For most of my life, “Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough…” is a saying that was tattooed into my psyche. It seems I was always going to be a victim of hustle culture.
Yet, through personal experience, I know now that being hardworking is not all it is cut out to be.
The reality is, sometimes working hard isn’t enough, and chronic workaholism can be detrimental in the long run. If you aim for success and glory, whatever that may look like to you, know that working hard is part of it and not all of it.
What is “Hustle Culture?”
Hustle culture (aka “Burnout Culture,” “Workaholism,” or “Toxic Productivity”) is all about constantly working. Those who hustle attempt to devote as many hours as possible to work.
Outwardly, hustle culture seems like a high-energy-motivational movement that comes with expected rewards. For most people, working long hours is typically associated with moving up the corporate ladder faster, making six-figures in the shortest amount of time possible, or earning passive income due to around-the-clock hard work. It is the belief that you can succeed and achieve anything you want in life if you work hard enough. But this can only happen if you devote 1000% of yourself to work, lose sleep, and self-motivate yourself to push through the pains despite all forces that push against you.
Sure, working hard is highly celebrated in almost every workplace. But hustle culture practices are on another level. It is self-sacrificial but also delusion, motivating yet toxic. It is easy to believe that working a lot equates to high productivity, but it is not productive at all.
And although it promotes accomplishing as many tasks as possible, the truth is that long hours leads to poor mental health, increased anxiety, and depression.
The real questions that I want to address are:
- Why is everyone working so hard?
- What is influencing us to push harder, work longer, and beyond our limits?
- What are the consequences of working too much on our health?
- Finally, what can be done about it?
To understand hustle culture as a whole, we need to dissect it into the pieces that make it up.
Hustle Culture As A Lifestyle
In a nutshell, when it comes to hustling, the more you work, the more celebrated you are, and who doesn’t want to be celebrated for their hard work?
Most of us would love to get recognized for a job well done.
Back in the day, when I was managing social media accounts for a start-up, it was difficult not to notice the thousands of accounts that promote “Hustle Culture.” The majority displayed self-sacrificial motivational quotes telling you to push harder because you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.
“There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” — Elon Musk
Half motivating, half slave-driving, right?
After constantly reading these hustle culture motivational quotes on social media, I started to question my work ethic. Am I working hard enough? Is sleeping six hours a night too much? Is it bad to only want to do 40 hours a week? Should I be doing more? Giving up breaks? Not having friends? Forfeiting my Netflix subscription?
I even started to get angry at myself for the way I was living my life because I admit that I am the ultimate nap queen and napping is the sin in the hustling bible. I don’t know if there is a hustle bible, but if there was one: “Thou shall not take naps longer than 3 seconds.”
Hustling is rife in workplaces. As an employer, who doesn’t want a dedicated employee who voluntarily works tirelessly around the clock? Who doesn’t like a employee who can motivate and overwork themselves for the better good of the company?
The Hustler Mindset
The average hustler believes that work is the center of their identity. Their job makes them who they are, and they are always able to encourage themselves to work more than that average person.
They believe that hard work guarantees rewards, and the more one puts in, the faster the reward will come.
What makes a “Hustle Culture” hustler includes:
- Long hours
- Bragging about not sleeping enough and working a lot
- Claiming to be exhausted but forcing themselves to work through it
- Believing that resting is a waste of time
Overall, this culture is characterized by an obsessive work ethic and constant productivity.
Hustlers are the ones who frown upon the “9-to-5”. For these people, work-life balance is non-existent. Instead of “9-to-5,” it’s “24/7” because, you know…
“Sleep is for the weak”
The Consequences of Hustling
What they typically preach in hustle culture is that the road to success is not easy, but with hard work, success is guaranteed. However, what they fail to mention are the adverse effects that come as a result of being overworked.
Did you know that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, working too much decreases productivity by 68% in employees who feel they don’t have enough hours in the day to complete their tasks?
Other issues associated with work addiction include
- Burnout and chronic stress
- Depression & anxiety
- Cardiovascular disease
Although hustling is often put on a pedestal, I’m here to tell you that we should reconsider.
Hustling is an addiction to work, and it can affect a person’s quality of life. One study suggested that workaholics have obsessive-compulsive tendencies and can experience symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
My Experience With Hustle Culture
Three months after graduating from college, I got my first full-time job at a routine laboratory. It wasn’t the best job, but I felt that I could prove myself if I worked hard and purposely chose not to take my breaks. I was quite an active worker; the only problem was that I was working silently. I later learned that I needed to aggressively vocalize how hard I was slave-driving myself just so the right people would notice.
Omg! I did three 16-hours shifts back to back. I’m such a hard worker.
I ran six experiments in one hour. I’m so amazing because everyone can only do one. I’m so productive and valuable.
I worked all day without taking any of my breaks because I’m such a hard worker. Praise me! Praise me! Look how hard I am working compared to everyone else!
While I bragged about all my accomplishments, it came with a sense of entitlement. And like everyone else wanting to move up, I was chasing promotions, and once I got them, I was chasing the next one. Because I knew how good I was and believed I was the hardest worker.
After the first two years of grinding to the bone and volunteering for any opportunity to do overtime, I eventually experienced burnout. I started calling in sick, declined overtime opportunities, taking my breaks, etc. I even became resentful and started hating my job. It was then that I realized that “hustling” was doing more harm to me than good.
I ended up quitting my job due to extreme stress and burnout.
How To Reject Hustle Culture
It’s all good and well to lay out the cons of the culture. But how do you avoid becoming a victim of it? The first step to rejecting hustle culture is to realize what it is doing to you and your well-being.
Your mindset has to change. Realize that being overworked can lead to burnout and other health-related issues. When you burnout, you are not able to perform as well as you’d expect. Your productivity goes down as well as your health.
Second, learning how to set boundaries. No matter what, it will feel like there is always one more email or a Slack message to respond to. Guess what? More emails and slack messages start to appear, and it doesn’t end. However, you can decide when to stop working by setting structured hours. It will be difficult, trust me, because I still have this issue. Doing it cold turkey is setting yourself up for failure, so slowly implement your working hours and maybe letting your colleagues know that “Hey, these are my hours. Don’t bother me!”. Of course, there are much better ways of letting them know.
Third, take all necessary breaks. Despite what the hustlers say, taking breaks is productive.
Learning how to set boundaries and choosing to disconnect when necessary is a choice that is not always easy to make, especially in a social media and tech-driven society. Because of these advances, our connection to work will always be on.
Lastly, remove the noise by removing the guilt. If someone shames you for taking a 10–15 minute break, learn how to listen to your body first before anyone else.
Yes, people will judge you. I use to get it all the time.
But seriously, you should not feel guilty for taking time to rest. Not only do you need it, but in the corporate world, it’s the law. Don’t let any tell you how to take care of yourself because everyone is different.
Most importantly, listen to your mind and body.
I hope you recognize the effects of hustle culture on one’s overall well-being. Don’t take this as a message telling you not to work hard. If you are a hardworking person, I commend you on that.
The overall lesson is that we need to listen to ourselves and our bodies. You don’t need to burnout to convince yourself that you are working hard. If you can stay within your boundaries and practice moderation, you will be more productive that way than by overworking yourself.
After all, your health is essential.