Should you treat your side hustle like a business?

Should you monetize your side hustle, side gig, or creative pursuit?

Personal productivity is very satisfying in the context of our capitalist culture. The idea of doing something more efficiently and effectively is not just a nice to have - its integral to material success and arguably even survival. I have found that if I leverage my ecosystem and prioritize my essence in completion of tasks (read: my personal values), I get to a place of what I term as healthy productivity. Getting things done in a way that doesn't also erode my physical, mental, and spiritual health.

I am not going to deny the strong impulses I have to be productive. I thought long about why I find it so enjoyable. The obvious answer was that in a capitalist society, productivity is valued to be an inherently rewarding pursuit. In this culture, in some shape or form, it is tied to value (read: money).

When thinking about a creative side hustle versus an ultra-hobby, I had to ask myself does monetization of the things I enjoy matter? How will the perspective of monetization of my side gig affect my enjoyment and fulfillment?

It is pretty intuitive that monetization of a creative pursuit will suck the life blood out of it. It will come with its own set of baggage, just like a real job and career...

As I thought about how much of the capitalist kool-aid I've sipped on throughout the years, I heard a random fragment, somewhat out of context, on the internet about how side gigs are fun. But when you make money off of them, they are more fun.

More fun? The definition of fun in capitalist society has nothing to do with activities that would be nourishing, but rather what can be the most productive use of time that can be monetized as a form of fulfillment.

I started questioning what I perceive as truly productive after reading Jenny Odell's How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. One of the central ideas in her work is that life cannot be optimized, because it is not just an instrument. It is a force bigger than all of us.

My own concept of healthy productivity is challenged with one quote:

"An individual body can be healed, and it can become healthy. But it can’t necessarily be optimized; it’s not a machine, after all". - Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing

Odell writes a manifesto about how there is a sense of reality that we all render uniquely. But that sense is in the context of something larger, such as the "capitalist perception of time, place, self, and community." When I understand my reality from that point of view, of course I would need to monetize my creative pursuits in order to feel satisfaction!

One way around this from my own experience has been to maintain a primary job or career. The counterpoint to this could be, why do you need a career if you are primarily interested in making? My point of view, one which both productivity and anti-productivity books don't get into with the detail I am craving, is that as a mother I have responsibilities to my children. Ranging from care-taking, setting an example, and remaining a solid force of security and stability which are enriched by my ability to participate in the labor economy. For those less privileged, the main responsibility could simply be to keep the lights on.

I think it is interesting and challenging to start a creative side gig in terms of more exploration (of self and otherwise). I have heard internet advice about how these ventures should be thought of as a business, because otherwise I would miss out on the opportunities and processes that allow for compensation and growth. Because I have often thought about the uselessness of goals and prefer building habits, I don't really agree with this well-intentioned advice.

There is nothing unproductive about pursuing a side gig as a creative passion and pursuit, especially initially. So go create. Make on the side. Don't think twice about optimization of that, since there is a steep learning curve in just the refining of the creation itself.

I think about whether a cedar tree is productive. It is just standing there. In the world we live in, it is worth more dead than alive.

Then I take a look at this massive tree again. It is enduring. It is providing shelter. It is like a lung for the city it inhabits. It literally nourishes us with oxygen. Is it possible that this tree has already accomplished more than I will in my entire lifetime? 

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