“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” – Tony Robbins
“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.” – Rachel Hollis
“Success is based off of your willingness to work your ass off no matter what obstacles are in your way.” – David Goggins
“Tomorrows only exist in the minds of dreamers and losers.” – Robert Kiyosaki
Hustle. Work hard. Grind. Get up early and stay up late. Do whatever it takes to make it to the top, and don’t apologize along the way. You can do anything—anything—if you just set your mind to it and grind, grind, grind. You, and you alone, are the key to your own success. Don’t stop when you’re tired—stop when it’s done.
Whew. Did that make you as tired as it made me? These kinds of “hustle culture” messages are everywhere these days. I have nothing personal against Robbins, Hollis, or the other motivational speakers out there making millions telling people these things. That’s their prerogative, and people are paying to listen to them speak, so it must be resonating with plenty.
I’m just here to offer a humble alternative to this “you-can-get-what-you-want-if-you-just-hustle-hard-enough” mentality. Because, honestly, I don’t think it really works, and I think that pushing ourselves to just grind until we get the all-elusive “thing that we want” can have real consequences.
Erin Griffith refers to this phenomenon as “toil glamour” that is “obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and—once you notice it—impossible to escape.” Certainly it’s hard to escape—especially when you have wildly successful people like Elon Musk telling the world “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” noting that he himself usually works around 80 hours a week.
The Problem with The Hustle
But Musk is doing what he loves, you might argue. He’s seeing his dreams come to life, right? So why not put in 100 hours a week to make that happen? Here’s why: Just because you’re doing something you love doesn’t mean you have to burn yourself out over it. In fact, I’d argue that doing that could very well turn that something you love into something you resent.
A 2018 Harvard Business Review study examined 326 entrepreneurs in the U.S. It found that those who were identified as having “obsessive passion” for their jobs experienced significant burnout. Many reported feeling that “work was more emotionally draining and that working all day required a great deal of effort.” Some also reported being in a constant state of anxiety over their jobs. Many of these “obsessive” entrepreneurs said they were distracted by the thought of the responsibilities they were neglecting due to work—such as their families. They felt “emotionally dependent on their work, had difficulty imagining their lives without their work, and felt their mood depended on them being able to work.”
Should You Really Give Work Your All, Everyday?
Yeah… yikes. Hustle culture sacrifices any semblance of balance or perspective at the altar of ambition. By default, it shoves every other aspect of life into line behind work, because work demands to be number one. But it doesn’t call itself work these days. It shows up as “your dream,” “your vision,” “your opportunity.” Basically, it gives itself a big head—and if you’re not careful, it’ll give you one too.
Dr. Stephanie Moulton Sarkis offers a wild suggestion in response to hustle culture: “You have the right to do less than what’s humanly possible.” That’s right, you do. The world will not fall apart if you don’t give work everything you have, every single day of your life. Dr. Sarkis says, “Yes, at any time it is acceptable for you to not give your 100%… Sometimes what you’re doing is good enough, and that is just fine.”
This isn’t excuse-making. It’s not stifling your talent or burying your potential. It’s purely logical: You have a finite amount of energy, and if you use it all up hustling at work, other areas of your life are bound to suffer. Like your mental and emotional health. Your spiritual life. Your family and other relationships.
Where Your Time Is, There Your Heart Will Be Also
My husband works in finance, and we’ve had to come face-to-face with this hustle mentality several times. We decided a long time ago that our family was more important than any work-related achievement But that doesn’t mean everyone around us has the same beliefs. Jake has had to defend his decisions to take time off, miss meetings and work less hours, because there are people in his line of work who truly believe that investing in his family is less important than growing his business. He was actually asked once, “Don’t you want to put in the work now while your kids are young so you can enjoy them more when they’re older?”
Don’t get me wrong, my husband works hard. But he is not sacrificing the early years with his kids so he can build some kind of empire that we can all enjoy when they’re older. He understands the value of being there for them now. He knows how much it matters to be present for them, and to model to our kids what is truly important in life. You can say your family is important till you’re blue in the face, but if you aren’t intentional about actually being with them, then it’s all for naught.
My husband and I both love what we do. And we now realize that can be a double-edged sword. So, we have to keep our work in check. What does that look like on a practical level?
How to Keep Your Work in Check (Even if You Love It)
The solution to combating hustle culture is simple, yet profoundly difficult. If you want to keep your job in check, you have to refuse to allow it to take up residence in your life as your number one priority. You have to give it a rank, and make sure it stays in line where it belongs.
That requires you to closely examine your priorities—as they are, not as you’d like them to be. Where you allot your time is a clear indicator of what you’re prioritizing, so be objective when you do this. Does your time indicate that work is the most important thing in your life? If so, are you okay with that? Or does that signal that you need to make a change?
If the answer is the latter, then it’s time to reprioritize. Jot down the top things you want to focus on, and then order them in importance. Now build your schedule around those things. There is no other way to do this—you have to build your schedule around your priorities, or you will undoubtedly fall back into old habits. Build in grace for the unexpected things that will surely come up, but don’t leave your schedule so vague that work has room to shimmy into places it doesn’t belong.
If you’re an entrepreneur, I won’t sugar coat this and say it will make your business a booming success overnight. It won’t. Rather, it will allow for slow growth. It will look more like a gardener encouraging her plants to blossom in their time, rather than hovering over the grass to see if it’ll grow right before her eyes. It will allow you to strategize, to contemplate, to make decisions out of wisdom instead of out of panic. And you will be able to enjoy the growth, because you won’t be too burnt out to even celebrate the small victories as they come.
Most importantly, it will keep your work in its place. And it will elevate those things that matter most, so you don’t look up from your screen one day and realize how much you’ve missed while hustling.