The Art of the “Side-Hustle” in the Millennial Generation

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Guest blogger Kari Cappello works in human resources for DTE Energy and is a member of the SURGE employee resource group dedicated to creating opportunities for growth and awareness of what drives generational perspectives to influence the future of DTE Energy. 

Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “side-hustle” is a word on the move. Its definition is somewhat in flux, but centered on “work performed for income supplementary to one’s primary job”. In recent years, the term has become something almost exclusively associated to the millennial generation, but the term itself entered our language in the 1950s. Having second jobs is clearly not something new, but our generation has seemed to finesse the “art” of the side-hustle.

In July of this year, Bankrate released a study from a survey done on this very topic. They found that more than 44 million American adults have a side-hustle. The most likely age group to be a part of that 44 million? You guessed it, millennials.

The facts:

  • 28% of the 44 million who are most likely to have a side-hustle are younger millennials (ages 18-26)
  • Of that group, 96% say they are at their side-hustle at least monthly, compared to 83% of those who are older
  • Millennials (18-36) typically earn less from their secondary source of income compared to older generations; only 19% with a monthly side-hustle earn more than $500 per month, compared to 50% of those who are older

Looking at the socioeconomic circumstances our generation was given both in and out of college, it shouldn’t be a surprise that more than 1 in 4 millennials work a secondary job. The thing that is more surprising to me around the concept is that you will often find the side-hustle isn’t about the money. While there are some who would call the side-hustle a “survival tactic” for our generation, it is a means to an end, just to get by; I believe when you dig a little deeper, there is something more inspiring about the millennial side-hustle.

Because of the work world we entered, many of us are making a living at a job that might not have been our first choice or dream job. It might be a job we have learned to love with time, but none-the-less a job that we were forced to pick out of necessity vs desire. That’s where the magic (not just the money) of the side-hustle comes to play. The side-hustle can be an activity that is chosen and pursued. It may even be a creative outlet for the “real” job we have found ourselves in that pays the bills, but doesn’t feed the fire.

Knox Cameron, project lead in our Distribution Operations business unit and co-chair of the REACH employee resource group, understands the benefits of the art of the side-hustle and is living this art. When he is not moving and growing at DTE, he also splits time between being a co-owner of the minor-league soccer club AFC Ann Arbor and is the director of coaching for the Saline Football Club.

“The timing isn’t exact, but about five years ago I hit a point when I felt I wasn’t doing enough in my life. I didn’t feel inspired and lacked real passion around my day to day life,” Cameron said.

Cameron knows soccer well – he was an All American at the University of Michigan and spent time playing for a Major-League Soccer team after college, so it was an easy side-hustle choice.

“My side-hustles are things that not only align with my passions, but they have helped me to grow both personally and professionally. It is a tall charge to be responsible for the soccer development of 1,000 young kids, but it has helped me to learn about time management and true accountability. Thanks to my side-hustles, I have grown tremendously as a leader which has had positive impact on my career at DTE.”

The psychological vs. financial benefit of the side-hustle could be why you should consider finding one for yourself, no matter what generation you align to. It can help you from feeling “stuck” or “pigeonholed” in your money-making career, and help to build a bridge between “necessities” and your compelling inner life. While millennials are sometimes referred to as a lazy generation, I think the side-hustle is a prime example of how a word like “hustle” that evokes the feeling of movement, energy and creativity, better aligns to not only where we are, but where we want to be as a group.

We might not have been dealt the easiest hand (or some may argue we were dealt too easy of a hand), but there are many of us who are not ready to accept the “fold” or the “2 pair”. We want the “royal flush” and we are not afraid to be patient and work toward getting that winning hand on our own. To get there, you need more than a survival way of looking at things to get there. You need passion, drive, heart and the art that goes into the hustle.