The Hustle is a Hoax

It’s everywhere: Rise& Grind; Hustle& Heart; Goal Digger. Overworking is a mass-marketed lifestyle. The hustle is fetishized. Across cinematic narratives, there is this message that if you surrender everything to the job, you will be rewarded. You will get money, but that money comes at an agonizingly high price. The hustle is a hoax. Neoliberal ideas preach that if you work hard enough and all the time, you will be rich and successful. I don’t think that’s true. I see adults exhausted, indebted, unhealthy, and exhausted (yeah, I said it twice). We are self-medicating in a myriad of ways to sustain the hustle when the hustle’s intention is NOT to sustain us.

For multiple periods in my life, I’ve worked seven days a week. In 2018, I worked 66 days straight (and most of those days I had walking pneumonia). I felt that the ease of extra cash would assuage my anxiety, and more deeply, I feel guilty when not working multiple jobs– as if it signifies laziness, that I’m not grinding hard enough, that I do not deserve the same rest as everyone else. I worked three jobs in college. My body was conditioned to subsist on two hours of sleep, one large meal a day. I felt compelled to replicate this as an adult. I failed to calculate the toll overworking takes: physically, emotionally, socially. My lungs hurt. My skin weighed a thousand pounds. I struggled to breathe. I exchanged far more than my time for a few hundred dollars. We pay a price for our labor. Not every price is appropriately compensated by the job. This lesson keeps on hitting me in the face.

The human response to distress is soothing. Self-soothing impulses don’t have to be healthy. More often than not, we seek a reprieve from the struggle– an escape, a relief. Coping looks like drinking too much, overeating, chugging coffee, spending, drug use, starving, abnormal sexual patterns. I found myself in a dangerous cycle of spending to treat myself, and becoming dependent upon both paychecks. When I quit my second job
(which I did twice last year), the urge to spend evaporated. I wasn’t trying to fill all the aching spaces with stuff.

There is a classist implication to hustling as well. If you are poor, it is your fault because you didn’t work hard enough, didn’t bank enough hours at a job where you have no security and draw little pay. Poverty sours into a character flaw, as opposed to the result of systemic oppression and circumstance. There’s no account for the ableist, racist, sexist connotations to the situation. Rather than dissecting why people are impoverished, we blame them, crucify them for their circumstances and behavior when (likely) this has been a generational drain. We replicate the patterns performed for us. If a family has never received a financial education and, generationally, was never exposed to fiscal acumen, they’re only going to know how to live like they’re poor: no saving, eating cheap food, etc. It’s a violent outlook to vilify the poor for not trying when that isn’t always the case.

Post-grad, I’ve witnessed my peers grow tired. I entered a work culture where we pride ourselves for overtime accrued, hours not slept, in becoming fractions of ourselves in the name of corporate allegiance. Self-sacrifice is touted as the gold standard. And companies spout cozy language about being a “work family”. Do not buy it. The job will abandon you when you’re no longer useful. You’re institutional value is entirely contingent upon what you can do for the big guy. Your labor is not the greatest thing you’ll give the world. You’re not a tool to be ground until you disappear. You are a person. You deserve rest and care and recognition.

It is not a sign of great leadership to be a doormat to your job. Boundaries are healthy and necessary. I don’t believe in work-life balance. I support the idea of impact. Every instance is different, and we must make certain sacrifices to advance. Chances are, you’ll make more concessions than you need to. I’ve missed the past two Thanksgivings with my family for my second job. Neither was worth it. And I think about what my lack of professional boundaries teaches my sisters. It is a disservice to model behavior where we’re wired all the time. It’s how we get sicker-not better. But sometimes, professional advancement is worth it. There’s no shame in ambition. But there’s a difference between ambition (goal-based) and greed (money-based). Greed will devour you whole.

You have to pay your bills. There’s no way around that. To do that, you need to generate an income. That job is not your name. The job is not the why of your life. Because if you lose it tomorrow, what will we call you? Who are you without your business card? The job is a means to an end, and if purpose arises from that, great! But you have not failed if the only thing your job does is provide you with a way to suppose yourself.

The hustle doesn’t make you a better person. Busy isn’t a personality trait, and nobody is going to recognize you for how much you reduced yourself. Do better than hustle. Edify. Build a life that is rich in affection, in joy, in complexity. It’s ok to want nice things, but they will not feed you. Want experiences over things. Value your peace over the dollar. Capitalism benefits from your weakness. It is empowered when you dis-empower yourself. You can work hard without destroying yourself. It won’t be celebrated, but you will remain in tact. The hustle is a hoax. You are the real deal.

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