It plays out this way in my head every time.
The year is 2037. I’m on Jeopardy, which is, incredibly still going, and even more incredibly, still hosted by an apparently immortal Alex Trebek.
The category is “Histeria”, which Alex helpfully points out is a charming pun about fads, things that people historically got hysterical over. The question appears on the blue screen:
My hand is on the buzzer so fast you can’t even see me move. “What is hustle, Alex?” I say nonchalantly.
The crowd goes wild, I win a floppity gigaton of dollars, and I become social media famous. All of which is, coincidentally, what the cult of hustle promises us.
You can’t scroll a Twitter feed without seeing some sort of inspirational quote about it, usually this one:
“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is that I’m not afraid to DIE on a treadmill. You might have more talent that me, but if we get on a treadmill together, there are two things: 1- You’re getting off first OR 2- I’m gonna DIE. It’s really that simple.” – Will Smith
Or something by Gary V, the prophet of hustle himself.
“Hustle is the most important word — EVER.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Is it? Is it really the most important word EVER Gary?
Here’s the part where you have some cognitive dissonance.
Because hustle in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. I am in no way anti-hustle. I’m a productivity junkie in the truest sense of the world — I come in and out of recovery like the heroin addict who gets the idea that they’ll have “just one” every six months or so.
True story: I wrote an six month’s worth of blog content, including daily social media, in about three weeks this January.
When I was starting out with this whole copywriting thing, I wrote metadescriptions at 0.65 cents per. I could do 300 in an hour and a half.
I worked 70 hour weeks while also doing my master’s program. I have worked a 340 day year. (Which, for those of you counting, is every single day of every single month, except the 15ths, 30ths, my birthday, and Christmas day.)
I have earned my pro-hustler stripes. And I’m telling you that the cult of hustle is bullshit. Here’s why.
There are loads of reasons why hustling is not the answer for better business. But I’m a word girl; narrative is my wheelhouse and I’m sticking to it.
So my particular problem with this shrieking obsession with hustle that we as the smallbiz community have developed is that it forms the foundation of a narrative about us, work, the smallbiz space, and our failures that is unhelpful and untrue.
Just like the aesthetic of authenticity, the cult of hustle as interpreted by the smallbiz community requires people to live and work according to a unified narrative of “If I’m not working harder and longer than everyone else in the entire world ever (because Internet), I’m choosing to fail, to be a loser, to be a lazy asshole who has no business doing business in the smallbiz space.”
And yes, I know that that’s not what those quotes are supposed to be about. They’re supposed to inspire you, to give you a kick in the ass, to give you something to post for #mondaymotivation.
But the way they’ve been interpreted, codified, and listed as key aspects of the “online smallbiz owner” personality has changed the conversation from “What matters is what you create and how much that benefits other people” to “What matters is how much you do and how long you work.” And, because every positively phrased sentence has its flip side, “If I work more, I will get better results. If I don’t work as much/as long/as loudly as you, I am less than you and I deserve the punishment of a failing business.”
Here’s the truth: it is a status symbol. Another accessory for Entrepreneur Barbie.
It’s often — though not always — a sign of privilege. To have the time and the support systems that make it possible for you to work all hours can mean that you’re in a very good position, whether you realize it or not.
And it can be a sign that you’re fucking up.
There are no particular benefits (beyond the merit badge) to working stupidly long hours. And if you routinely find that it takes you enormous amounts of time to do most things, chances are that (1) you’re not the best person to be doing these things, (2) you’re letting your work expand to fill the amount of time you have available, (3) you’re presenting a narrative in which you and your business’s value are predicated on an ultimately irrelevant marker, or (4) some combination of all three.
And that’s why I quit the cult of hustle.
Because it’s ineffective. Because it’s 99% made up. Because it isn’t actually correlated with better business outcomes in many cases, and I care about doing things that actually create tangible results. Because it will burn you out. (Been there, done that x 3).
Because it’s ultimately self-centered. Hustle is about you. Business, good business, is about you and them, equally human, equally important. Not you hustling your ass off to churn people through a business or system that doesn’t really work for them, then hustling your (now apparently nonexistent) ass off again to find more people because the first group realized that the only part of them you really care about is their wallets. Because that story isn’t the one I’m going to tell with my business.