Over the last few years, the idea of having a side hustle turned me off.
Life was already way too busy. I struggled to keep my head above water. There actually came a point where I could no longer do just that. I started having panic attacks that forced me to take several months off of work.
How were people working full-time jobs and doing side hustles during their free time?
Now that I work part-time, I have a lot more free time and more energy. Not only have I been able to focus on my health, but I have also been focusing on what I call “passion projects.”
I still wasn’t ready to call them side hustles.
A few weeks ago, I want to the Cents Positive retreat, a financial independence retreat for women. I decided to take part in a breakout group discussion focused on side hustles.
This discussion was eye-opening for me. The vast majority of the women were talking about their passion projects as side hustles. These women were focusing on writing, painting, cooking, nutrition, minimalism, fitness, and other creative endeavors.
I had a realization from this discussion. For some, side hustles are a way to pursue your passions and figure out how to monetize them. This can provide you with more options and allow you to do work that you love.
With this new perspective, I’ve started to come to terms with considering my passions projects as side hustles. I can make money doing something I’m passionate about, even if the focus isn’t on money.
I know Michelle to be an incredibly thoughtful person. I was very curious about what I’d learn from this interview. (Side note: Yes, these interviews are for you all, but I definitely learn the most from them…)
I had no idea that her story would help me to continue rethinking my perspective on side hustles.
Let’s get into the interview.
1. Tell us a little bit more about you.
I’m Michelle from the band and the blog called Savvy History. Thank you for having me, Fioneers!
I’m an average earner in a hopping small town. I am a middle school teacher and my husband is a sound technician. On the side, we write songs from the perspective of overlooked historical people. We are also pursuing entrepreneurial ideas within our local community.
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make this decision?
I have to admit, my life hasn’t slowed down whatsoever. I still think I belong in this series, so hear me out!
I’ve abandoned and traded out more lucrative opportunities for less lucrative ones. This allows me to have more time for my relationships and build new creative outlets.
For example, I had a side hustle as a guitar teacher up until the day my first child was born. I literally sent an email at 2:30 pm to cancel a lesson scheduled at 5:00 pm. Then, I had my baby at 10:00 pm. I hustled right up until the last minute. The moment my child was born, I knew my era of guitar teaching was over.
Being a guitar teacher was an awesome side hustle for me while it lasted. It fit really well with being a public school teacher in a lot of ways. For example, I would batch all of the students from 4:00 – 7:30 pm on two nights of the week (those were some loooong days as you can imagine).
I made what I considered decent money ($40/hour before tax) to teach pop songs to kids, expose them to philosophical music with interesting messages, and basically share my passion for guitar in a beautiful sunroom at my home. Being one-on-one with kids I adored was an excellent way to spend my time.
I still have people approaching me for lessons, but I’ve had to turn them down because I don’t have time.
In a similar manner, I also used to play a lot more live shows in the summer, which required travel. Travel complicates our lives with a small child.
I want to give my best self to my reading students throughout the day and still have time for my son at night.
I also have other ideas I want to have time to explore. I want to explore freelance writing, recording my history songs, starting a local podcast, and starting a service company for older people wanting to get better with technology. It can be stressful to have a lot of ideas and not know where to start!
Because I now have so many other activities I’m interested in pursuing, I needed to give up teaching guitar lessons and playing so many live shows. This summer, I made more time for blogging.
My yearly income went down, but I discovered I really like writing other things besides songs.
I’m not sure if I will pursue freelance writing or work more on the blog, but I know I will keep developing the “history theme” because I like the research that comes along with it. I’ve been increasing my knowledge base and social media presence for now.
I’m not sure whether to pitch the content or distribute it myself. I’m still working on what ideas to pursue first, spotting what ideas will actually generate income, and which ideas I’m fine with doing even if they never make money.
3. How has this decision to stop some of your side hustles impacted your quality of life?
Giving up guitar lessons means my house doesn’t have to be perfectly clean. Having an in-home service business creates pressure. It was even more challenging because we have a house with an open floor plan. If a parent popped their head in the door, I didn’t want the house to be an embarrassment.
Now with our little one, I experience our sunroom in a different way. For one thing, it’s usually a mess because it’s a place to play and read books. Sometimes, I fondly reflect back on all the hours I spent in there with other people’s children, and how such experiences have prepared me to transition into this role with my son.
As for touring less, I’m enjoying the weekend with my friends and community members instead. This has been excellent for my mental health and happiness.
It always felt weird to leave a fun event in our town to go and perform somewhere else for money. I still do it when it makes sense, but I was too busy before.
4. How did switching side hustles as a working mom impact your financial goals or timelines?
Because of these decisions, I’m not making as much money as I used. This is a hard psychological hit for me to take as an adult. A lot of us want to see our income continually increase.
However, with this step back, I’m taking the time to learn more about passive income and scaling businesses. I couldn’t logically stay on the path I was on. It would not have been sustainable with children.
I’m still trading my time for money, but I have a lot of new ideas to work with. Most importantly, I think these ideas could be useful to others in a way that is eventually sustainable for me.
These ideas may or may work out in the long term. Very few of them offer payment in the short-term. I always remind myself that being a musician didn’t pay at first either. I eventually found a way to make that work. I have the confidence that I can with this too.
5. What enabled you to make this decision (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
Having a (mostly) healthy relationship with money and having our child were events that worked together to assist this change.
When it comes to having a healthy relationship with money, I’ve erred for years on the side of having a scarcity mindset and never spending money on myself.
This allowed me to build a financial cushion that enabled me to step back.
I try to remind myself that my situation is stable now. I don’t have to hustle all the time like I did when I was younger. Purchasing something for myself here or there doesn’t mean I’m selfish or irresponsible.
