The Hustle Is Real (And Annoying)

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Who is buying what in a world where everybody is selling everybody something?

When blogging first took hold (early 2000s). I wrote many articles about who would be consuming all of the content that all of us were creating and pitching to one another. Take a look at your Facebook feed to see how that panned out (and, yes, you’re only seeing a fraction of the content that your “friends” have created, because Facebook is throttling and managing it). They don’t call it “drinking from the fire hydrant” for no reason. This concept became even clearer last week after reading The New York Times opinion piece, Everything Is For Sale Now. Even Us. It rings true (over and above the humor within it). It’s not just about content anymore, it’s about selling stuff too (not just from brands and stores), but it does seem like everyone has some kind of hustle going on, doesn’t it?

“Almost everyone I know now has some kind of hustle, whether job, hobby, or side or vanity project. Share my blog post, buy my book, click on my link, follow me on Instagram, visit my Etsy shop, donate to my Kickstarter, crowdfund my heart surgery. It’s as though we are all working in Walmart on an endless Black Friday of the soul. Being sold to can be socially awkward, for sure, but when it comes to corrosive self-doubt, being the seller is a thousand times worse. The constant curation of a salable self demanded by the new economy can be a special hellspring of anxiety. Like many modern workers, I find that only a small percentage of my job is now actually doing my job. The rest is performing a million acts of unpaid micro-labor that can easily add up to a full-time job in itself. Tweeting and sharing and schmoozing and blogging. Liking and commenting on others’ tweets and shares and schmoozes and blogs. Ambivalently ‘maintaining a presence on social media,’ attempting to sell a semi-fictional, much more appealing version of myself in the vain hope that this might somehow help me sell some actual stuff at some unspecified future time.”

How’s that working out for you?

It’s not getting any easier, is it? Does it truly feel good? Now, with the growth of platforms like Shopify and the DTC (Direct-To-Consumer) business models taking hold, not only can anybody be selling everything to anyone, but everyone now seems to want in on the action. It’s true. Layer on top of that how digital goods and services (online courses, ebooks, etc…) are not just easier to produce, but clicks away to sell, and it can all be… well… as Ruth Whippman (who wrote the New York Times’ piece) explains it:  “market-driven human interaction is making us paranoid, jittery, self-critical and judgmental.” The issue here is that way too many people believe that this is the way to wealth and happiness, because they don’t have their own definitions for these terms. With that, they’re assuming because their next door neighbour is suddenly building their online store, that they should too (and that it’s fine to shill it to one another non-stop).

Let’s take (several) deep breaths.

We’re all caught up in this personal branding, side hustle, digital business quagmire of hell. This is true. But you don’t have to play along. I’m reminded of Michael Gerber’s classic book, The E-Myth (first published in 1986 – which is long time before anybody had likes, followers and fans). Should you start you own business? Should you be constantly pitching? Michael tells the story of someone who likes to make pies. Everyone tells her how awesome her pies are. As a side-hustle, she starts baking pies and selling them out of her house. They sell like hot cakes (err… great pies?). She then starts her own bakery and the business fails. Miserably. What happened? It turns out that once you start a business, you’re no longer in the business of making pies, you’re in the business of running a business that sells pies. Selling pies and running a business that sells pies are not the same business.

This is why many fail, but it’s also why many should think twice.

The E-Myth legend is no longer just a cautionary tale for potential small business entrepreneurs. It’s a story that can be shifted to today’s economy as: don’t feel the stress and aniexty to start a business, just because everyone else is doing it, and just because it’s very easy to set-up. Now, more than ever, it seems like everybody does has something to sell. The bigger question that we have to start asking is this: do we want to run a business? What kind of business do we want to run? Is it worth it for us to run these micro-businesses? And, perhaps the biggest question of all: is it healthy to be constantly pushing this business on anybody/every body who we are connected to? It doesn’t sound healthy, does it?

And, as the article points out, it gets tiring when all we do is pitch… especially if it’s pitching our friends… and always happening… and… well… annoying.