A reader writes:
I’m not sure if this is because I’m a millennial or if this is just how the work world is trending, but I feel inundated with messages that I should have a side hustle or diverse income streams. I only have one income stream, my full-time job at a human rights NGO that is fairly demanding, well paid for the sector, and at the department director level. I’m able to meet all my financial obligations and save more than is recommended in my retirement accounts, but I feel this pressure to develop a small business or consult or write or baby-sit or something. On the other hand, I want to remain focused on my fulltime job and continue to excel there. I’m curious about your thoughts on this phenomenon and any advice to young professionals.
Ugh, yes, the advice to develop a side gig is everywhere.
It’s not bad advice for some people. For some people, it can be the thing that lets them eventually strike out on their own, or that helps build their reputation in a way that gives them more options in their primary work life, or that allows them to quit a job and still have money coming in. It’s true that having more than one stream of income gives you additional security, and sometimes additional options. (And on a personal note, I did it and it has worked out well for me.)
But it’s definitely not advice that makes sense for everyone, and it’s annoying to see it applied as some sort of universal panacea.
You might not do the type of work that lends itself to freelancing on the side. You might have a demanding job that leaves you with little time or energy for doing yet more work on the side. You might prioritize spending time with family, friends, or a book over doing a side job just because you’re hearing that you should. You might have family or other obligations that make it unrealistic. You might have zero interest in (or talent for) dealing with the logistics of entrepreneurism (billing, marketing, etc.). You might have an employer who considers any side work a conflict of interest. You might simply want to be done with work when you walk out the door of your full-time job each evening.
Side work can be a really cool and valuable thing if it happens to fit in well with your interests, skills, and the other things in your life. But it’s far, far from necessary (as evidenced by the vast majority of successful professionals who don’t have side gigs), and by no means should you feel guilty about not having one. You can earn a lot of job security and stack up options for yourself by being awesome at what you do in your full-time job and building up your reputation there. That’s still a fine way to do things.