Side Hustling 101
Imagine this: You work at a job where you don’t get paid enough. You’re undervalued, undercompensated, and fed up with it. You need more money, but you can’t take on another job.
Okay, maybe you don’t have to imagine. Millions of people are stuck in dead-end occupations that waste their time, energy, and talents. Meanwhile, countless others struggle to get by with jobs they actually like (or kinda, sorta like), but which don’t pay the bills or offer real prospects for growth.
This plight is particularly common for young people. For many millennials and members of Gen Z, the “American dream” we grew up believing in—the notion that one career could provide enough money to survive, raise a family, and eventually retire—ended with the 20th century. For others, it’s always been just a dream. We’ve inherited a broken economic system—one that increasingly asks more of workers while offering less and less in return.
No wonder side hustles are so popular.
Side hustle meaning and definition
A side hustle is anything someone does to make money on their own, outside of their main job or primary line of work.
Admittedly, that’s a pretty vague definition, but side hustles are broad by nature—they take lots of different forms, shapes, and sizes. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, perhaps it’s easier to understand what a side hustle isn’t.
A side hustle isn’t a part-time job. It’s an independent trade, meaning it’s entirely controlled by the person earning the money—no supervisors, middle managers, or intermediaries. When you engage in a side hustle, you’re the boss. You set your hours and manage your tasks. You’re the one who decides when, where, how, and how often you work, and your only responsibility is to yourself.
A side hustle isn’t a hobby or pastime. In contrast to a leisure activity or recreational pursuit, which typically generates zero or very little income, a side hustle offers financial gain. You may enjoy it, and it may line up with your personal interests, but you do it first and foremost for the money.
A side hustle isn’t necessarily a startup or small business, but it might become one. When someone launches a company, the goal is usually growth—you invest some money into the business (or convince someone else to invest), hoping to eventually create enough value to get a worthwhile return on the investment. A side hustle doesn’t need to grow; it can keep delivering the same amount of money every week, month, or year so long as it meets your financial goals. Of course, you might want or need to invest some money in your side hustle, and if there’s growth potential, you may decide to build it into a proper business. But you don’t need to. Your side hustle only needs to work for you.
Finally, a side hustle isn’t a golden ticket to wealth. You (probably) won’t get rich instantly, at least without having to work for it. There’s a hustle involved, which brings us to the original meaning of the words “side hustle”…
Where did the phrase “side hustle” come from?
The earliest known use of “hustle” in English dates back to the 17th century. The word appears to be borrowed from the Dutch hutselen, husseln, meaning “to shake” or “to toss,” often in reference to a game in which people tossed coins into a hat and shook it around—something that might have been a side hustle unto itself.
Over time, “hustle” started to refer to other kinds of quick, vigorous movement, such as that of a person elbowing through a crowd. From there, it morphed into a word for obtaining money quickly—through criminal activity or aggressive salesmanship—meanings that merged when “hustling” became synonymous with “swindling.”
The word “side” came into the picture around the 1950s, according to Merriam-Webster, which points out that the popular meanings for both “hustle” and “side hustle” originated in Black English. For decades, “side hustle” was used in predominantly Black publications, sometimes meaning “a scam” and sometimes “a legitimate job,” until it entered the general lexicon around the year 2000. (For more information and background, read “The Origins of ‘Side-Hustle’.”)
Examples of side hustles
As the meaning of “side hustle” has broadened, so has its popularity. It seems like everyone has a side hustle—or three. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of side hustles out there:
- driving for a rideshare service
- freelance graphic design
- selling goods on eBay
- flipping phones, cars, or real estate
- cleaning houses
- food delivery
These are only a brief overview of the ways in which people are generating income outside of conventional employment. Check out 50 side hustle ideas.
Side hustling resources
Side hustling is one of our favorite topics to write about on Think Save Retire and we have a wealth of free resources for people starting out on their journey, as well as seasoned side hustlers.
Here are just a few of the articles we’ve written on the topic:
So is side hustling right for you?
Wondering what kind of person is best suited for side hustling? Must be an entrepreneur, extrovert, or go-getter, right? Someone with a business degree and a bright, white, perfectly-aligned smile—the kind of person who believes they should always be selling?
Anyone can have a side hustle. You don’t need special training or an artificial personality. You don’t need to take advantage of people or grind 24/7.
All you need for a side hustle is an idea, enough time in your schedule to pursue it, and the willingness and discipline to stick with it.
Take a look again at the list of side hustle examples above. Notice how there are hardly any shared characteristics between them? Some happen online, others in-person; some demand significant upfront investment, others require little or no money to start with. But there are hardly any prerequisites—all can be done by people of any background, age, identity, and experience level.
In fact, the only real attribute successful side hustlers share is determination. They keep hustling, even if it doesn’t make them much money at first, even if they’re not great at it.
That’s the magic of side hustling: you can get better at it at your own pace. You might not be a born side hustler—few people are—but if you have the time to do it, you have the time to figure it out and get better. It’s not like someone can fire you for screwing up.
That said, the sooner you start, the sooner you can learn, practice, and begin making the money you need to achieve financial independence. Don’t be satisfied with less income than you deserve or let your job keep you from pursuing your dreams for another day longer.