Thanks to a couple of my favorite bloggers*, I’ve been thinking about the “side hustle” lately. Seems the popular term for side job has shifted from “gig” to “hustle,” and with it, comes a more pejorative connotation.
Let’s start here: once upon a time, when graduating with my MFA in Creative Writing, I learned of an opportunity to do part-time contract work in internal communications—for the credit card company headquartered nearby. Not for a hip advertising firm. Not even for a nonprofit with a compelling cause. Nope, this job would require clocking in and out for the Fortune 500 company sometimes referred to around town as “the devil.”
Internal communications for the devil meant digesting leadership meeting notes on risk management and summarizing and synthesizing said notes into digestible PowerPoint presentations. (Oh, the myriad PowerPoint presentations!) And then came the fun of organizing the presentation highlights into multi-colored graphs on oversized Excel spreadsheets that required a special printer. This job was the opposite of every vision I’d had of my post-school self, teaching creative this and creative that.
“Creative” was nowhere to be seen in this job description. But I came to like business communications as much as I liked my primary gig teaching college freshmen the elements of personal, persuasive, and argumentative essays.
So, which was the primary gig and which was the side gig?
Who was hustling whom?
Writing in a business environment made me disciplined. (First day on the job, I had to ask what COB meant!) I was mentored by a kick-ass supervisor who showed me what passionate leadership looked like on a young woman. I got paid what I was worth—and therefore understood my worth. And I set myself up for the next gig and the next, up to my current side gig, my own part-time freelance biz writing for nonprofits.
If not always entirely fulfilling, finding the “creative” in my business gigs kept me sane (and eating and married)—even professionally happy at times. I figured out that the Aristotelian appeals I used to discuss with students when teaching the persuasive essay worked just as well when writing fundraising solicitations. The tenets of personal essay writing came in handy when crafting a profile of a donor. Project management skills? Key to the writing life, not to mention life in general. And even the most mundane of business world maneuverings provides, at the very least, stories that can serve as fodder for, well, stories.
Recently, I was speaking to an acquaintance, who happens to be a successful novelist, about the side gig. She’s got one, in…you guessed it…business. She noted the common fallacy of the literary author who does nothing outside the creative writing realm. Many teach budding creative writers. Others use their skills to further the missions of organizations. Of course there are exceptions, just as there are the few unicorn bloggers who’ve built blempires (that’s my new term for blog + empires—creative, right?), who’ve monetized a side gig into a primary gig tour-de-force (or this might be an urban myth). Among authors, Cormac McCarthy, who doggedly avoids “work” for his art, comes to mind. But there are many, many more authors and every other type of “creative” who supplement—and I’d argue inform and enhance—their creative lives with side gigs.
All that said, I would not turn down a patron the likes of the Medici family. Is that still a thing? I mean, I’ve already worked for the devil.
So, tell me, do your gigs feed each other? Which makes more sense for you—compartmentalizing or integrating your hustles? Got a killer hustle? Do tell!
*Now, go read these blogs and enjoy the serious and not-so-serious takes on gig life! Got another? Let me know in the comments!
How to Get Rich Blogging (it’s satire, folks) on Fatty McCupcakes
What Transcribing Audio has Taught Me About Blogging on I’m Sick and So Are You