Hustle vs. Hobby: What’s Best for You (and How to Master Hustle Culture Like a Boss)

It feels impossible to scroll through social media without people pushing hustle culture as the only route to make more money.

As people struggle to make ends meet in traditional jobs, they’re often forced into excessive working hours to stay afloat in the corporate world. That, or they’re flocking to the freelance sector for full- or part-time side work. But new freelancers don’t always see gains quickly enough.

So, they comb through their talents and assets to identify the most profitable way out of low earnings. Maybe if they just worked harder.

But more hustle isn’t always the answer.

Hustle culture robs you of the R&R necessary for a strong, consistent job performance. It degrades your work-life balance as you compromise financial and mental health for unreliable income and reduces your ability to produce quality work.

Yet, with careful planning, you can master the balance between jobs and maximize your earnings over time. Here’s what you should consider before diving into another gig.

 

The problem with hustle culture 

Numerous studies have shown that leisure and vacations are critical to creativity and productivity. They can even improve your longevity. More specifically, scientists found that a break from work can strengthen your molecular networks governing stress and immunity, boost energy, and increase productivity.

This means that, in many cases, starting a “side hustle” can seriously backfire, hurting both your main and supplemental incomes.

Plus, monetizing your hobbies carries its own risks. Turning every activity you enjoy into a job can rob you of the joy you found from doing it in the first place. The exhaustion from long hours on the side combined with the resulting chronic workplace stress at your main job can be brutal. And these things can seep through your work.

In a broader sense, “hustle culture” inevitably becomes “burnout culture.” If even your pastime is on the clock, you’ll be hard-pressed to draw the line between work and personal time. Opportunities for rest and creative expression all but disappear when you exploit all your time and skills for monetary gain. (Yes, exploit. It’s that serious!)

To make matters worse, monetizing your hobbies can hurt your main job, too, potentially leaving you worse than you started. 

Infographic: Why you need off-time, not more work
Sources: Greater Good Magazine | UC Berkeley, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, The Importance of Employee Breaks

How a “side hustle” can hurt your main hustle 

Many entrepreneurs who hear such warnings think, “Ah, I can take it.” You might think you’ve got a better-than-average handle on time management or a strong enough work ethic to avoid burnout. 

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re wrong.

How do I know? Because we’re all human. 

Here’s how this has played out in my life. I happen to be an obsessive human who naturally gravitates toward being a “jack of all trades.” 

I follow many of my personal or professional interests wherever they may take me. And some of them—which were side hustles—took me to wasted money, shoddy marketing, and tough life lessons. Here are some of the most important ones.

 

The truth about being a jack of all trades

You can be good at a lot of things. But you can only be great at a few. Trying to offer too many products or services will stretch you too thin, leaving you to offer subpar value for paying customers. 

If you can’t (or won’t) invest in the training or resources required to elevate your side hustle to your main job’s quality standards, you might want to brace yourself for negative reviews. This could seriously damage your reputation as a service provider, so be mindful.

 

The danger of creating a financial sinkhole 

Starting a new business (yes, a side hustle is still a business!) requires economic investment. Even if your initial costs are low, they’re still important to consider when building your budget and drawing up cash flow expectations. 

This means you’ll be cutting into your earnings from your primary work on the chance that your new side hustle will increase your earnings overall. Think about everything you might invest in to fund your side gig: 

  • Software and online application subscriptions 
  • Business permits and registration 
  • Website and related costs 
  • Hardware and equipment 
  • Office space 
  • Marketing 

That’s only a handful of potential costs for establishing a business. These items alone can put you out a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on your needs and choices. So, you can say goodbye to the “spending money” from your main job (without any guarantee you’ll earn it back).

 

Overestimating yourself can result in awkward situations

When you do something for fun, it’s easy to overlook or inflate your skill level. For example, I took up painting about two years ago. With intermittent practice, I’d say I’m a novice with acrylics. And yet, when I turned out a few nice pictures, I thought, “I could be my own illustrator!” 

A collage of the author's paintings
A collage of my paintings.

Boy, was I wrong. Although I’ve come a long way, I’m still not the best at mixing colors, composition, or even choosing the right canvas or paper. Still, I recently tested my talents and submitted an article draft with an original acrylic painting.

Embarrassingly, I didn’t have an easel to display it or a frame to hang it. I don’t even know if I had the proper varnish to seal it, since I painted on Strathmore mixed media paper. And yet, I submitted it to the client as the main art for the written piece. 

In a response somehow worse than bad feedback, the client simply ignored it. They had not a single thing to say about it. So, I quietly removed the painting from the piece on the first round of revisions. Neither I nor my client ever spoke of it again. 

From then on, I knew that I was not ready to monetize my painting. It added no notable value to the work I’m actually good at, and only used up time and resources that could have been better applied to the written assignment.

 

Questions to ask yourself when considering a side gig 

So, how do you avoid embarrassing yourself like I have?

For one, stop following every passing thought and social post that tells you to monetize your every move. Remember that you’re allowed to have vacations and weekends for personal satisfaction alone—not everything should be for monetary gain. Then, ask yourself these questions: 

Do I have formal training or on-the-job experience for this work?

If not, you may need to take a step back. You might not be prepared to offer high-quality professional services yet. To push forward puts you at risk of negative reviews for a shoddy performance. 


How much time and how many resources does this work require?

If you don’t have the capacity to launch another side business operation, it’s best to rethink. As your side gig grows, it’ll demand more from you. It’s best to determine your ability to meet these demands in advance to minimize financial losses. 


