Hustle Culture and Why it Will Kill You

One of the most famous ancient Greek tragedy writers, Sophocles, once said that “without labor nothing prospers”. It’s undeniable the role hard work and consistent diligence have in accomplishing your goals but hard work has taken on a different meaning in this current day and age. We now live in a world of aiming for “email-zero”, 12-hour workdays in corporate climates, and the draining monotony of hustle culture burning out brilliant minds before their time.

What is hustle culture, you might be thinking? It’s the never-ending stream of work that you commit yourself to constantly. All it means is constant working.

As ubiquitous as it has become, you might have been indoctrinated into believing that this is the only way of life, but I assure you, there are reasons to avoid this mindset and getting sucked into the throes of rise-and-grind. Let me explain.

It ends in nothing but stress and exhaustion

It is no secret that working constantly as hard as possible leads to extreme stress, not just from the amount of work you’re doing, but also because time spent working eats away at time that could be spent working on your wellbeing.

Elon Musk once tweeted that “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week” and to me, putting a number on it, like these arbitrary 40 hours, sets an unnecessary bar for everyone. Elon Musk is hugely successful and extremely popular, which means his words will inevitably have an impact on those wanting to reach his level of success.

Having said that, I must tell you from the bottom of my heart, the idolisation of celebrities and popular icons is nothing but a disaster waiting to happen. If there’s anything I would want younger and impressionable people to understand from anything I say is that you never want to put people, especially those that you don’t know well, on a pedestal. I promise you, there is no good that comes from it.

Instead try… every hour you spend working, go for a 5-minute walk (at the very least). During exam season, me and my friends would take long walks to explore the deepest, darkest corridors of our university building while chatting about all sorts of things. It’s these memories I cherish way more than remembering sitting at a library desk for hours on end trying to wrap concepts around my head.

Burnout is so dangerous

Burnout is real, and I can’t imagine what burning out after spending years working at maximum capacity would feel like. The short-term burnout I’ve experienced before depletes my energy reserves permanently and makes me wonder if I’ll ever enjoy anything again. The problem with burnout is that it makes you lose all hope for that specific aspect of your life and you can’t fathom a future living the same way you have been while you’ve been burning out.

It also hits you like a truck! We always talk about the semester three burnout in my friendship group because that hit so heavy for all of us, but during the semester we were just going about our business seemingly normally. It was only after exams that we sat back and realised we had spent the last few months working constantly on things that now felt trivial.

Instead try… taking an evening off midweek to recuperate completely every time you finish a decently sized project or module. If you’ve finished a semester, make that a week off. Don’t jump straight back into something else and purposely avoid doing anything work-related to give yourself something else to focus on.

You’re allowed to do stuff for fun

Kind of an aside, but something that has recently been cropping up on my social media a lot is the notion that to be really successful, you need to monetise your hobbies. Apparently, if you’re not squeezing every penny out of every side-project you have, then it’s a waste of time.

I would argue that monetising something that you used to do for pleasure no longer allows it to be something that you use as an escape from reality. Eventually, you might grow to resent your hobby, and that’s just a terrible feeling.

Instead try… just doing stuff for fun? It really is that easy.

Is it just for the bragging rights?

The rise in hustle culture and the concept of ‘rise and grind’ across social media has led to almost performative workaholism which only works to perpetuate the cycle among others. I think it’s inevitable that some people are just doing it for the gram, and this has the effect of kicking others into action; others that may be working perfectly hard, but feel as if they could still be doing more.

Success stories get retweets and likes, that’s plain and simple, and that could perhaps be the reason people feel like they are always falling behind, as if they need to be working harder constantly, to be the next success story.

Instead try… limiting how much time you spend on social media. It’s a curated feed of tip-of-the-iceberg perfection that may have been years in the making, but you only see the end product.

Life is short

It is through ‘hustle culture’ that we have become a generation of people with the idea that work is not something you use as a stepping stone to get to what you want, but work is the be-all and end-all of your life.

I think it’s useful to pose a specific question to yourself in these cases: what if today was the last day of your life? Nobody I’ve ever spoken to that’s nearing the end of life ever sat me down and told me to spend more time working. Life deserves to be treasured, gratitude should be expressed, every moment needs to be felt. Granted, work will definitely form a significant part of life, but there is no reason to spend more time than you have to doing it, because there are so many other things to do! So many relationships to be cultivated, so much new food to try, so many new hobbies to find.

If anything, if the journey is more important than the destination, then surely you’re supposed to enjoy doing the work as far as possible anyways.

Instead try… Take the long way home from work. Blast your music, or walk through the park, or pick up your favourite snack. I can’t tell you the amount of emergency chocolate bars I grabbed on my way home from university in my first two years, but they definitely made me feel better in the moment.

What’s the point?

This follows on from my previous point, but if you spend so long creating the ideal life and making all the money in the world, you’ll eventually run out of the time and capacity and people to reap the fruits of your labour with.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s admirable that people are working hard for what they want and not settling for anything less, but hustle culture is detrimental to your health and not the way to go about anything. I think hustle culture sustains a cycle of replaceability and suggests that we’re all pawns in a bigger game because if you’re not at full capacity 100% of the time then they can find someone who is. We can only unite and put ourselves at the forefront of our minds.

This has almost been a message and reminder for myself. I was reminiscing with some friends this week about all the time we should’ve spent having more fun at university, before this pandemic hit, and it really made me aware of the importance of balance. I truly believe everything on earth is good in moderation, but a healthy balance is so difficult to find.

I hope you guys are all keeping safe as the world reopens, and finding as much joy as you can in your lives.

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