A hero of mine was recently asked what the most important word was for any young professional today. His answer came easily and instantly.
It's a concept most of us are familiar with. I know I am.
I used to get excited about people asking me what I've been up to just for the chance to project my importance in two trendy words.
It made me feel important and in a way, somehow worthy of success -- as if the hustle was the path to earning margin both in my life and my bank account.
The idea of "The Hustle" (not to be mistaken with the dance) has become a cornerstone of our young professional culture.
Lisa Curtis, an entrepreneur & writer, recently wrote...
"A few weeks ago I spoke at my alma mater, Whitman College, on a panel entitled "From Student to Startup." After a series of questions, one student finally asked, "What is the most important skill you need to successfully start a company?" The three alumni looked at each other and finally we all said something that boiled down to: learn how to hustle."
Apparently, plenty of well known people have pointed to their hustle as responsible for their success.
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. -- Abraham Lincoln
Good things that happen to those that hustle. -- Anais Nin
What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time. -- Don Zimmer
Our favorite brands are campaigning with it and our most innovative industries are throwing events around it.
But what is "the hustle" really?
When we get down to it, beyond the cool factor or surface validation of our day to day grind, what is this thing we glorify with so much ease?
Hustling is about survival.
"Some hustle for respect. Some hustle for love. Others hustle for truth. We all hustle to survive." -- Unknown
The origins of the word "Hustle" are traced back to the 15th century revolutionist Jan Hus and his role in sparking the crusades against the Catholic church -- called the Hussite Wars.
"Huseln" was the verb given to Jan's movement's desperate & deceitful recruitment methods. It's predecessor form, "hustling," evolved as a verb meaning to con, force, push, coerce and manipulate in order to survive.
Getting its modern reputation through the hip-hop movement, the word was commonly used to describe a people group trying to survive in a world resisting their success.
As Jessika Hepburn -- a writer, insightfully observes,
"Hustle implies the world is a place of scarcity and struggle so you are going to have to work harder and fiercer than anyone else to get anything you want."
And though the idea that we as young professionals have to somehow fight this resistance to get anything in our lives is sexy and certainly self-glorifying--it's also very wrong.
We do not have to stay stuck in survival mode -- waking every morning to fight this world that is vehemently resisting us. We don't have to resort to desperate methods of doing whatever it takes to make it through the day. We don't have to live in a world of scarcity where competing to beat the people around us is the path to success.
I'm with Maya Angelou on this one when she said...
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."
As much as it may hurt to admit it, we don't have to hustle. There's a better way.
Hustling glorifies busyness.
But always being busy, though glorified today, isn't a virtue--nor is it something to respect anymore. Among many reasons for this, there are a few that stand out to me.
It can actually be a sign of an inability to manage our lives well. Though we all have seasons of crazy schedules, few people have a legitimate need to be busy ALL of the time. For the rest of us, we simply don't know how to live within our means, prioritize correctly, or say no. "Being busy is not the same as being productive," says Tim Ferriss, "...and is more often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions. Being busy is a form of laziness -- lazy thinking and indiscriminate action."
Busyness actually restricts professional performance and limits mental capacity. With plenty of recently published psychological and biological evidence of this, Tim Kreider seems to capture it well in his article, The Busy Trap, when he says,
"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice. It is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration -- it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."
Busy often keeps us from the finer things in life. Though being busy can make us feel more alive than anything else for a time, the sensation is not sustainable long term. We will inevitably, whether tomorrow or on our deathbed, come to wish that we spent less time in the buzz of the rat race and more time actually living. Or as Seneca says in Letters from a Stoic,
"There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living, and there is nothing harder to learn."
I don't know about you, but I'd like to live.
Hustling misplaces identity.
This glorification of "the hustle" comes from the antiquated belief that we are defined by what we do -- and therefore the more we do, the better, more worthy, more respectable, more validated human we are.
Sadly, this points to an ignorance of our inherent value--in that regardless of our performance in life, we are important, loved and valuable. This same ignorance typically makes us too uncomfortable with ourselves or the reality of our lives to do anything other than stay occupied hustling.
Unfortunately for the hustlers, there's more to life than how many hours we invest into our jobs. And increasingly, your neighbors and your relatives and your offspring are wondering why you're spending so much time trying to prove yourself and so little time being yourself.
Standing in stark contrast to "the hustle" is a similarly as trendy, yet not as practiced, concept known as the state of "flow."
Brandon and I recently got caught up in a conversation about our mutual distaste for the hustle culture. His thoughts on this alternative to the hustle, flow, were too brilliant not to share.
When I was twelve years old, I started feeling the pressure to hustle.
I was good at tennis, and people close to me began pushing me to be better. To push harder. To earn the world's respect.
And I did. I hustled, pushed myself well past my limits and played all over the world. I played at Wimbledon. I was on the U.S. National team. I was one of the best -- and the hustle almost broke me.
I retired when I was 22. My body just couldn't take it anymore.
I now get paid more than I ever have for doing what comes easiest to me. I haven't "hustled" in years, but have offered real value to the world and been compensated well for it.
You don't have to live in the hustle. There's a different way of living that opens up a new world of possibility -- and that is the state of flow!
The hustle is a frantic energy rooted in an attempt to earn respect and value from the world around us. Flow, on the contrary, is a state of energized focus, full engagement and pure enjoyment rooted in the realization that you don't need the approval of anyone.
One thing I've done to stay out of "hustle" and in "flow" is to continually make decisions as if I have nothing to prove. In other words, I do what I would do if I have nothing to prove.
Most of us do the things we do out of a place of lack. We lack approval. We lack value. We lack the affirmation of people we respect. So we spend our time trying to do something to earn it.
Why do you go to work early and stay late? Why do you scramble for the approval of your boss? It's because his approval is dangling in front of you like a carrot, just out of reach. And you're going to bust your ass trying to get the carrot or die trying.
Why do you feel like there's a gulf between you and your spouse? It's because you feel like your marriage is hanging on by a thread, and it's all on you to keep it from falling apart.
I'm telling you, you were not designed to live like that. Nobody can handle that kind of pressure. It is a soul-crushing, heart-strangling way to live. In fact, it's barely living. It's more like simply existing in a constant state of unease.
Instead, picture what you would do if you had nothing to prove. Imagine that all the approval and affirmation you need was already secure.
So I ask you, what if you felt like you had nothing to prove? How would that change what you did today?