‘Hustle Culture’ only entered my vocabulary back in mid 2018. Back then I had been exposed to the full brunt of it by being in my mid-20’s and working in a blockchain startup in Shanghai, China.
The combination of startup, blockchain, China and Shanghai specifically meant I was surrounded by people pulling minimum 14 hour days. Every day. Amongst my friends, conversations revolved around tech, startups and finance. The peer pressure to “make it” resulted in a couple of my friends tapping out for extended periods of time with burnout, alcoholism and hospital checkins for stress-related illnesses.
I still fell victim to the pressure and soon found my sleep being invaded with hustle, my relationship started to break down and there was never enough time to think about the “big issues”
Sometimes parents know best..
In being a big advocate for work-life balance and someone who periodically sits down and genuinely takes stock of my life, I was perhaps more aware of the situation than those around me. Regardless, I still fell victim to the pressure and soon found my sleep being invaded with hustle; my relationship started to break down and there was never enough time to think about the “big issues”; something that could have made my work infinitely more effective and manyfold efficient.
It wasn’t until a trip home to see my parents that they remarked I looked “overworked and under-rested”. They were absolutely right. After months of talking about the wonderful opportunity I had been given to work in an environment that champions innovation, “growth mindset”, collaboration and creating real value, I had neglected to look after the most important person in all this — me.
Hustle culture inevitably leads to burnout
My revelation resulted in a period of burnout in which I constantly struggled (and still do) with existential questions of the ideas of success, achievement and fulfilment. I don’t believe there is anything exceptional about this, I’m sure many, many young people around the world struggle with these issues every day. The difference for me is that I made a deliberate and persistent effort to change how hustle culture influenced me.
The biggest change I made was in changing my understanding of time. Hustle culture teaches you that to stay ahead and get the most out of your day, you have to be working whilst others are resting and working twice as hard whilst they’re working — time is your most valuable resource.
Where I do agree with time being valuable, I take a point with ‘doing more to stay ahead’. My greatest ideas and most creative moments come to me during times of rest, in the shower, walking through the park or watching movies.
Having spoken to a number of my friends about their experience with hustle culture, I realise the single common theme is their perception of time as a resource to spend on improvement — anything else is a waste. These people feel guilty if they indulge in an hour here or there of leisure time or even worse, they force themselves to rest as a way of being ready for more work. This whole mindset screams mismatched priorities and unhealthy habits.
It seems the greatest fear exhibited by young people trapped in hustle culture these days is FOMO — they don’t want to waste their lives and live with regret about not having tried enough. Ironically, you know what most old people looking back on their lives regret the most? Spoilers, it’s about not spending enough time on the things that matter most — friends, family and fun.
Take some time off, don’t feel guilty and don’t do it just to be “ready”; do it because it’s your right to live how you want.