What Side-hustles Can Teach Us About The Search For Meaning

Caitlin Ammann
Caitlin Ammann
August 25 . 2min read

Spurred on by a recent client brief, we’ve been thinking about side hustles this week. Specifically, how 2020’s dramatic shift in workplace flexibility has paved the way for a massive increase in people engaging in the practice.

In the words of one successful side hustler, Tara Shelton:

“A side hustle pre pandemic was almost like the modern-day puppy or new handbag. Cute and joyous for sure, but not essential. Now, with the uncertainty of our world increasing every day and unemployment rising, it’s become an essential way to diversify your income and skill set.”

And that sounds well and sensible. With a tough road ahead, a side hustle can act as a nice security blanket or insurance policy. Plus we have lots more spare time on our hands compared to previous years. And given we humans tend to get bored when we don’t have enough to do, and boredom is the mother of invention, it won’t surprise anyone to know that side hustles, start-ups, new business name registrations and spending on DIY website design have grown massively since the initial pandemic dust has settled.

But I believe this logical explanation belies the underlying motivation for so many new side hustles in 2020 – a search for meaning.

Given we humans tend to get bored when we don’t have enough to do, and boredom is the mother of invention, it won’t surprise anyone to know that side hustles, start-ups, new business name registrations and spending on DIY website design have grown massively since the initial pandemic dust has settled.

Countless thought pieces have been written about the psychological impact of isolation and the general assault on our feelings of safety and security. As a society we have been forced to reconsider what we deem “essential” compared to what now feels not so essential. And side hustles are one way in which people are doing just that. When you look at the nature of people’s side hustles, they are enjoyable, creative and fulfilling, usually related to a passion or a hobby that in the past was sacrificed to make way for a more lucrative career path. Here at Edge we’ve got aspiring artists, interior designers, writers – even personal shoppers. Personally, in an alternate reality (or if I were to start a side hustle) I’d be a dog trainer. The common theme, we’ve noticed, is passion. In fact, according to the University of Reading, 73% of people who start a side hustle do so to follow a passion or explore a new challenge, and 69% feel it makes life more interesting.

And while not many brands are designed to provide people with side hustles, most can and should be looking for ways to help their customers make life more interesting or feel more fulfilled.

We’ve seen certain retailers and tech brands inspire creativity and celebrate passion - Apple and Officeworks have done this well – before and since the pandemic. Universities and wellness brands can tap into the increased desire for personal growth, while not-for-profits can appeal to people’s search for greater purpose. And category leaders in all industries can invite customers to contribute ideas and have their voices heard.

It’s tempting in a time of economic uncertainty, when marketers will be fighting for share of increasingly smaller wallets, to revert to rational arguments and competitive claims. But this trend towards greater meaning indicates that the opposite is true. Brands should be looking towards the very top of the hierarchy of needs, to elevate the role their brand plays in this search for fulfillment.

So if you’re considering how your brand’s role can shift in the age of the side hustle, ask yourself: how can we provide customers with a greater sense of meaning or motivation? How are we helping people feel more fulfilled in their daily lives? Are we reflecting the important things in life, or are we reflecting outdated priorities? Can we make the grudge activities a little easier, to create more time for what matters?

Image credit: @garhettsimpson

Caitlin Ammann

Caitlin Ammann
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