Globally, people have to deal with lockdowns and curfews, and Holland is no exception. Visits to my favourite restaurants and bars have been swapped with watching Netflix and the rediscovery of my e-reader. But I face some problems in adapting to being a binge-watcher, as I often find it to be a waste of time. Next to that, I have already read 25 books since the start of this whole lockdown and I am kind of done with it. At a certain moment, you have read enough about the life of others and it is time to start creating your own.
Some simple math showed that I would be able to easily spend 8 hours a week on a side project with just summing up my free evening hours and my weekend. Hours that would normally have been spent on drinking beers, travelling to work and playing sports. Hours that are now left. Hours I don’t want to spend on Netflix anymore. I want to start a side hustle.
These thoughts started just 3 weeks ago and I don’t have an idea of what I actually want yet. How do you even start with hustling? How do you determine what to do? Where to start? What do you need? 3 weeks ago I started my exploration and today I will share the 4 lessons I learned so far.
Lesson 1: I don’t want a fast side hustle
Hustling sounds negative. I don’t need a side hustle, I would like a side hobby. Mark Twain already said it: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life again.”
I believe in the advantages of doing something you like. You are more motivated and more likely to stick to it. If I want to start a side project next to my fulltime job, it has to be something I like doing in the first place. If it was purely about the money, I would simply work more hours or ask for a pay raise.
I really like this quote:
“Don’t try to catch the wave, you are almost ever too late. Instead, do something interesting and let the waves catch you.” — Jeff Bezos
This quote resonates with me while thinking about bitcoin investors or Instagram influencers. I simply don’t believe this will make me happy. Not me. Everyone that wants to become rich quickly can better stop reading. I am not going down that path. I prefer building something that can really make a difference. Something creative, enjoyable, meaningful and something new. Money can be a byproduct.
Billionaire and social capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya says: “I believe that the time and speed it takes for a company to be built is equal to the time and speed which it will decline and fade away. If it takes a company 8 years to reach their peak, I believe they will be completely gone in 8 years or less.”
I am not interested in bitcoins or 10 ways to make money within a month, I am looking for a meaningful project for the years to come. But how do I start such a new, slow project?
Lesson 2: Start asking why
Who’s better to ask how to discover a new market than the most famous entrepreneur of modern times? Elon Musk luckily describes and explains in many interviews how he started Tesla. He wanted to do something meaningful for the world and ideally within the automotive industry. He decided to make sustainable cars.
Elon Musk asked himself a super simple question: “Why has no one else really done this before?” “What is the fundamental core problem?”
In his case, it was not the lack of interest in the market, the engine or the branding. No, the main problem was with the batteries. No one believed it was possible to develop batteries that were and cheap enough and that could last long enough to drive with.
He decided to challenge that core belief. And he started buying batteries in bulk, and closing long term contracts with suppliers. He founded his own batteries lab and focused on mass production. He experimented for years till the biggest bottleneck was solved.
Back to side hustles, or side hobbies. If we really want to do something new and explore a new market, we have to ask more why’s. Besides that, we also need to really believe that we are capable of changing the world for the better.
Steve Jobs states his life completely changed when he realized that everything around us is created by people that were no smarter than us.
So why not you? You can pick any problem and start solving it. The possibilities are endless. Pick the problems that are meaningful to you.
Personally, I am less triggered by sustainability than Elon Musk. I do find the amounts of plastic in our ocean and the indifference towards global warming absolutely horrific. I even used to be a WWF ranger as a kid, collecting money for similar issues.
However, nowadays I find social problems more interesting: why do we have so many depressions, divorces and why do we as a species have troubles forming close friendships. If I want to focus on one specific market, it has to be somehow related to social issues.
I want to solve social problems and I will do that by asking more why’s. Questioning the fundamental beliefs behind it. But how to get started with solving one of the world’s biggest problems?
Lesson 3: Start smaller than you like
I do not only want something meaningful and unique, I want something that has the potential to last. No superficial hype, but something that is worth digging in to. And I want to give myself time to learn the necessary skillsets, mindset and to experiment a lot.
Making a long-lasting impact is related to how you start, according to Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal. Obtaining a few percentages in a big ass market sounds tempting and easy, but will often lead to a wrong focus. Instead of focusing on your core skills and improving yourself, you will en up focusing on competitors, reviews, your market share, trends and fancy commercials.
Facebook did not start conquering the world, it started with Havard University. Amazon started only with books, Netflix started with sending blockbuster DVDs via the post. Your first industry should feel uncomfortably small. It will give you the freedom to focus on getting the basics right first.
It is tempting to aim for writing a #1 New York Times bestseller, but — I will tell you something — you are not the only one with that idea. Since the start of the pandemic, the amount of book draft submissions went through the roof, according to publishers worldwide.
It doesn’t mean you cannot dream, please do! We do not have enough dreamers. Dream of solving the most complex and most urgent problems in the world.
Just remember that if you want to create something for years to come, in order to solve the bigger problems, you need to create or find a small market first. Give yourself some time to fail, learn and grow.
Lesson 4: Fall in love with the process
I used to be a web designer, and I created WordPress websites for large companies to small startups to the small bakery around the corner. I loved the creative process.
But it did not stop there, my clients wanted maintenance, safety updates and hosting. These requests could lead to huge amounts of easy recurring income. But I hated it. After some time, I was only trying to solve bugs instead of doing what I loved - designing websites.
A few months ago, I spoke to an Olympic champion. He had trained for 30 years till his ultimate moment of glory — an Olympic gold medal. I knew that, but what surprised me was what he told me after that.
Two weeks after he experienced the absolute highlight of his life, he realized that everything was still the same. He had worked his whole life for this moment and he still was the same guy, with the same worries and problems. The only difference? He became famous.
He urged me to never delay my happiness. “Do not allow yourself to be happy and content with life only after you obtained a certain goal. Fall in love with the process, do not wait to be happy.”
I do not want a side hustle, I want a side hobby. A project I love doing, creating something new and meaningful for years to come. Something I love working on every single day, till the waves catch me.