When to Embrace "Hustle Culture" and When to Leave It Behind
If you want to be successful, you will need to work hard. That is a truth that is universally accepted in our society. In recent years the concept of working hard to become successful has been taken to the extreme with the rise of hustle culture.
Hustle culture can be summarized in three words; no days off. Those who embrace hustle culture celebrate the fact that they spend all day, every day, working. That means working on weekends, birthdays, and holidays. The harder you work, and the more you sacrifice, the more you are celebrated in hustle culture.
In this article, I am going to share my experience with hustle culture. How it helped me change my life and why I left it behind.
Hustle culture is a divisive subject
The conversation around hustle culture has become binary. Most articles you read will either be praising hustle culture or denouncing it.
Let me start by stating that it makes sense to embrace hustle culture for certain people in certain circumstances.
Many people find themselves stuck in a bad situation in life, and the only way out is to work insanely hard for an extended period.
That is the situation I found myself in 2010.
The circumstances that led me to embrace hustle culture
I graduated from University during the early aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008-2009. It was not an easy time for my family or me.
I could not find the “career” type job I spent four years at school to get.
Instead, I spent the next two years working the minimum wage job I worked in the summer.
The $50,000 in student loan debt felt like an anchor tied to my ankle.
My parents declared bankruptcy and, despite barely being able to pay my own bills, was forced to help them financially. That meant taking on even more debt to help out.
I felt stuck and, for a time, hopeless.
In 2012, I received funding to complete my Master’s degree in finance and economics. By this time, I had found a job in financial services that paid decently but was a soul-sucking type of sales job.
I knew that my Master’s degree was my ticket to pursue meaningful work for meaningful pay. Best of all, it was a 1-year program, with the expenses being paid by the funding I secured. If I could get through that year, I knew everything would turn around.
However, there was one big problem. My math skills were way behind where they needed to be to complete a graduate degree in economics. You might be surprised how easy you can skirt by a bachelor’s degree in economics with only basic to intermediate math skills.
At the graduate level, there is no faking it. I would be expected to have mastered certain math subjects that I had never even heard of. When I say “expected to have mastered”, I mean exactly that. On day one, we were required to write a math exam. If I failed that exam, I was out of the program.
2012-2013: No Days off
I received my letter of acceptance in March for a program that started in September, which meant I had six months to learn four years’ worth of math.
To do that, while working a full-time job was an inhuman workload. The moment I decided to forge ahead with this path was when I was indoctrinated into hustle culture. I fell into the YouTube rabbit hole of a certain type of motivational video that is engineered to stimulate the brains of 20-something men.
These videos have a simple formula.
Taking the audio from famous motivational speakers talking about how hard you should be working.
Mix it with “epic” music, from some action movies.
Add in a video montage of sports highlights, people working out, or famous scenes from movies.
These were the exact ingredients required to rewire my brain into working every waking minute of the day.
Here is what my day looked like from March to September.
Wake up, watch a few of these motivational videos.
Go for a 5-10 mile run.
Study for an hour or two.
Go to work.
Get home, make dinner, and study until I fell asleep.
Not much of a life, but part of being in the hustle culture is thinking that life itself is “the grind.”
Embracing hustle culture changed my life
All that work did pay off.
I aced the math exam on my first day of grad school.
I worked two jobs during grad school to keep supporting family members.
I graduated with a 3.8 GPA.
I landed my first “career job” before my graduation date.
At this point, I was able to begin slowly removing my self from the hustle culture need to be working all day, every day. This was perfect because the two years I had spent grinding had created all of the momentum I would need to propel myself forward.
I was able to land a big promotion, which dramatically increased my income.
My student loans were paid off.
My wife and I were able to buy multiple properties.
We began increasing how much we were saving and investing.
All of my financial stress began to melt away.
Embracing hustle culture for a relatively short period allowed me to accomplish goals, I thought impossible and changed my life forever.
So, yes, embracing hustle culture helped be get “unstuck” in life. However, I can’t stress enough how important it was to leave hustle culture behind once I had accomplished my goals and completed my Master’s degree.
Life is so much more than “the grind,” and constantly working all day every day is not a sustainable lifestyle. As important as knowing when to embrace hustle culture is, it’s even more important to know when to leave it behind.
That does not mean I don’t work hard
When I say that I left the hustle culture behind, that does not mean I stopped working hard.
I have a full-time job that consumes 40+ hours per week.
I have a side hustle that takes up much of my free time.
I also have a new-born at home.
In many ways, my life is busier than it was in 2012 and 2013. I think a better way to describe it would be that my life is fuller.
Although free time is a rarity, I have a much more relaxed approach to life. When I was embracing “the grind,” If I took an evening off to go to the movies, I wouldn’t fully enjoy it. There would be a part of my brain that would be thinking about how I was “falling behind.”
Today, when my wife and I watch a movie or go out on date night, I am fully present and can allow myself to enjoy our time together.
Life is a marathon and the key to running a great marathon is to find a sustainable pace.
Hustle is not a sustainable lifestyle
Hustle culture is about working as hard as you can all day, every day.
While some people find this idea to be “toxic,” I have a more nuanced view. Sometimes you might have to embrace hustle culture and be prepared to test your limits. It is possible, to work your way into a better life.
However, once you have achieved your goals and reached a level of stability, it’s essential to slow down and work at a sustainable pace.
Like all things in life, “hustle” reaches a point where it has diminishing returns.