Rise and Grind...or Clear the Mind?

by Michelle Ruiz

An alternative perspective on Hustle Culture

Years ago, as a young employee working in Post Production, I had many late nights which involved hair pulling and tears (so many tears) in front of a computer. These long hours for myself and other colleagues extended well into the weekend. I felt I had to do this in order to prove my worth, which really just led to resentment and exhaustion. Over a decade later, this ever-pervasive attitude is starting to be made visible for its toxicity, and also has a name, Hustle Culture. 

When looking at the dictionary, the word hustle itself comes from the Dutch word husselen, meaning "to shake." It then evolved to take meanings such as "to obtain energetically" and "a swindle." Hustle Culture, as explored by Erin Smith in her buzzed-about NYTimes article last January, is defined as

  • obsessed with striving
  • relentlessly positive
  • a way to glorify ambition not as a means to an end, but as a lifestyle.

Through social media influencers and lifestyle memes we're also exposed to it constantly. These include "busy tenets" which tell us to SLAY or RISEANDGRIND. For a taste, you need only search tags on Instagram or LinkedIn. It includes imagery which insinuates that what you are doing is not enough, or that you could be doing as much as someone else. Another aspect of Hustle Culture is what Smith describes as performative workaholism ("Thank God it's Monday!").

Ambition is by no means a flaw, but we all need to develop healthier habits in order to be truly successful.

- Elaine Welteroth

So #monslay (yes, that's a thing apparently) may be cringe-inducing, though far be it from me to dismiss what might work for some. But, does it? Burning the candle at both ends all the time may not actually make much of a difference. A study by Boston University's School of Business showed that managers could not tell the difference between employees that worked for 80 hours a week, and those that just pretended to. As surprising, the study wasn't able to find evidence that those employees accomplished less (or that the ones who worked 80 hours, more). Outside of this, even if you worked long hours voluntarily because you like your job, you're still more likely to make mistakes when fatigued. So those 80 hours may not add up to much true value and skill in the end. 

For women, the grind is non-stop. A 2016 study from the Journal of Brain and Behaviour notes that women are twice as likely to suffer from stress and anxiety than men. (I'm hearing a collective "duh" from women all over right now). When women leave the office they go hustle at home with domestic and emotional labor—duties that are expected of us but go unnoticed.

Dare to be completely ordinary every now and then

-Jason Fried

I tried to decipher what a tangible antithesis to Hustle Culture could be, and first thoughts came to self-care. Though I find that if my self-care is so that I could make room for more efficiency, productivity and a more optimized me, then it's not really in service of my own best interest and is rather performative—therefore, a hustle in itself. In addition, Erin Griffith writes that within hustle culture the chief purpose of even exercising or attending a concert is to get inspiration that leads back to the desk. Can't we just enjoy or take care of ourselves for NO reason at all? Which brings me to the next discovery.

Author and Stanford Professor Jenny Odell's book How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy offers some suggestions against this constant doing, through simple acts of resistance via "nothing"—defined by taking time for reflection and rest in order to heal and sustain ourselves. The antithesis of this relentless moving and craving is perhaps then just being as well as simple understanding and awareness. For me, it's also about being aware of the messages I've been exposed to online and elsewhere. 

I believe in my own growth and I have ambitions, but whether or not I have to hustle, grind and #monslay to get there is something I’m not that sure about. I don’t really relate to any of the actual definitions of husselen in applying them to my life. Maybe I need my own definition that prioritizes my health, mental well being, and my relationships with others. 

Out of curiosity, I wondered what was considered the opposite of the word "hustle"—whose origins had varied meanings. I was pleasantly surprised to find the very first result that came up as the opposite of hustle and busyness…is "peace." That's something I think we'd all love to obtain, maybe even energetically.

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