For many years, my mother was a professional musician. When she retired from being on the road full-time and traveling across the country with her band, singing at local events became one of her side hustles. The other: being an umpire! For many years, my mother was the only female softball umpire in Western New York. (The Umpires Association even gave her an award the summer before she died.)

My mother was part of the camp of side hustlers that do what they love, get paid for it and use the extra money for specific goals like vacations. However, she never planned on leaving her “9-5” government job to return to touring year-round or becoming a professional umpire. (Though a dream of hers was to ump a Yankees game!)

The mothers of some of my friends, at school, sold Avon or Mary Kay. I’m not sure what their side hustle money was used for – to cover expenses or goals. But in the end, the purpose was the same: to earn extra money.

People have been supplementing their main source of income for generations – whether the reason was to meet expenses or to fund specific goals. And, these reasons certainly still apply today.

But when, according to a study by Bankrate, 44 million people are actively engaged in an “alternative” workforce, perhaps something else is afoot. And perhaps it goes beyond what is happening at a personal level. Could it be due to the fact that how we work has changed…drastically?!

Until more recently, when we talked about the “future of work,” it usually referred to the economic and employment dynamics that have shifted tremendously in the last twenty years or so. Influenced by things like loyalty – on both sides.

As you have likely heard (and as I’ve written about before), the median employee tenure is currently 4.3 years for men and 4.0 years for women. For comparison, my mother and many from her generation worked in their jobs for 30+ years.

Here’s another thing: the shift from defined-benefit plans (where your employer saved for your retirement, so you’d have a pension when you retired) to defined-contribution plans (where you are responsible for saving for your retirement).

And let’s not forget yet another layer to this whole “future of work” phenomenon: technology.

The impact of technology is changing how we do absolutely almost everything. On the work front, it is altering both the models and structure of how we work. Think of the surge in innovations and digitally-based solutions like Lyft, TaskRabbit, and Fiverr to name a few.

Interestingly, this surge is causing, in my opinion, a perplexing conflation with regards to the age-old tradition of earning extra money.

You can see it in terms of the language used to describe how it is being done and the expectations thereof.

Case in point: Is independent work or the gig economy a side hustle or a part-time job? Or, a combination of both?

Things That Matter

The next time you grab a Lyft ask the driver if they consider their driving a side hustle or part-time job. Every driver I’ve asked describes it as their side hustle. But, is it really more like a part-time job?

Sure, he/she has control over how many hours they work and when they do it, but they don’t have any control over how much of the fare gets paid to them?

Or, is the description driven more by one’s circumstances? Maybe someone is between full-time jobs or is having a hard time finding full-time work after a layoff?

I ask because someone reading this either fits the immediate description above; or is happily employed and looking for an outlet for their creative endeavors (and wants to, rightfully so, get paid for said); or is seeking to “test” the waters before taking the leap into full-time entrepreneurship.

Especially if you fall into the latter camp, how you refer to this endeavor matters…a lot!

Because it will impact your expectations around how you spend your time; how you measure your return on investment, as measured by time and money; and how you prepare for what’s next.

The way I see it a part-time job is purely for the purpose of earning extra money. Even if it taps into your gifts, skills, knowledge and talent, it is not usually intended for the part-time job to morph into a business. Whereas, a side-hustle can – even if it doesn’t become a full-time endeavor.

Keep in mind: The future of work is happening in real-time, causing employers and employees to grapple with the challenges and opportunities regarding how “the way we work” continues to be reshape our relationship to work.

In previous generations, earning extra money may have been more optional than it is today. However, given the reality of how we now work, I’d argue that everyone should be intentional about having multiple streams of income – whether the additional money comes from assets you own, or a part-time job, or by way of a side hustle.  

Consider it a proactive way to create your own job and financial security.

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And, not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking on a part-time job to earn extra money if (a) this ever becomes necessary, and/or (b) this is what works best for you.

Yet in three critical ways, a part-time job is not the same as a side hustle.

With a part-time job, you rarely (if at all) control your time and/or the amount you’re paid. Likewise, you usually don’t feel a sense of “ownership” around the entity for which you are working. Nor, do you typically approach this as a stepping stone to entrepreneurship. This, my friend, is the unusual thing people get wrong about the different ways to supplement your income. They mistakenly refer to all extra money earning activities as a side hustle, when they aren’t.

This is why the next two posts will be aimed at the entrepreneurial thinker who has a side hustle or wants one. The focus will be to ensure you remember to treat your side hustle as if it were a business, and that you do all you can to set yourself up for success – whether it remains your side “thing” or becomes a full-time endeavor.

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