Having a child helped me to think more strategically about my time. Without having my son, I think I would have kept teaching guitar lessons and playing shows forever. I couldn’t logically talk myself out of hustling when I was enjoying it so much and getting paid well.
With all of my time spent hustling, I didn’t have any extra time for other creative projects burning a hole in my brain. With my son, I finally gave myself permission to stop.
Having my son gave me permission to think bigger and think about playing “the long-game” instead. The whole experience taught me I am highly susceptible to “playing it safe” even when bigger things may await.
6. Were there things in your life you adapted to make it work better so you could continue to work toward your goals?
My husband and I are constantly on the lookout for productivity hacks.
For example, I stopped writing halfway through this article to cut my husband’s hair. It was annoying to have to stop writing. In order to save time, we’ve officially decided he is going to have a man-bun while our children are in their younger years.
Is a man-bun a productivity hack? Probably not for most couples. For us, it is.
This illustrates one way that we’ve given up on social norms and gravitated towards doing what works best for us. We’ve done this in other ways as well:
- We approached college differently (I took a long time and worked along the way).
- We try to make a lot of things before buying them.
- We don’t mind not having an annual vacation.
- We don’t feel pressured to max out our social calendar.
A lot of people accept our different approach to things (but this doesn’t mean they don’t notice we’re kind of quirky)!
To maximize our time to work toward our present goals, we don’t actively seek out gigs. If they come to us, we often take them.
For example, my husband has a side business of doing home-repair and maintenance. It is evolving quite organically. He doesn’t have business cards or advertise his work. Word is getting around, and he is starting to charge for his time when appropriate.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
The reasons someone could consider downshifting are numerous – mental health, young children, caring for older parents, reconnecting with the enjoyable parts of a profession.
I’m learning there are different seasons in life. Before having kids, I hustled in a different way. I was always doing something.
While I’m still busy, I now understand how to prioritize what matters most. Previously, I tried to be a perfectionist in every area of my life. I could never do that now, nor would I want to.
In my current season of life (having kids under five) is a season I want to navigate with conscious awareness. I am willing to slow down in certain areas right now that I might not be willing to otherwise.
For example, I didn’t pursue a PhD. It’s important for us during this time that we are building a stronger foundation for knowing ourselves as parents, creatives, and as a solid couple.
We make time to take long walks as a family and talk things out. This is one of my favorite things to do, and it leads to a lot of insights.
“Downshifting” can be an overlooked way to allow us to be happier, healthier, and more productive.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help (or hinder) you on your path?
I hope to be financially independent by 55. To be honest, the pursuit of FI doesn’t occupy my mind much. I have a job I thoroughly enjoy and a family I love.
For me, it’s less the pursuit of FI and more being part of the online financial independence community that has made a difference for me.
The characteristics of someone pursuing FI are interesting to me from a psychological standpoint. These people are searching for meaning in life and pursuing something hardcore. We have a lot in common.
Through being involved in this community, I’ve learned so much about myself and how I can add value to the world. I’ve learned how to handle sticky topics (like money) and what’s going on behind the scenes in my people’s lives in this divided nation.
While I feel confident in a lot of my original work, I’ve tweaked them based on feedback and observations from people in my online community. I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
At the same time, I haven’t always wanted to be known as a writer by the people I know in real life. Interacting with a small group of people online with similar interests is something I really appreciate and want to make the most of as an online musician and writer.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
Don’t wait to start. I dream up ideas all the time. I used to be paralyzed by the small start-up costs or feeling like it wasn’t the right time. Now, I know that sometimes I need to just get started.
I wish I had made the decision to start my blog before having a baby. I could have easily started it before having him and balanced it with giving lessons. Think about what you want to do and figure out if you can start slowly transitioning into it now. Because, why wait?
Wow, Michelle! I absolutely loved this perspective. Thank you for sharing it.
Michelle’s story is such an awesome example of Slow FI in action.
One thing that makes Slow FI unique is that for people pursuing it, early retirement doesn’t occupy their minds (much). When someone already has built a life they want to be living, it doesn’t make sense to sprint to the finish line.
Pursuing financial independence provides Michelle the prospect of longer-term security. It also provides her with the opportunity to build a life that allows her to enjoy time with her family and pursue her passions.
Her financial situation provides her with the opportunity to focus on her quality of life and relationships first. Money is still important but a secondary consideration.
One thing that I love about Michelle’s story is that she didn’t settle with “good.” She already had a life where she was pursuing things that brought her purpose and enjoyment. She also knew that things could be better.
When her son was born, she didn’t stick with the default. Her side hustles took up more time and energy than she wanted. Because of this realization, she figured out how to pursue her passions in a more sustainable way.
We all will have different seasons throughout our life. You might still be in the early career hustle, have small children, be dealing with a health issue, or taking care of aging parents. We will all have different amounts of time and energy in each of those phases.
I love how Michelle has consciously accepted her phase of life. This allows her to figure out how to focus on what matters most and not let her passions fall to the wayside.
Sometimes I forget that life has seasons. I get caught up in thinking about what I want to do for the rest of my life. That’s not the right question to be asking. I should be asking myself how I can live a life I want to be living in this season.
I may not always accomplish as much as I’d like to, but it’s okay if I’m prioritizing the things that are most important to me.
I also want to amplify Michelle’s advice from the interview. If you have an idea, don’t wait for something external to push you forward. For Michelle, it was having her son that pushed her to take action. For me, it was my mental health that required me to make big life changes.
Imagine what your life would be like if you figured out what you wanted and made proactive shifts.
I now see side hustles in a different light. They can help me to proactively work toward my long-term lifestyle goals, like location independence.
If you’d like to follow Michelle’s journey, you can find her at: