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Are Millennials the Gods of Side Hustles?

Woman in car looking through the window and wearing hat

by Raquel Cool

You might have heard this one before: “‘I sold an hour of my life for $13’ doesn’t sound nearly as good as ‘I make $13 an hour.’” (Or so goes the modern wisdom that is the Reddit Shower Thought.)

A college diploma once was this magical thing you swiped and a job would appear as soon as your graduate cap hit the floor. All you needed was a single, salaried job. Now, with the average graduate of the class of 2016 saddled with $37,172 in debt, side hustles are more ubiquitous than ever. Side hustles — which are basically an extra income stream you take on without quitting your 9-to-5 — are especially popular among millennials, who have been dubbed “Generation 1099.”

Side hustles aren’t particularly new. People have been doing the “second job” thing long before Airbnb became a verb. The difference is that apps have changed the game. It has never been easier to start a side hustle with your smart phone.

My cousin bought a five-bedroom house in the Everglades and immediately Airbnbed every single room — including her own to pay for her wedding. When I toured her house, she walked me through the garage, which contained two pallets of clothing she bought on wholesale, which she was selling for cash.

One day, when I’m a millennial granny, I’ll tell my kids: “Back in my day, to make ends meet I had to Airbnb the couch while fetching groceries as a Task Rabbit and assembling IKEA furniture for strangers on Handy. And I had to Uber drunk college students home, up the hill, both ways, in the snow.”

Is It Worth It?

Not everyone is lauding the shift. “The conventional narrative is this: enabled by smartphones, with their GPS chips and internet connections, enterprising young businesses are using technology to connect a vast market willing to pay for convenience with small businesses or people seeking flexible work,” writes Leo Mirani for Quartz. “This narrative ignores another vital ingredient, without which this new economy would fall apart: inequality.”

I mean yeah, when you look at “side hustles” like the 22-year-old law student  who was paid £3,000 to be infected with typhoid for a research study, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But stories like this are more the exception than the norm. A friend of mine is growing her esthetician business and Ubers on the side when business is slow. Now she’s fully booked up and she has stopped Ubering. That’s exactly the benefit of these technologies, isn’t it? Turn on an additional stream of income when you need it. Turn it off when you don’t.

Besides, it makes sense. Creating a limitless income stream on the side is certainly possible if you side hustle the smart way. Here’s an interesting thought: When you’re trading your time for money, you’ll always hit a glass ceiling because there’s only so much time you can trade. The best kinds of side hustles aren’t trading time for money; you frontload your work to create an asset you can leverage. You’re only ever going to have so much time in the day, so think beyond the dog-walking leash and develop an app. Create software that solves a distinct problem. Launch an online course. I did.

Raquel is a writer and artist in the Bay Area, California. She is represented by Writers House. She is the founder of Cool Design Studio, where she creates fresh, modern websites for happy businesses.

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