole career for someone else. That we should all be engaging in life hacking at all times, to maintain ever-increasing levels of productivity. In other words, dedicating our lives to the hustle.
I’m sure that advice is great for some people, the people for whom that comes naturally. But there is no shame in not naturally being comfortable with the hustle. In needing down time to recharge. In wanting to spend time with your family and friends. In wanting to be fully present in the unhacked, unoptimized moments of life. And there’s also no shame in recognizing what your “enough” is, the point at which the accumulation of additional money and things no longer boosts your happiness. I’ll put it even more bluntly:
It’s okay to want free time more than you want extra money.
So while side hustling has done a lot of people a lot of good, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone all the time. Examine your reasons and your pros and cons, and go into it with your eyes wide open. And just as you don’t always have to push out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to side hustle.
Share Your Hustle Stories!
I know we all have side hustle stories — and lots of you probably have the business hustle kinds of stories too. Share your best ones, and whether you think they were ultimately worth it or not. And any natural hustlers out there? Any advice you can give us non-hustlers to get a little better at it while we’re still working? Let’s continue this in the comments!