Shove It, Hustle Culture

I have a bone to pick with our internet/side hustle/startup culture.

Hustle is not the only thing.

It’s not even the most important thing.

And I am going a step farther to say it’s hurting us: as individuals, as companies, and as a society.

A couple things that I’ve been consuming lately have made me think more about this.

Gurus Show Us We Can Win If We Hustle

Watching a GaryVee video about his 2017 Flip Challenge via a Facebook ad that was served up to me, I realized how many times as a society we are presented with these kind of stories. A bit of background: you see him buying stuff at a garage sale and reselling items online to make a $1000 profit in one day. The unsaid message being: anyone can hustle and make money. (A quick Youtube search of the ‘2017 Flip Challenge review’ will show you mixed reviews on it.)

The Only Measure Of Hustle Is ‘More’

I’ve also been listening to a podcast called ‘The Dream’ about MLMs. The reason a lot of people do badly in direct sales/MLM companies/network marketing and don’t report fraud is that there is a pervasive culture in these companies that if you work hard enough, you will be successful, which actually isn’t true. (You can listen to the podcast if you’re interested in learning more about that.)

We Feel Less Successful Than We Should

This article about millennial burnout really spoke to a lot of my friends. More and more conversations I have with people are about how they feel like they should be working harder. And it started to piss me off that very capable, effective people in my life were feeling inadequate because of hustle culture.

(Feminist note: I’ve noticed a lot of ‘hustlers’ are men with wives and families. I am willing to bet that the wives of hustlers do A LOT in the way of domestic and emotional labor that makes this lifestyle possible.)

The Foundation Of Hustle Is OK; It’s The Application I Have Issues With

I get why the hustle in some ways can be an empowering message. It means we can’t expect to sit on our couch in front of the TV every night and get to a different place where we are right now. It means despite all the things around us that are out of our control, how hard we work and what we do with are time are things that not only matter but in our direct control.

I just think our hustle hard culture is taking its toll, in three main ways:

Toxic Hustle Culture Part 1: People attribute more to their hard work than other factors, giving it a weighted and inaccurate level of importance. First of all, the ‘it’s all work’ idea of success is not accurate. Studies like this one have shown that talent is not the largest factor in someone being successful. In my own success, besides hard work, I can list connections, access to capital, alumni networks, and a supportive family as the actual reasons I am still here ten years later.

Toxic Hustle Culture Part 2: All this extra work is literally making us sick.
Anxiety is on the rise and studies like this have shown stress is linked to actual sickness like cardiovascular disease. Googling ‘stress + insert-illness-here’ is going to probably show you at least one study linking them. And you know what makes for a less productive workforce? Health issues. Working harder often means cutting into things like self care and sleep, both of which are vital to our function as humans. Not good.

Toxic Hustle Culture Part 3: There are diminishing returns after working x amount of hours a week anyway.
The law of diminishing returns works in many areas of life. Ex: Working out three hours a day rather than one doesn’t make you three times more jacked. Sleeping 12 hours instead of 8 doesn’t make you 30% more rested. You get the idea. And the same goes for work hours. Studies like this show that working over 50 hours a week shows you actually become less productive. So not only are the extra hours cutting into our health time and not as important as other factors, they actually don’t even mean as much as they should.

In short, the hustle that costs your health also has limited gains and those gains can actually be attributed to other things.

Yes, by all means work hard and feel proud of your daily contribution. But f%^* the hustle.

And finally, my favorite quote that counters hustle culture, which makes total sense if you think about it:

“If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.” – George Monbiot

Maybe this has made the case for you and you think, “Ok Nicole. I get it. The hustle is low grade killing me. But what am I supposed to do?” For me, it’s come down to these three things:

  1. Do more important stuff, more often. The hustle will have you cold calling 100 businesses. Your reason will decide to call the ten you’ve worked with before who may buy your new product. Reason wins.
  2. Cut out the less important stuff. The hustle will having you take twenty courses about optimizing ads on your website. Your reason will have you pick a course and go deep with it. Reason wins again.
  3. Prioritize your health so you can produce your best work. The hustle will have you sleep three hours a night. Your reason will shoot for eight. Reason wins a third time!

So let’s keep working hard. Putting in a good day doing high quality work and life stuff is a great thing we should all do.

But $%&* hustle culture. Because it is only lining the pockets (and creating celebrities) out of people who seem to want us to burn out believing it.

Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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