The Hustle in the Hustle

I see it on coffee mugs and tank tops, memes and social media banners, and I hear friends say it day in and out: "Every day I'm hustlin'..." Our mantra, it seems. I've dialogued with others about this piece of our vocabulary and what it stirs in me for a couple of years now. I haven't known how to talk about it fully, but I've decided to try. This week, I received responses from a few of you on social media as you shared your thoughts on what the hustle means to you. Your perspectives were helpful! Here's what I heard you say about it:

"Doing what you need to do to get to your goal." 

"It is often associated with being opportunistic, having grit, and being responsible for making sure my goal is obtained. It is up to me, so I must do whatever is in my power to get done what needs to get done and persuading others to help me get there."

"Gotta do what I gotta do until I figure something else out."

"Hustle is working for what is good with the goal of what is best!"

"Stepping into what I need to, over and over again."

"The hustle will always be a thing!"

Do these ring true for you? What about the dictionary definitions for hustle? (Posted here.) What sort of a rhythm does the reality of hustle create in your life? If I'm honest, I've found this cultural phenomenon of "The Hustle" to be a difficult pill to swallow. Here's why...

The past 10 years of my story have afforded me a wonderful education in life rhythms. Certain seasons were so filled to the brim that my head was spinning all of the time with all of the doing. Other seasons delivered so much space to me that I'd wonder if I was adding anything meaningful to the world while I sat still, being. 

A worker bee by nature, the "being" was the harder part of the learning for me. I know this isn't true for everyone, but it took great intentionality, and quite a few years, on my part to develop a posture of rest. Workaholism plagued me in my twenties and early thirties. I was seeking to validate my existence to the world through my work. Finding remedy in the affirmations of others and their growing applause of my competence, I pushed myself excessively to continue conquering bigger mountains. And I loved it. I was good at it and even felt "alive" in it.

It's probably not surprising to hear, but I sort-of missed seeing my motive in it all. Of course, there were moments when I could feel that something wasn't right, but I trudged through those with a grittiness I'm amazed to remember I had (it's called adrenaline, by the way). But eventually, when I felt totally misunderstood, under challenged and exhausted—one can't live in fight or flight mode forever, after all—something had to give.

I broke down because quite frankly, I felt totally lost and had used all of my energy trying to prove myself. As I looked deeper, I uncovered a significant root need: to be valued and known and loved. I was trying to find love in all of the wrong places, or so the song goes... This seeing freed me to begin healing and set me on the long road back into genuine life. And healing meant that I had to come to terms with reality. I came to see how I'd been punked. The illusion I thought of as life was actually death and I felt this death profoundly.

For me, this never-ending cycle of hustle and the energy required to keep it up eventually gave out. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. One truth I've learned in this process is that hustle, as much as it is actual activity, is also a mindset. And perhaps this is where I feel confronted by our cultural embrace of the experience. I don't typically hear us saying that it's just activity. I hear us saying that we just have to keep going, no matter what. But there are times when we just have to stop. And, if we don't, there's a good chance we'll be forced to stop by exhaustion, disease, broken relationships—you name it. This is what I mean when I say, "The Hustle in the Hustle." If my mindset is set to hustle, I will always be hustling.

I don't know about you, but I find that this mindset creates a terrible life rhythm. My firsthand experience has helped me to see that when I lived it, I was never really "off" and over time, this harmed me. In the coming weeks, we'll continue to talk about this mindset and look at some alternatives. After all, my hope for myself and for you is that we are people who live a WHOLE life.   

In the meantime: 

  • Do you resonate with the hustle? What does it mean to you?
  • What is the nature of your current life rhythm?
  • What words or feelings might you use to describe it? Why?