Is Your Side Hustle Stretching You Too Thin?

If your brain is filled with endless new ideas that could lead you to your next big thing, I say brava. Experiment! But you also need to know when to move on.

For the past two years I’ve absolutely loved hosting my podcast Hiding in the Bathroom. But, I had to quit it. It stopped making sense.

In addition to satisfying my curiosity and indulging my thwarted dream to be the next Oprah, blogging and podcasting became both a side hustle and a way to build my personal brand . Although the money I earned was negligible compared to my day job, it helped, and the ego gratification made up for the lack of compensation. Plus, as a committed introvert who hates networking events, digital content creation became an invaluable networking tool, allowing me to “meet” potential clients and other exciting people without ever having to leave my house.

I had to stop my podcast because the cost began to outweigh the return. The demands of my day job picked up, which is great, because that’s how I earn the majority of my living. Increased time with clients meant my side hustle work always came last in the priority list. The demands of preparing and recording a weekly podcast meant the time couldn’t be used for paid client work, or being with my children. I had to face facts. The effort needed to take the podcast to the next level (where it might have enough listeners to attract paid sponsorship) was too great.

Photo by Lost Co on UnsplashPhoto by Lost Co on Unsplash

I know myself and I know my boundaries. Giving up sleep or paying more money to hire help for the podcast violate limits I’ve set for myself. I’m never going to be a professional podcaster, and I many bills to pay.

Here’s how to take stock and make sure you’re doing all that work for a good reason.

  • You have a clear reason for why you’re doing it, and what you want from it. In the age of Entrepreneurship Porn where everyone we know seems to be a influencer or entrepreneur it’s hard to just stick with the nine to five. But FOMO isn’t a good reason for starting a passion project. There’s no bad reason to start a side hustle, but it’s crucial to know what your ROI is (fun and creative exploration is a wonderful reason!). Here are some possible reasons
  • Renown: I want magazine covers!
  • Innovation or voice: my voice is unique and no can do what I am planning to do
  • Money: I have a target amount I want to put aside and this seems like a reasonable way to get there
  • Excitement: I need to be inspired and my day job doesn’t cut it
  • Prominence in your field/reaching the next level: It’s important to me that my work is honored by colleagues and I want to get ahead. I need my personal brand to stand out and to do that, I must launch this project.

The reason you start doesn’t matter. The key is understanding your motivation and the return you expect.

  • You know what you’re willing to give up to get it done right. I used to read food blogs and think- “Cooking for fun? What an easy way to make a living”! This couldn’t be more wrong; the average recipe post takes up to a week to produce. The average 22 minute podcast takes about 8 hours to produce. You’re competing in a grand pool, where standards are high. Are you willing to make the time and garner the expertise demanded?
  • You can afford to spare the time. Time is money after all, so it’s important to make sure that hours given to your passion project won’t harm your finances too much or prevent you from maximizing current income. I suggest giving yourself a runway, or a pilot period. Set yourself a timetable of six months, a year, whatever works for you, to experiment with the project. If the runway ends and your side hustle still isn’t producing measurable results, consider saying goodbye.
  • The personal brand value is truly incremental to what’s out there already. Putting a product out there with your name on it can be a great way to stand out. The pages of Forbes are filled with smart thinkers who parlayed their blogging into new opportunities. And yes, the first time someone takes notice of your work is tremendously gratifying. How much of it is truly valuable to your career? Will more content, more panels, or more hours provide incremental value to the digital footprint or professional reputation you already have?
  • You won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t pursue your dream. Enough said. Go do it.

Steve Jobs famously said, “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.” I agree with Jobs, just probably not in the way he meant it.

It’s easy for a billionaire genius like Steve Jobs to say no. It’s not easy for the rest of us. Why? Because every cultural message says success means saying yes. “Side hustle” and “personal brand” are two of the hottest success recipes out there right now- but your passion projects could also be sucking you dry.

One of the best things about our digital age is the ease at which we can express ourselves creatively, earn a few dollars on the side, and enter new worlds. When I started blogging in 2005, I felt like I’d uncovered a secret. I could opine freely, press publish, and my words would be part of the world. With every new idea I wanted to write about my heart would race and I’d rush to flesh out the idea. To this day my Google drive contains precisely 167 half finished articles.

After too many years of regretting saying yes or being unable to follow through, I’ve know myself. Saying yes too much wreaks havoc on my mental and physical health, my time, and my finances. I have to respect my personal limits, even if I don’t like them. Then again, I’m sure I’ll be back with a new passion project soon. It’s just who I am.