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Why the Hustle Doesn’t Work

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Finding Fulfilment in Work-Life Balance

It’s the new, hip thing. Yes, I said hip. Cool. Trendy. With it. Vibing. Whatever your poison when it comes to describing what resonates and is popular in the now, insert that word here.

Many have endorsed the virtues of the hustle. Rise early, grind hard, leave late. Repeat. Consume copious amounts of coffee. Party hard on weekends or just work on the side hustle. While I do endorse the part about coffee to some degree, the trend among millennials is to now make work — and sometimes study — the centre of their lives to the point where it becomes the white elephant sitting on the other side of the seesaw called life. Looking for something to make them feel productive, and with the ever watchful stalking eye of social media, many endorse the hustle — and post vociferously about it and it’s successes — embarking on a journey to show their success to everyone who will scroll through their social feeds and stress themselves out because they aren’t hitting mythical milestones.

Don’t get me wrong. There is tremendous value in hard work. Rolling up your sleeves, putting your shoulder to the plough and getting down to business. But many today are often mistaking dedication to their profession with being on the hustle 24/7.

The hustle is fabricated

Noise doesn’t equal action. Many today boast about their successes, they stay long hours and push beyond every conceivable outer limit, slowly losing sleep and sanity, to reach for a symbol of success that the world expects us to have. And by the world, I mean us — the pressures we artificially place on ourselves to be someone or something we think we need to be in order to gain approval from friends and peers and to garner envy in our frenemies and foes. What ends up happening is that we find ourselves crashing, or in a place in our lives years down the road where we are straight up miserable and a misery to be around. Our lives get out of balance, people who love us don’t recognise us, and somewhere in the fog we’ve lost the love for what we do because it has been eclipsed by the need to make money, get ahead and prove to everyone else and ourselves in the process that we are not failures; that we’ve made it, and by subtle implication, we are to be validated, emulated and given special status. There is a narcissistic undertone to the idea of the hustle, where it’s about me and getting ahead. I’ll burn the bridge, kick the ladder, and wipe away my footsteps in an attempt to get ahead of the pack.

Burning the candle at both ends

Finally, the rant is over. But the consequences are nonetheless very real. Many wake up one morning, after years of this hyper-focus on getting ahead, and don’t even recognise themselves any more. The price they’ve had to pay is staggering and it takes its toll. Michael Hyatt, author, blogger and former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers delivered a speech at Leadercast 2018, in which he said, “In the hustle fallacy, the first thing we cut is self-care…self-care describes the activities that have meaningful life outside of work while contributing to greater performance at work.”

After 14 years in the creative industry, I found myself for four out of five days of the week leaving the office when it was dark outside; well beyond work hours, after eight, nine and ten o’clock at night on many occasions. Many would say, ‘that’s dedication.’ Or ‘that’s working on your hustle’ or ‘you’re investing time in your future.’ But what I was really doing was robbing the present.

On those occasions, I often felt tired the next day, and that led to decreased productivity and creativity, which are the same in my world. I found that by consistently leaving work later and later, their days began to blend into each other, leaving no room for a healthy separation between the stresses of each day. The stresses and problems were becoming like rollover minutes on a mobile plan. This, in turn, leads to frustration and a lack of interest — a loss of love and growth in resentment — for what was once your passion. To quote Michael Hyatt again, “If you and your team need a breakthrough, you might just need a break.”

I have learned from my days of school and college that cramming doesn’t work. It may yield short-term benefits or spikes in productivity but as a longer-term habit, it is detrimental to us as human beings. And that’s what ‘the hustle’ is. It is cramming for the working world. Living constantly in a state of high pressure and high stress without taking time to change pace. Additionally, he mentioned, “when you stack sprint upon sprint upon sprint, it is a recipe for burnout.” Ask any successful athlete and they will tell you, rest days and warm downs are just as important as going hard at pushing your limits.

For the average 20-something-year-old, living fast and supplementing it with energy drinks and their choice of escape mechanisms, the hustle might seem like where life is at but fast-forward five or ten years and the results aren’t always as flashy as one would like.

Are you done with the hustle? Not sure if it is for you? Is there another way or is it just a right of passage for any young professional or entrepreneur looking to earn their stripes?

Finding a better balance

Before you think I am advocating for some life of mediocrity, or to give up all worldly possessions and live in a monastery, I am not. But there is a better way that many are finding out the hard way after a life of failed relationships, poor health and stunted careers. Michael Hyatt’s 2018 Leadercast speech was a tremendous eye-opener for me. It helped me to see clearly what I was feeling. But only now, almost nine months later have I been able to start looking at things with a bit of a better balance.

Having a laser-sharp focus on what you want is essential. So also is having the grit to persevere and endure tough times, having the presence of mind to make the right calls, and the sense of responsibility to take ownership over the bad decisions we make and make them right. By the time I heard the speech I had already started to make certain changes such as getting in a proper exercise routine. Exercise is the good kind of stress that helps to balance out our endorphins and adrenaline and build immune system resistance and clarity of mind. Additionally, and supportively, having a good diet and getting the right amount of sleep support the work that you put in in exercise. More passive activities like spending time with loved ones, walking the dog, teaching a class — things that lead to a change in routine, giving the brain and the body a chance to rest and recharge.

In the fast-paced world we live in, we often feel pressured to meet standards and expectations that we have no control of. We can also get caught up in the glamour of social media stars and influencers, whose lives seem like the epitome of success, and then cap it off by telling you that you need to ‘get after it’ ‘ rise and grind’ and all those other really good sounding, charismatic and often unsustainable platitudes.

Sure, there is a time when a more sustained effort is needed to get a breakthrough, to achieve a sought after goal and only you can know when that is what is needed to get you where you need to be.

But don’t get caught up in the fabricated hustle. The path of dedication is different allowing for self-care, knowing when to switch gears and doing so without apology.

Many are beginning to realise that the hustle doesn’t work. Some of them after they have burnt bridges and done irreparable damage to their health, their relationships and ultimately their careers.

By being balanced, and rightly focused we can achieve our life goals, without sacrificing our lives.