If you pick up just about any book on mindfulness or personal development, you will undoubtedly find a section on the importance of work-life balance, and for good reason too.
Ensuring that alongside reaching your career goals there are times for rest, socialising and relaxing have a whole host of mental and physical benefits that can massively improve our quality of life and our relationships.
Unfortunately, despite a collective increase in people taking interest in the world of personal development, there are some looking to take advantage of this to gain profit, status, and power.
Just one way we are seeing this play out is in the endorsement and romanticisation of an extremely toxic hustle culture in workplaces and on social media.
So, what exactly is ‘hustle culture’?
Hustle culture places work and career goals above all else. Exceedingly long hours at the office, never taking time off and consciously overworking yourself to “pay your dues” on the ladder to financial success all fall under this new cultural norm.
Anybody who disagrees or speaks up on the importance of rest and balance is deemed lazy or uncommitted. People who prioritise healthy boundaries around productivity or prioritise different areas of their lives “just haven’t got what it takes” to be successful.
It’s a rhetoric designed with the intention of making people feel as though their worth is tied to their productivity rather than their intrinsic value as a person.
In particular, the likes of social media seems to parade this narrative that hustling is the key to happiness. It seems almost impossible to take a scroll down the likes of Instagram and TikTok without finding a romanticised montage of the problematic that girl trend, or a snippet from a podcast trying to sell you on the hustle.
But that’s what is so important to realise about hustle culture; it is and always will be a sell designed to get you to invest into external (and often, fleeting) sources of happiness.
Why we have to put an end to hustle culture
When people begin their own journey of personal development, it can be a vulnerable spot, and finding good, well-intentioned mentors can mark out the trajectory an individual will take. Unfortunately, any industry is vulnerable to attract those looking to exploit well intentioned people for profit, and the personal development industry is no exception.
The likes of hustle culture “mentors” and workplaces that encourage this culture are selling a fantasy that exploits people’s desire to be the best version of themselves. People are not machines. No amount of trying will make them so! It’s normal to rest, recover, relax and even fail.
The issue with hustle culture is that it teaches you that to participate in these very normal, very human behaviours is to fail. With failure comes feelings of shame, and with shame comes the desire to change that state, often through whatever means necessary.
With this comes the opportunity to be taken advantage of by hustle culture fads that usually line someone else’s pocket.
Many of the lifestyle diets hustle culture encourages are deliberately designed to be unsustainable long-term, because “failing” will naturally create feelings of shame which lead you back to the hustle culture industry in search of a new fad or shame-fuelled motivation to buy into.
Even the likes of seemingly harmless aesthetic girl boss and just do it montages which encourage working excessive hours and glamourise work-focused lifestyles can be damaging if we look at the bigger picture of the subtle messaging of these types of media. They emphasise the importance of maximising productivity and making continuous sacrifices to achieve goals, all under a false guise of glamour and grind.
Captions often read something along the lines of “it’ll all pay off in the end” as the camera pans across a picturesque location. What these videos miss out, though, is how this is a false representation of the hustler life.
The glamorous videos we see for thirty seconds on our social media feeds is often a brief and manipulated snapshot into a moment of someone’s highlight reel. They don’t show the missed family events, or the missed opportunities to make memories with friends, or the late nights staring at a computer screen, or the loneliness that follows.
This isn’t living the high life; it’s a mirage.
And unless we change how we respond to the unhealthy narratives hustle culture perpetuates, we will likely always be at risk of buying into the facade. That’s why it is so important that we learn the art of setting boundaries within work settings and on social media to avoid being vulnerable to this insidious and unhealthy cultural narrative that is so readily romanticised.
The bottom line: your value doesn’t lie in what you do, it lies in who you are.
The appeal of hustle culture: why do we buy into it?
If you feel you’ve been duped into buying into the hustle culture hype, we don’t blame you. After all, social media plays a huge role in conditioning us to buy into romanticised trends and ideas about who we are. But it’s important that we ask ourselves why we are really buying into this charade beyond the influence of social conditioning.
If you have been (or even still are!) an advocate for hustle culture, it might be worth having a look at some of the questions below to unpack why this lifestyle is appealing to you, and if it really comes from a place of genuine self-improvement or shame.
Try grabbing a pen and paper and reflecting on the following statements to see where you can improve your relationship with yourself and your work life balance:
- Does chronic business associated with being a ‘workaholic’ help distract you from being with your feelings? Is working excessively a way to avoid and suppress unpleasant emotions from surfacing? What comes up for you when you pause?
- Is working excessively a means for me to feel validated, seen and appreciated? Where in my life are these needs not being met? How can I meet these needs in healthier ways?
- Did you learn growing up you had to make sacrifices to have your needs met? Could working excessively and sacrificing aspects of your life that would fulfil you a way you are carrying this wounding with you into your adult life?
- Are you working excessively for a new position that will make you appear more powerful to yourself or others? Where in your life or past have you felt powerless or invalidated? Do you feel acquiring a position of power in the workplace would compensate for these feelings and why? Is this true?
- Does receiving praise or recognition for working excessively make you feel needed? Is it possible you’re tying your self-worth up with how others perceive and value you? As a child, were you taught that you were loved when you were serving others? How can you mend your relationship with yourself so your opinion of you is more important than external parties?
- Do you feel your identity and confidence is inseparable from your job? Is over working a way for you to distract from not having a fulfilling relationship with yourself?
Balance over hustle
Although easier said than done, the benefits of stepping away from the unhealthy dynamics of hustle culture are monumental. By learning how to balance going for your goals alongside other areas of importance in your life, you will likely feel much happier and more fulfilled. The irony is, finding balance will actually make you more focused and productive at work, too.
Equally, finding balance means making outdated and incorrect conditioning from our past obsolete. If you’ve been taught you must go without, sacrifice, and shrink your life to get what you want, try to dedicate some time to work through that conditioning, because it is likely holding you back.
Working hard is one thing, but when did becoming successful become synonymous with making grandiose, debilitating sacrifices that hinder your wellbeing? If you’re being asked (or even asking yourself) to conform with this image of success, then perhaps it’s time to redefine what real success looks like to you.
Real life often can’t be summed up in a pretty montage reel.
So be brave enough to take the risk of not buying into the hype and setting your own pace.
Life is too short to spend the best years of it shackled to a desk because you got tunnel vision chasing after a carrot dangling from a perpetually moving stick. If you ever actually reach the carrot, we guarantee that it’s not going to taste half as good when you look around and realise how much of life you actually missed out on whilst chasing it.
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