How confident am I in this skill?

When you do something for fun, you don’t have to think about how your performance measures up to others (outside competitive activities, of course). But when your pastime becomes work, you might become suddenly aware that you’re just not that good. This poses another risk for poor performance and bad reviews. 

I’ve learned all these lessons the hard way. In addition to my painting debacle, I once tried opening a side gig carving handcrafted stone pipes. After investing hundreds of dollars into the equipment and stone, and even carving a few prototypes, I never created a compelling design or made a sale. Why? 

Because my answer to all of the above questions was “no.” I was never trained for stone masonry or carving, I didn’t have the resources for proper marketing, and I wasn’t very confident in making others’ pipes. I just made them for myself. By assessing these factors in advance—and being honest with myself—I could have saved time and money, or just enjoyed my crappy pipes on my own.

 

Are you ready for a side gig? 

So, you’ve made it this far, and you’re still considering a side gig. You’re pretty good at what you do, and everything seems to be in line for you to begin this endeavor with few to no issues.

Well, that’s fantastic!

Side hustles are not all bad. In some cases, they can be the gateway to a more promising career. 

In fact, that’s exactly how I started out as a content writer. During my undergraduate and graduate programs, I blogged about biology and animal behavior to an audience of just a few hundred. Whether in my free time or as an outreach assistant for the research lab I volunteered for, the years of writing paired with academic and science communication/persuasive writing classes helped shape the skills that I still use today. 

When I found myself in a part-time job, I began writing for my own clients, and it ultimately became my career. Since then, other attempts to drum up a side hustle haven’t worked out. And I’m quite thankful for it now, considering how much I love writing. Still, it took a lot of time, effort, financial losses, tears, and training to get me here. 

Based on what I know now, I’ve created this short assessment for you to work through as you’re gearing up to build another income stream. 


trophy iconTalent

If you’re set on starting a side hustle, determine what you’re good at. Not adequate. I mean a reputable-company-would-pay-you-to-do-it good. Consider your practical talents that could serve a market or community need, and be honest with yourself if you’d be equipped to fill that gap. 

lightbulb iconExperience

Answer these questions: What gives you the authority to provide the product or service you’re considering? Are you a part of the community or niche you’re preparing to serve? Have you researched or experienced the needs and challenges of the target audience you’re planning to market to? Personal and academic or professional experience are usually essential to build trust and authority for any entrepreneur, regardless of industry. 

gear iconAssets

Think about what you have at your disposal. If you’ve been into your hobby for a while, you likely already have a pretty good set of gear and resources. This can help curb your startup costs, and your familiarity with your equipment and niche can place you ahead of novice or underequipped competitors. Plus, it’ll add value to your product or service offers. 

target iconGoals

Unsustainable side hustles are born from whims. Sit down and write why you want to pursue this new gig to make sure you’re thinking straight. (If “to make money” is your only motivation, you probably need more time to think.) Determine your long-term goals to ensure longevity and provide a bit of structure for monitoring progress.

graph iconMarket

Assess the market to verify that there’s an actual need for what you’re offering. There are lots of ways to do this. Digging through stats on sites like Statista can help you hone your target audience. Focus groups, surveys, networking, and outreach can grow your reputation and offer insights and pain points. 

 


It’s okay if you can’t check off every one. In that case, give yourself some time to develop a stronger foundation for your side hustle. And in the meantime, if you still need a bit of extra cash, there are plenty of alternatives for extracting more value from your current job or business.

 

How to make money without sacrificing me-time 

Even though I’m harping on the side hustle, I understand the need for it. Freelancing is infamous for subjecting up-and-comers to the “feast or famine” cycle. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck (or invoice-to-invoice), with a little scrounging in-between payouts, you know what I mean. 

So, a side hustle starts to look like a viable option to get you through the tough times. But in reality, you have more options than that. Here are a few of the most effective: 

1. Learn to upsell: Think about what’s in your arsenal already. You can probably segment your services to extract more value from your present skillset. For instance, you might split content management or distribution from content writing and charge them separately. This adds value for your clients and grows your income without you having to start another business altogether.

2. Re-evaluate your rates (increase them): I believe that raising your rates is an act of self-care. Long gone are the days when I worked for pennies. Raising your rates eliminates the need for excess projects to make ends meet. Instead, you can take your time and produce higher-quality work with reasonable compensation. No need for a costly, time-consuming side gig.

3. Assess your clientele: If you’re struggling to manage your cashflow, maybe the problem isn’t your business or rates, but your clients. (Oh yeah, I went there.) Look through your open accounts to identify the troublemakers, or in other words, late-payers, hagglers, and such. Get rid of them to make way for dependable clients—but not without pay incentives and warnings first.

It takes patience, diligence, and experience to increase revenue from your business or primary job. But often, it’s best to invest in what you already have while prioritizing your well-being than investing in what you might get while sacrificing your health.

 

Resist hustle culture by prioritizing yourself

Hustle culture isn’t mandatory, despite what influencers and trends would have you believe.

In reality, it can lead to high stress, financial losses, and reduced professional productivity. Fortunately, there are several ways to raise your income without piling on long hours or giving into this toxicity of monetizing each and every one of your quirks and talents.

Still, there are many people who are drawn to the idea of a side hustle, and can probably manage it successfully. If that’s you, take some time to go through the downloadable checklist and assess your goals for your new business. That way, you protect your present and future income and avoid unnecessary burnout.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]