My career trajectory has been an interesting one. After a string of bad work experiences, I realized I never again wanted to rely on one employer for my livelihood. I’d had it with bad bosses and layoffs and uncertainty. In an effort to gain more control over my income, I turned to the kind of jobs that most people don’t take very seriously and do only out of need: the side hustle. These are the jobs you see ads for on Facebook, the jobs people take to earn an extra $200 a week because their full-time jobs aren’t enough to pay the bills. What I learned over the course of the last four years is that four or five or eight side hustles make a comfortable living. So much so that it allows me to travel up to once a month without even having to consult anyone about taking time off. Perhaps even more importantly, its given me the kind of job security that the coronavirus pandemic is making most people realize they don’t have.
Side hustles work smarter, not harder
Traditional jobs are funny in that they’ll give you the responsibilities of three people and pay you for the job description of one. In subjecting yourself to that kind of employment, you’re wasting valuable skills on a company that in all likelihood wouldn’t give a fuck if you got hit by a truck. Because they can easily replace you with some other sap who will agree to be overworked for shitty pay. So what can you do with all those skills? Turns out, a lot. If you take the same skills you juggle in one position and offer them up to three different companies, you’ve essentially tripled your salary, in addition to eliminating the stress of going into an office and dealing with bureaucratic corporate nonsense that adds nothing positive to your life.
The patchwork of skills that can turn side hustles into a career
Any combination of your educational background, work experience, and in some cases, simply demographics can land you lucrative gigs. By simply being a native English speaker, you have the ability to work in online English education, tutoring, or test prep. These jobs are so in demand all over the world that they’re even offered to non-Native English speakers with a TEFL certificate. With a few years of work experience, you’ve probably amassed a larger skill set than simply speaking English. Data entry, website design, press release writing, proofreading, translation, or social media management are just some of the random things companies love to force you into when they need it without offering you any compensation. So take your skills to any one of millions of companies and clients that need work and will pay you to do it from home.
Stop feeling like certain jobs are beneath you
After immigrating to the US, my mom had to take on jobs that most people would snub their nose at. Having worked for several decades in school cafeterias, she taught me that you can be college educated and still do work most people don’t consider important with dignity and pride. During hard times, those can be the most dependable jobs. For instance, though grading academic research papers might sound more distinguished and pay better, this work relies on education systems running as scheduled. Now that the coronavirus has shut down schools and universities all over the world, that’s no longer a reliable source of income. You know what is? Offering my opinion as a search engine evaluator to teach artificial intelligence systems what users find most useful. This requires no skill except my willingness to do something menial, but a job doesn’t have to be prestigious to accomplish the primary goal of any job: to pay you.
During this time, I think we’ve all realized the types of jobs that are essential to society. Big corporations can send people home or shut down, but the people we really need are the people that feed us, the ones restocking the grocery aisles, and selling us medication. Need to make some quick cash during the coronavirus shutdown? Start delivering food for UberEats, and learn to respect that kind of work. We would all be fucked without it.
It takes a lot of perseverance
Turning side hustles into a career doesn’t happen overnight. I’m sure some of you are asking yourself, “how can you get multiple jobs? I can’t even get one.” The reason is that for every gig I applied for and got, I’ve probably applied to 20 that I didn’t. But I never stopped applying. To succeed as a digital nomad, you have to get comfortable with failure – with submitting project proposals and never hearing back from people or with writing a dozen cover letters for jobs you’re not going to get. It’s tiring and it’s almost like looking for a job is one of your part-time jobs even when you’re employed. But getting a job offer a few hours after one of my companies told me they don’t need me for the next two months makes it worth it. It’s not luck; I always get jobs falling into my lap because I’m always looking for them.
When all you do is side hustle, you’re your own boss
Happiness in employment is closely liked to circumstances that are largely out of our control. Like the kind of people we happen to work with or for. A lot of us have probably stuck it out far longer than we should have in a toxic work environment because we needed the money. After you’ve been freelancing and gigging long enough, you develop the freedom to say no to work like that. You don’t have to deal with corporate toxicity if you’ve amassed enough alternative sources of income.
No matter how much I need money, I maintain an employer-freelancer relationship that is mutually beneficial. If a client or business doesn’t pay me on time or aggravates me, I don’t do work for them again. You have to remember that when a company hires you to do something, it’s because they need you as much as you need them. If they could get something done without your services, they wouldn’t pay you. So treat them with respect but demand that they do the same. If not, cut them loose. As the head of your personal side hustle empire, you have complete executive control of what clients or companies you do business with.
Diversification is the key to digital nomad success
People who invest in the stock market will tell you that you need to diversify your assets to avoid potential loss. Basically, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. So why would you put all your expertise and skills into one job? My taxes (which are admittedly a nightmare as an expat and digital nomad) included income from 15 different sources last year. Some gigs are seasonal and some industries fluctuate according to the economy, but I never have to rely on just one job to make a living. For instance, all my travel-related income has rightfully been reduced to zero since countries started closing their borders. But it doesn’t matter, because people stuck at home means there’s greater demand for online classes. No matter how bad things get, I’ll still have work.
I will financially survive this pandemic for the same reason I can spend up to three months on vacation in an average year. Because I respect the side hustle, and I’ve learned to make it work for me. A business card and a fancy title is nice, but having the entire economic world come to a halt and knowing that I will be okay regardless of where in the world I happen to be quarantined… that’s much nicer.