Hustle Culture Can Go to Hell

capitalism culture society work life Jul 26, 2021
Person slouching with their hand over their face while sitting at a desk

"Hustle culture" is a term that refers to the belief that working as much as possible to achieve professional and financial goals— no matter the cost— is a good thing. Signature traits include glamorizing working overtime as if it's a badge of honor, or bragging about how little sleep you've gotten. In reality, none of us can do our best on three hours of shut-eye. Interestingly, investing in your wellness— that is, not just constantly running on fumes— better enables you to reach your goals (sometimes more efficiently and almost always more sustainably). This means you don’t have burnout after every project, and you might even have room to enjoy the process along the way!

Let’s take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is a widely used theory to help us understand what motivates our daily behavior. When our basic physical needs are met (ahem, like sleep), we can move onto higher levels such as safety, security, relationships, and achieving our full potential. To put it simply: water, food, and sleep coupled with good health and overall stability are the foundation for us living our fullest lives. This may seem obvious, yet the grind of “hustle culture” tends to place some or all of these essential elements on the back burner. Over time, this may lead to other negative outcomes, like aches and pains in our bodies, challenges in relationships, or a lack of energy and motivation to move forward.

Out of curiosity, what would you do if you didn’t have to focus on surviving and thriving within a capitalistic society? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’d probably chill out and organize events and large gatherings because I love being social. If higher education in the United States wasn’t incredibly expensive, I’d probably spend 4 years of my life at a small liberal arts college with a Great Books curriculum (preferably one that includes more than just the writings of dead white men). I’d study political science for no other reason than I enjoyed all my middle school classroom debates. You know, before talking about politics became emotionally draining and zero fun. Stepping back and figuring out what kind of life you’d want to live allows you to learn more about yourself and what you should strive towards.

Though we have these dreams, it’s easy to get sucked back into the “hustle” mentality. Daily life has plenty of tasks and responsibilities, and the messages to push harder are all around us. Advertisements sell the idea that you’ll be happier if you have more things or reach higher status, which requires you to strive for more money and accolades. While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can provide comfort to an extent. But, in my opinion, if you want to be happy with your job and lifestyle, you shouldn’t focus solely on salary and material gain. You should focus on whether each area of your life aligns with your values and strengths. 

Instead of falling for the hustle, what if we shifted our approach to be more balanced and specific to our unique personalities and needs? What if we invested a little bit more time (the most valuable asset we have) into meaningful experiences that help us feel replenished, inspired, and connected with our communities? We can still have moments of stretching ourselves to the limit or staying up a bit later because we’re in our creative flow. To be clear, your goals matter and are totally worth pursuing! But, there’s a difference between extending yourself temporarily and pushing yourself constantly until you see signs of burnout

Since the average American lives to be 79.3 years old and only 17.5 of those years are spent outside of obligations (sleep, work, etc.), how can you spend your time in ways that help you feel well? How can you cover your bases on Maslow’s Hierarchy and reach the highest levels of self-actualization?

I know one thing about my own approach: sleep comes first. 


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