We live in a world of side hustles. Almost every woman I know is working a full-time job and spending her evenings writing a book, or running an Etsy store, or meeting incredible fitness goals, or sewing her own clothes, or writing a blog, or cultivating an Instagram brand, or sending out newsletters, or recording her own podcast, or some dizzying combination of the above. And it’s not just in my circle of friends – a recent study found that 40% of UK workers have some kind of side hustle due to a lack of financial security or professional satisfaction. It’s impressive, it’s intimidating and, personally, I am terrible for it.
As well as working 40 hours a week, I have a podcast, I’m writing a novel, I send weekly newsletters, I knit, I cross-stitch and, until recently, I was training for a half-marathon. People often ask me how I manage to fit it all in and, honestly, it’s just down to a combination of coffee, a constant fear of never being good enough and not having a social life. All very healthy behaviours, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The frustrating thing is that all of these side hustles started as hobbies. My newsletters started as a way for me to play around with my writing, but quickly became a way for me to make a little extra pocket money. I learnt to knit because I wanted a soothing solo activity, but now have a to-do list of toys to make for my friends’ babies. I started a new Instagram account to track my half-marathon training and now each run is spent thinking of pithy one-liners and taking photos to put on the grid later. Anything I do that I’m halfway good at, I immediately turn into something that helps my career, makes me money or lets me show off online. For a long time, I didn’t have hobbies – I just had projects. It was exhausting, and because of it I was never truly switching off.
I’m proud of myself for my paintings, but in the same way I’d be proud of a toddler for singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – I don’t expect them to become the next Adele and I don’t expect myself to be the next van Gogh
Which is why I was utterly delighted when, two months ago, I discovered that I’m crap at watercolours. I spontaneously bought a cheapo £7 kit from WHSmith and started doing little paintings of flowers and cups of coffee in my journal, and every time I see those scrappy little doodles they make me so happy. I’m crap but, crucially, I’m not terrible – not so awful that I feel bad about myself afterwards, but not so good that I have any desire to put them on Instagram (Instagram Stories, sometimes, but I also post photos of my bed hair and how messy my flat is on there, so it doesn’t count), not so good that I could give them to others as presents and definitely not so good that I could make any money from them. I’m proud of myself for my paintings, but in the same way I’d be proud of a toddler for singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – I don’t expect them to become the next Adele and I don’t expect myself to be the next van Gogh.
Until I started doing my little paintings, I didn’t realise how much I’d missed doing something creative purely for the fun of it. I don’t think social media is the source of all evil or all our problems, but having three little apps constantly streaming the successes of others directly into your brain really does do a number on your expectations for what you should be like. Everything from our holidays to our dinners are now apparently being shaped by what we think will look good on social media, so, while I’m not beating myself up for becoming so obsessed with making everything I do a way to promote or better myself, I’m also really grateful for having an escape from it. The hours I spend at my desk, listening to podcasts and following YouTube tutorials on how to paint a doughnut, are now some of the most relaxing hours of my week.
There is nothing wrong with taking the talents and the things you love to do and using those skills to earn money or get ahead in your career or just show off about how talented you are. If you have a side hustle, then more power to you. I’ve just really enjoyed remembering that the whole reason I started doing creative things in the first place is because they are fun, and being able to escape the pressure to perform for even a few hours a week has been a really beautiful thing.