The word hustle has evolved from a shady way to make money, a funky song from the '70s and is now being embraced as an approach to living your best life. Its glossy makeover has become very much blended with work, standing out and taking action.
However, hustle culture has been increasingly critcised as selling a lifestyle that isn't sustainable and promotes overworking. Have charismatic gurus rebranded overworking as sexy? The phrase 'hustle harder' appears in neon signs in co-working spaces and is celebrated widely on Instagram. Yet a worrying trend I’m seeing with some clients is around their level of busyness, driven nature who are constantly pushing themselves.
They consume podcasts for breakfast that echo a language that is big on expectation, self-improvement but short on self-compassion and acceptance. It taps into underlying anxiety of not being enough and the fear of not reaching our full potential.
One concern is what happens when your mental health starts to suffer and you can't get your hustle on because you have no energy. You feel more guilty especially if you put on another video telling you to crush it, grind and stop being mediocre. Hustle needs heart and reflection to truly make it a force for good and not another way to market busyness and over-identification with work.
Can hustle be a force for good?
I spoke with Carlos Saba co-founder of the Happy Startup School. They run an online school and host off-grid gatherings for purpose-driven entrepreneurs and leaders that strive to balance money with meaning. We explored different aspects of hustle culture.
Carlos shares "I think it’s a double-edged sword, on a more productive side, 'hustle' is about making things happen, getting off your butt and finding out what's going on. If you are starting a business, you gotta talk to people about what they need and understand what challenges they have".
The negative connotations are when it’s a constant and lacking balance. "When you’re always hustling, without an end, for me, that’s a lack of focus and clarity. Eventually, you hit a break wall and it can become meaningless, draining and destructive, you are hustling too hard."
Carlos and Laurence of the Happy Startup School
Why are you doing what you're doing?
One of the lessons I've learned from Carlos has been to be much more clear around my intention; who I want to work with and what their challenges and needs are. This takes time, a need to reflect, and empathy much more than constantly selling my ideas and services. However, planning & reflecting don't get you clients so action is needed.
The hustle factor can include creative ways to test ideas that provide feedback and learning and reduce the risk of building products no one really wants.
Carlos advises on the importance of having clarity of your motivation & agenda: "The term hustle can be a culture and if your unconscious about the culture that you're entering, you're chasing another person's measurement of success and using their language. This is where young people are misled, and driven to work really hard for something they don't fully understand".
Hustle with yourself
The spirit of hustle, at its best, is to create, improve, and change the way something is done. However, it needs balance and focus, and the intention needs to be guided by our own values.
A grey area can emerge without questioning and understanding the actions of ourselves or others which can take us down the path of burnout, deception or manipulation.
For me, it’s my mind that I hustle with the most, the sense of not feeling enough or ready or struggling with imposter syndrome. I was in a leadership workshop recently and many participants shared similar doubts. These are tricks of the mind to keep us comfortable and safe.
On the other hand, we also desire challenge, meaning and to be understood and in many ways that also makes us vulnerable to be hustled.