The Startup Industry’s Toxic “Side Hustle” Fixation

Startup culture’s obsession with “side hustle” gets more unsettling the closer you look

A handsome man gazes at the camera. “These days, everyone needs a side hustle,” he shrugs. We cut to scenes from his well-lit life, and it’s a mix of pleasant chauffeur jaunts, and hangout sessions with his daughter, dog, and pals. “Earning, chilling, earning, chilling,” the man sing-songs, a prosperous avatar for enviable work-life balance. His existence is so delightfully calibrated, I could play the scene for my therapist to best explain what I’m aiming for, except I won’t do that, because the man is an actor and he’s in an ad for Uber. The transit company has embraced the concept of “side hustle” to entice people to become contractor-taxis, spinning the idea of having a second job as a form of freedom, a salvation from drudgery. “Get your side hustle on,” Uber’s website beckons new drivers.

Uber is the most prominent business in startup culture to explicitly use the term as a way to sell piecemeal labor as a savvy lifestyle choice, but the phrase is frequently deployed within the startup industry to hype all sorts of gig-economy work. Websites like Side Hustle Academy and books like Side Hustle to Success and Side Hustle Blueprint promise readers they’ll explain how to build wealth as an extracurricular habit. A marketing consultant who refers to herself as a “digital nomad” published a self-help book called The Side Hustle Gal. It’s like those spambot comments at the bottom of blog posts — make extra money working from home — were interpreted credulously and turned into an economic game plan by a cadre of self-published wannabe Suze Ormans. But the way Uber and startup culture has co-opted and bowdlerized the phrase into an anodyne signifier of entrepreneurialism is gallingly hollow. The side hustle is a survival mechanism, not an aspirational career track.

Kate Knibbs – Medium – 12 May 2017