It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when hustle culture — the #girlboss/#bossbabe/#rise-and-grind trend — started overtaking the social media feeds, minds, and collective attitude of women, but one thing we do know is that it’s metastasized into an ugly, unforgiving culture of two kinds of people: the haves (the quote-unquote successful, do it yourself, be your own boss, have it all types) and the have-nots.
Hustle culture now has an undeniable grip on women, and it’s not hard to see why. From the outside, it’s an exclusive, glamorous club only a few belong to that the rest of us are urged to get into, or metaphorically die trying in the process. But is this club built on a foundation of hard work, dedication, and passion, or is it only filled with hot air? And what’s more, is it a healthy mindset and goal to strive for?
A Standard Built on Unrealistic Expectations
Hustle culture, now synonymous with the cringey #bossbabe and girl boss trends we still continue to see, is somehow an aspirational thing we strive for, yet it’s a system that’s set us up to fail. While a sense of ambition is one of the healthiest things we can have as young professionals, the tide can quickly turn when that desire spills over into the other aspects of our lives, controlling and dictating how we live with that one goal in mind.
We always hear about the pretty, sexy side of hustle culture, littered with buzzwords like financial freedom and living debt free, or things like glamorous vacations and “I quit my job and now I work for myself!” But we very rarely see the converse, which is usually characterized by extreme overwork, poor management of mental health, little to no work-life balance, and, as Brian E. Robinson for Psychology Today describes it, “the idea that it’s cool to be ‘always on’.”
Hustle culture doesn’t tolerate failure or weakness.
Let’s be honest for a second. How many of us are up at five in the morning, in the gym for an hour to two hours, perfectly put together in the office just a while later, on top of each and every daily task, home to our families with a perfect meal on the table and our kids in bed afterwards, giving us enough time for healthy intimacy with our spouses, in bed just late enough to give us a chance to check a few work emails, and up the next morning just to do it all over again? It sounds exhausting just thinking about it.
But hustle culture doesn’t tolerate failure or weakness, which is just the tip of the iceberg as far as fatal flaws are concerned. The bar is set so high expectation-wise that, from the outset, it’s a lifestyle that’s both unhealthy and unrealistic to maintain.
The Apex of Hustle Culture
When we hear about hustle culture, a few things might come to mind like multi-level marketing companies, which are sometimes more commonly recognized as MLMs or pyramid schemes. (You might even have been the target of one — if you’ve ever heard from acquaintances from high school or church about an “exciting new business opportunity,” then you’ve definitely been targeted.)
But truthfully, this toxic trend isn’t just limited to multi-level marketing companies. You don’t have to be in an up-line or a down-line selling patterned leggings or essential oils or cookware to fall prey to hustle culture. You could be an attorney, a doctor, a mom, part of the corporate world. It doesn’t matter.
Environments like these, even motherhood in some instances, thrive on hustle culture. Hustle culture allows supervisors and workplaces to push you so far past your limits you might not even know those boundaries have been broken until it’s too late. Stressful workplaces which discourage taking time off or vacation or even accomplishing tasks in realistic time frames are just a few examples. It’s all about the hustle: accomplishing as much as you possibly can in as little time as possible.
Hustle culture allows supervisors and workplaces to push you far past your limits.
Look into any run-of-the-mill job posting online, and you can see what I’m talking about. Companies always advertise for the go-getter, the team player, especially if they go “above and beyond,” constantly giving 110%. Giving quote-unquote 110% of yourself all of the time is not only impossible, but deeply unrealistic, yet workplaces continue to push this agenda that in order to supposedly be successful, you have to be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
Japan is an unfortunate example of this entire attitude put into practice. It’s sometimes known as “the country that never rests,” and there’s even a word in Japanese, karoshi, which literally means “death by overwork.” Work is central to cultural importance, so much so that laborers are given caffeine pills or B-vitamin shots to keep up the grind. In both corporate environments and blue-collar jobs, overtime is often mandatory, and unpaid. Japan also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world — approximately 14.9 per 100,000 people.
You Don’t Have To “Hustle” To Be Successful
Back in the good old days of realistic-minded accomplishment, we could be successful without having to sacrifice so much of ourselves for it, and be proud of it too for that matter.
We’ve let a number of things take over — comparison, appearance over authenticity, greed. We’ve let success be defined for us by a culture that doesn’t know us and doesn't have our best interests at heart. It doesn't know our families, our desires and needs, or our personal goals. It builds us up when the hustle works and tears us down when it doesn’t.
You get to decide what success looks like for you, even if it’s different from everyone else.
The concept of success being individualized isn’t perhaps a new one, but it almost feels like it. And really, why shouldn’t it be individualized? Why aren’t we the ones deciding what success looks like for ourselves? Success isn’t dictated by our income or lack thereof, or whether our partner makes more than us while we stay home. It looks like a healthy motivation for what we can accurately achieve, and being proud of our accomplishments even if it looks different from everyone else’s. You don’t have to have a high-powered corporate job or a sprawling house with perfect kids to be successful. You get to decide what it looks like for you and that motivation in mind is what we need, not a superficial and inherently flawed attitude that may look good on social media, but has no substance otherwise.
Glorifying burnout, overworking, and exhaustion has somehow become synonymous with success, but if anything, it’s the very antithesis of what health, wealth, and wisdom look like.
Pursuing an excellent work-life balance isn’t selfish, just as wanting to excel in your career doesn’t minimize your personal life. The two should be balanced and go hand in hand, but the hustle denigrates one in favor of the other.
In the end, it won’t be the grind that takes care of you in your old age, or satisfies you. A career can be fulfilling and an excellent motivator, but it isn’t the end all, be all — especially if it overtakes our every waking moment. Hustle culture may look glamorous and fulfilling, but if anything, it’s meant to take advantage of us more than it’s meant to truly satisfy us.