Are Side Hustles Hurting Careers?

Zachary Walston
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Who doesn’t love the idea of an extra $1000 dollars a month from a side hustle? What’s another strategy to gain $1000 dollars a month?

A promotion.

I bring this up because side hustles are all the rage. The pandemic has increased their allure. Some have been started out of necessity, others out of opportunity.

Before investing time, money (yes it will cost money), and effort into a side hustle — either starting or continuing — ask yourself this series of questions:

  1. Are you doing a side hustle for spending money or to pay the bills?
  2. Do you need the money immediately?
  3. Is the side hustle a short or long-term endeavor?

These questions will help you decide which type of side hustle to pursue.

Once you decide which side hustle you are going to invest in, you must ask yourself the most important question.

Will a side hustle impede my career growth?

Building a side hustle is hard work

I started writing and podcasting at the height of the first pandemic wave. My physical therapy practice had started furloughs and my pay was temporarily cut in half. I was looking for additional avenues to support my family.

I had some experience writing a few blog posts and newsletters for my practice but nothing substantial. I enjoyed it and decided to pursue it with regularity. Since March 2020, my wife and I have set our alarms for 5 am to get focused work in before the kids wake up. She was training to start a new career (real estate) and I was starting a writing side hustle.

After going 0–20 in submissions to major news publications (e.g. New York Times) it started to dawn on me this whole ‘write for money’ thing isn’t easy. 

Side note — podcasting is even harder. More on this later.

I am approaching my one-year mark as a writer and while I have grown as a writer and earned some money, I can’t help but think, “was this the best way to earn more income?”

Break down the earnings

About 45% of Americans — 50% of millennials — have a side hustle. A side hustle can be any additional source of income, however. I could do online surveys during Sunday Night Baseball and call it a side hustle. According to the numbers, 40 percent of millennials report their side hustle accounts for more than half of their total income.

That’s a lot of surveys.

The next set of numbers add a depressing depressing truth. The average side hustle only generates a few hundred dollars. Fewer than 75% of side hustles generate over $200, yet the average side hustle takes 11–16 hours of weekly time.

All side hustles are not created equal. I write and podcast. I have a better chance of making good money than if I pursued multilevel marketing but worse than working in the gig economy. (source)

Let’s look at writing in more detail.

How much time do you spend writing for an income? How about reading the work of others purely to increase engagement and generate followers? Now throw in the time — and potentially money — spend learning from successful writers.

What are your hourly earnings?

It feels great to boast about an extra $1000 earned on social media or an article, but how long did that income take to achieve?

I have not been tracking my hours but I would venture I have spent about 200 hours writing online in the past 10 months. The result? $962.13.

If I could go back in time, would I sign up knowing that would be my pay rate?

Obviously, the early stages are rough. It takes time to build a following and gain competence. If writing is the side gig of choice, then a following — through a specific platform and email list — is crucial. If you are trying to drive traffic to your own website, you would benefit from guest blogging on other sites to gain exposure.

This takes time. Do you have the time? Should you spend it on a side hustle or on your career?

Coming to Jesus moment

During a one-on-one with my boss last year, he shared some rumors spreading across my practice. I had been blowing up social media with my articles and podcast episodes. Some people were wondering where my priorities lied.

This was tough to hear as I bleed blue and gold. I love my job and never want my priorities questioned.

I have a successful career. I am the National Director of Quality and Research and Orthopedic Residency Program Coordinator for PT Solutions Physical Therapy. I have built my role from scratch and feel fulfillment every day. I am able to earn a good living and help people.

I am not throwing that away for a side hustle.

I like writing but I love my job. I have more potential for growth in my career as well. Everything has trade-offs.

There is always more I can do at work and with my side hustles but my family is the priority. I won’t sacrifice my mental health either.

Instead, I look for the right balance of personal and professional fulfillment. I have found the side hustle fits into that balance but only because the side hustle fulfills me and has helped my primary career.

To help with my balance, the podcast had to take a back seat

Pick one side hustle and master it

Podcasting is an art and it takes time, money, and effort to master. I have learned first-hand interviewing is a skill that requires practice. Additionally, editing podcasts is time-consuming. 

When I was starting out with podcasting and writing, I was in a sampling period. This can be a good strategy for determining your side hustle. Research can only tell you so much. You need to live the side hustle to know if it is right for you.

I prefer writing over podcasting, therefore, writing is my focus. Once I put podcasting on the backburner, my writing productivity and success has improved month over month. The pace has exceeded any month I was performing both.

I liken side hustles to sports development. A sampling period is great for developing athletic skills. It is beneficial for children to delay sports specialization until middle or high school. At that point, however, a single focus yields better results.

I sampled podcasting and writing and no have a single focus. 

A single side hustle focus

The career still comes first.

My side hustle fuels my career development

I write about health misinformation. I read research every day which is used in my treatment and education. I write a blog for my practice and develop social media content for educational and recruitment purposes.

When I look back on my first few blog posts for the practice I cringe. Through my side hustle, I have improved my writing abilities to generate more traffic in our blog.

I know my writing has improved as my read ratios, member engagement, website bounce rates, and income have all improved. As has my ability to communicate with my employees. My newsletters have improved and I can facilitate more professional growth and quality improvement across my practice.

I am a better physical therapist because of my side hustle. But when it comes down to my priorities, I spend more time reading about physical therapy than writing. I spend more time honing my presentation and teaching skills than my writing skills. I won’t sacrifice my career development for a side hustle.

I am not trying to transition my career to writing. If you are, perhaps the side hustle needs greater focus. If you feel your job has no growth potential, then you need to decide if the best option is a new primary job or a side hustle focus.

Regardless, once you determine which side hustle you want to pursue, ignore the temptation and focus on it as the sole side hustle.

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I am a physical therapist, researcher, and educator whose mission is to challenge health misinformation. You will find articles about health, fitness, medical care, psychology, and professional development on my site. As the husband of a real estate agent, you will also find real estate and housing tips.

Atlanta, GA

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