Side Hustle Culture: Extending Our Working Hours To Keep Up Appearances

 I’m sure you’re aware of all the side hustle evangelists online touting that everyone should have a side hustle, peddling their “side hustle formula” and “get-rich-quick” schemes. They portray having a side hustle as a glamorous pursuit of ambition, masking the fundamental motivator: additional income to keep up appearances.

Having said this, I can’t make this assertion without acknowledging that the workplace has become an existential nightmare.

AI, automation, and robotics eliminating jobs, social media’s emergence and CEOs creating headline-making layoffs every time the economy sneezes are partially fueling the side hustle culture; however, these aren’t the primary reasons for the trend.

The reason is the implied social contract—never promised—of working 40 hours per week in exchange for enough money to live on defaulted long ago. Nine-to-five has become an existential nightmare.

Many millennials and Gen Zs, enough for employers to make sweeping generalizations about their work ethics, have come to feel that nine-to-five offers little in return for all the demands they feel it places on them.

Putting in an eight-hour workday, plus commute time, is unappealing—downright distasteful—when carrying the sense of entitlement narrative “I’m better than this.” What is appealing is the “Image is everything” lifestyle social media influencers and marketing propaganda promote.

Having a second, sometimes third, job to supplement one’s income to pay the bills and make ends meet has always been common. However, our consumerism—bills—have dramatically changed since the advent of the Internet and social media.

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Today, our consumerism revolves around looking rich and impressing. What ends—what bills—are those with a side hustle trying to meet?

Based on my observations, I’d say that most people who claim they have difficulty making ends meet prioritize having the latest iPhone, wearing designer clothes, and living in a house larger than they need over being prudent with their money.

Most North Americans could downsize their lifestyle by half and live far more comfortably than most worldwide. Contrary to our first-world lifestyle, characterized by financial waste and its multitude of negative environmental impacts, according to the World Bank Group, half of the global population lives on less than $6.85US a day. Westerners live a lifestyle most of the world’s population doesn’t come close to living.

Easy access to credit makes it possible to make $60K a year and appear, by your spending, to make $120K a year. However, credit requires interest-bearing repayment. Instead of cutting back on using credit (read: downsizing your lifestyle), many start a side hustle—Grind! Grind! Grind!—to keep their facade of prosperity visible.

Thanks to constantly evolving psychologically penetrating marketing techniques and social media, a godsend to marketers, keeping up with the Jones has never been more prevalent.

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Apart from lottery winners and those who received an inheritance, rich people are rich because they’ve adopted the habit of prioritizing saving and investing BEFORE spending.

(Paying yourself first, while not sexy, is stoic money management advice that, when followed, significantly benefits your financial health.) Your only glimpse of the rich is how they spend money on things you wish you had. Unseen: Most of their income goes towards savings and investments.

They only spend a portion of their income. Many people have a hard time managing their money because they copy the spending style of those with money rather than how they earn and manage their money.

Many will cite that the side hustle culture offers an opportunity to “pursue one’s passion.” What does this even mean? Is making money from one’s passion a requirement?

A person who says they’re passionate about ceramics certainly doesn’t mean they’re passionate about spending several hours a week researching social media trends, handling paperwork, and marketing their hand-made pottery business.

Turning your hobby into a side hustle is turning your hobby into work. Furthermore, if the money generated from that work is to help finance keeping up appearances, is it still a work of passion?

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We need three things to survive: food, water, and protection from the elements (shelter and clothing). Everything else exists for comfort; hence, most things only exist for us to buy and for someone to make money.

The side hustle culture trend didn’t arise out of survival necessity, to make financial stability (read: savings, investing) fashionable or because people have become more ambitious. It emerged because someone saw, and many others followed, they could profit from our fear of how others will judge our lifestyle.

Ultimately, the side hustle culture reflects a broader societal problem: our obsession with appearances and materialism. Our pursuit of material wealth comes at the cost of being trapped in a cycle of consumerism, constantly chasing the latest trends and accruing debt.

Our respective finances and the environment would greatly benefit from starting and embracing a new trend that celebrates contentment and financial prudence over keeping up appearances. Let’s call it aligning your lifestyle with your income.

Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan

By Nick Kossovan

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Chronicle’s stance.

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