June 16, 2021

How “Hustle Culture” has Created a Mental Health Crisis.


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*Warning: well-deserved cursing ahead!

“Hustle 24/7.” “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” “Just grind it out.”

Our generation has been inundated with narratives like this since as far back as I can remember. I’m sure we can all think of a few business moguls and personal development gurus whose incredibly profitable businesses have thrived off of these principles.

Personally, growing up with a father who told me to pull myself up by my bootstraps more times than I can count definitely created a kid who was tough as nails. Watching my mom raise seven kids, work nights, and train for marathons in her “free” time showed me that one could do it all—if they simply just try hard enough. Consistently seeing my older brother, who received a full-ride scholarship to college, be celebrated for his grades showed me that the most important thing in life is an achievement.

Along with those experiences, and many others, came a deep fear of how people would view me if I ever admitted I could not do something. Fear created an immense amount of pressure to always show up as my best, never settling for less than I was capable of. Always hustling to achieve more, be stronger, take control of my life and my destiny.

I don’t share these things to throw anyone under the bus. My parents both love me immensely, in the ways they can, and I know they want what’s best for me. The thing is, our versions of “what’s best” for me are vastly different.

As a recovering “prove the haters wrong-er” and someone who has struggled to live up to various expectations (my own, probably more than anyone else’s), I can tell you firsthand how “Hustle Culture” has really fucked with my mental health. In case you are new to the concept, the Finery Report defines “Hustle Culture” as:

“A fast-paced environment that feeds off long working hours and a restless sense of striving for some type of goal.”

An even more appropriate definition, in my opinion, is the killer of dreams. “Hustle Culture” repeatedly tells us that no one cares what we have done up until this point—that we just need to keep going. 

“Hustle Culture” tells us that the only way is forward.

“Hustle Culture” tells us that if only we work just a little bit harder, accomplish a little bit more, make even more of a difference, then we can finally be worthy. 

Worthy of what, you ask?

Worthy of finally loving ourselves because we have done “enough.” Worthy of finally taking a break because we met the goal at the end of the road. Worthy of “proving the haters wrong” with all of the things we have achieved.

But here’s the issue: nothing we do is ever enough. No goal is even big enough. No quantity of money makes us feel secure. No amount of “proving the haters wrong” makes us feel like we made it in life. Thus, the never-ending hamster wheel of more, more, more. The constant story in our heads that we are simply not enough.

And because of this mindset, “Hustle Culture” has created a mental health crisis amongst multiple generations, especially the Millennial generation. A generation that was told we could be anything we wanted if we just worked hard enough. Yet, when the Great Recession hit while most of us were just entering the workforce, those dreams were quickly dashed. The economy gave way, and most of us had to pivot. (Frequently into jobs that are entirely too expensive and our college degrees didn’t even contribute toward.) 

So, pivot we did. After all, we have been pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps since we were kids.

Because of the pivot, many of us are in careers that ask us to work 40-plus hours a week, always be on-call or checking our emails in our free time, yet barely pay us enough to cover rent. But, thankfully, there’s a ping-pong table in our office. 

These careers are not the ones of dreams we had as kids; they’re a means to survive in a society constantly asking more from us while delivering less. And yet, we should be “grateful.”

Grateful we didn’t grow up in the Great Depression or Civil Rights Movement. 

Grateful we have jobs to begin with. 

Grateful for our ability to grit our teeth and bear it all.

Along with our gratitude, we are continuously told that if we just try harder, maybe we can finally leave our dead-end job and really make something of ourselves. Yet, we have no time or energy to try any harder.

To this, “Hustle Culture” tells us to change our mindset:

“It’s not that you don’t have the time; you just aren’t willing to make it.”

“If you really cared about it, you would be doing it.”

“Building your dreams takes a 25/8 type of work ethic.”

No wonder we’re all depressed, exhausted, and too depleted to do anything but get through the day.

As a burnout coach, my main goal is to help my clients realize that their worth is not (and never will be) based on their level of achievement. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have worked with are paralyzed by the never-enough-ness of “Hustle Culture”

Instead of celebrating wins, all they can focus on is what they didn’t do. Instead of feeling proud, all they see is their own inadequacy. Instead of asking for support, they believe they have to do this all on their own. That’s what the hustle is, after all: a never-ending game—one designed to ask us to contribute to a society that doesn’t give two shits whether we succeed or not.

The most important thing about this all, though? The one thing I hope you take out of reading this: we can finally choose to stop playing this game. We can choose to take our power back. We can choose to say, “Fuck the Hustle.”

There is hope for all of us and our mental health. Hope is choosing to slow down, live more simply, and let go of the status quo. Hope in analyzing our lives and asking ourselves over and over again, “What feels valuable to me today?” Hope in recognizing that we don’t have to prove ourselves and our worth to anyone—that we are inherently worthy, just as we are.

For most of us, it may not mean just up and leaving our jobs. (We have rent to pay, after all.) But it could mean no longer tying our significance to those jobs. It could mean shutting our computer at 5 p.m., taking a long weekend without checking our phone, or putting our mental health above our productivity levels. We can choose to stop being so tough, so resilient, so willing to work so. damn. hard. We can choose to stop trying to prove ourselves and our significance in this world. We can choose to finally just be.

You can stop “The Hustle” if it feels all-consuming. You can call in sick to protect your mental health. You can ask for that raise. And in between your workdays, you can slow down. You can go outside and feel the breeze on your skin. You can cook a meal while listening to your favorite playlist—or in complete silence. You can sit and stare at the ceiling if that helps calm your mind. But if you are going to do any of these things, you must break away from the idea that what you do is who you are.

Here is your permission to no longer define yourself by your work, your body, your income, or your achievements.

Here is your permission to slow down, live simply, and fuck the hustle.

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