Is Hustle Culture Toxic? Just Keep Grinding…

women working at a desk with many laptops
Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

“Just keep grinding,” you’ll read online from a guy who claims to be an entrepreneur. And hey, maybe he is. “Just put your head down and keep grinding, keep hustling, and you’re going to get there. Hard work pays off.”

This sort of advice is all too common nowadays, and the belief that if we just push ourselves a little harder, work a little longer, stretch a little farther, we’re going to get those big goals is so common in today’s culture it’s basically imprinted on our brain.

It’s the American dream: work hard, grind it out, and you’ll get to your goals.

But is hustle culture actually doing a whole lot more harm than good?

Hustle culture works

I hate admitting it, but hustle culture works. At least, if you’re doing it for long enough. Because if you keep working nonstop, keep pushing, and you don’t let things like failures or major roadblocks stop you… you’re going to end up somewhere, and it’s probably better than where you are now.

Here’s the downside, though: hustle culture promotes a lifestyle that is hard. Really, really hard. I consider myself a hard worker, and in my day I could push through a handful of 10-12 hour days back to back without too much complaint. But come my day off, and I was basically glued to my bed, only moving to relocate to the couch… and maybe to Dunkin for some coffee.

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In order for hustle culture to truly work you need to be incredibly disciplined, and incredibly motivated – and not just by the idea of wealth or success, but you need to have a driving need to be something more than you are. Otherwise, you’re going to fall flat, overexert yourself, and burn out real quick.

And please know, I’m not crapping all over you if you aren’t disciplined enough to keep pushing 24/7. So few of us are.

Because in order to truly embrace the ‘hustle culture’ life so many people push and so few live by, you need to sacrifice… well, everything that makes you, you. If it can’t make you money or get you ahead, hustle culture doesn’t want you to do it. Friends become either tools to network and move forward, or they get put on the back burner and eventually forgotten altogether.

Family functions no longer matter. Your priority isn’t your parents, your sister, your partner. They exist, sure, but they are second to the hustle and the grind. After all, time you’re not spending on the grind and moving forward is a waste… right? #keepgrinding #movingforward #neverbackwards #goals

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Don’t get it twisted: hustle culture is toxic AF

It sounds great. The harder you work, the more you’re able to achieve – truly, the only thing holding you back is your work ethic.

That’s… kind of terrible, actually, when you think about it. Because there is more to success than just working at it. And I’m not dissing everyone who is successful or saying that hard work doesn’t play a part in it, it absolutely does. Hard work is a huge part of success.

So is education. And knowing the right people, at the right time. And luck. There are a thousand factors to becoming a success – even if you say hard work is half of that, there are so many other factors.

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For me personally, the longer I work, the less productive I am. My best hours for work are 7:30-12:30. After that, I get tired, I get sluggish, I lose focus. If I’m able to sit down and pound out a few hours of high-priority work, the rest of the day I can handle things that need less focus, and by 5 pm I can wrap my day feeling productive and having done a lot. That gives me the rest of the evening to work on hobbies, spend time with my fiance and our dog, or just zone out.

It’s called work-life balance, and it’s something hustle culture absolutely despises. But unless you’re part of that 1% that can work-work-work, you’re going to burn out, and fast. Once you’ve burnt out, it’s that much harder to keep going, even doing things you need to do. This creates a dangerous loop of you being less productive and getting even less done than if you had worked ‘normal’ hours with appropriate focus.

Ultimately, hustle culture – the mentality, the grind, the day-in-and-day-out push – is unrealistic and unsustainable in the long term. It just is. So few people can work 10 hour days 7 days a week for any length of time without sacrificing yourself.

I bought into it, for a second

At the beginning of 2019, I had a series of family and personal crises’ that meant I had to move 350 miles away from home and leave everything behind – including my friends, my job, everything. I found myself without a full-time, steady job for the first time since I was 15 years old, and I had no idea what to do.

So off to the internet I went, trying to figure out how to make the adjustment from living in a suburb of DC and a thriving big city to a small town that’s biggest accomplishment happened when steel was an industry.

Everything told me just keep pushing. Put yourself out there, just keep grinding, and you’re going to end up better than you were. And for nearly a year, I did that. I had two jobs, I worked from 7:30 am to around 7:30-8 pm every night. I sat at my computer for hours at a time, I skipped lunch, I lived on coffee and pretzels.

What did I get for it?

I was burnt out. Stressed. My skin was breaking out, I lost a ton of weight (not in a good way, like yes girl! Get thin! In a, well, this is dangerous sort of way). I had chest tightness from the 3-4 cups of coffee I was drinking on an empty stomach, I was jittery, I was anxious. Worse of all, I was putting a serious strain on my relationship with my now-fiance, who stood by me even as I was pulling my hair out.

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You don’t need to do this, he would tell me. There are more important things than money, and you don’t need to kill yourself for it.

He was right, of course. I didn’t need the extra income, necessarily, and we were doing just fine without it. We still are now, after I quit one of my jobs and put my focus solely on another. Any ‘work’ I do outside of my real, actual job is for me, not for someone else.

I’m happier. I’m healthier. I put the weight back on (and then some, but you know). I cut my caffeine down, I started doing things I loved again, and I found my passion for everything, including work, slowly come back.

Hustle culture almost cost me my health, my happiness, and the best relationship I’ve ever been in.

You can work hard without being a part of the #hustle

In our parents’ days, it wasn’t called the hustle or the grind. It was just called work, and it’s been around forever. You can work hard and reach your goals without sacrificing important parts of yourself, including your mental well being.

Every person has a different threshold to where they need to stop because they’re overworked. I know people who need to step away from their computers entirely on their lunch breaks, who leave their phone and laptop at home on vacation and need a clear separation.

Instead of working on the hustle and the grind, and buying into the toxic hustle culture, focus on what you can do. How far can you go before your life suffers? Before your work suffers, and you’re no longer putting out a quality product?

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Take breaks, take care of yourself, and find a balance. Work hard, but don’t give up who you are as a person, and what matters most to you.

Getting to the top is great, don’t get me wrong – but consider what you have to sacrifice in order to get there. It’s not always going to be worth it.

It can get lonely at the top. Don’t forget that.

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