The Toxic Side of Hustle Culture

Even if you’ve never heard the term “hustle culture” before, you’re likely familiar with what it describes. 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,” while The New York Times describes it as “performative workaholism.” My favourite definition is from Celinne Da Costa of Forbes, who defines hustle culture as “the collective urge we currently seem to feel as a society to work harder, stronger, faster. To grind and exert ourselves at our maximum capacity, every day, and accomplish our goals and dreams at a lightning speed that matches the digital world we’ve built around ourselves.”

Photo by Garrhet Sampson at Unsplash

Whatever your exact definition, hustle culture generally promotes going after what you want, whether it’s a career, a promotion, a fit body, or a lifestyle, and pursuing it relentlessly, often with few breaks and little sleep. It takes on many forms, from having a 5 a.m. morning routine, to turning every hobby into a side hustle, to planning and scheduling every moment of your day in order to maximize productivity. Hustle culture is extremely focused on the idea of success – primarily financial success – and the appearance of “having it all together.”

There are so many people promoting this mindset. From social media’s so-called “productivity influencers” to online business gurus, lifestyle gurus, and self-help personalities, this movement is seemingly everywhere. Simply searching the word “productive” on Youtube results in hundreds of videos about boosting productivity and productive daily routines. However, this movement doesn’t only focus on work. Whether it’s your workout routine or your eating habits, everything can be optimized.

This productivity and self-improvement mindset is seeping into not just our work culture, but all aspects of our lives. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your life. However, when we become obsessed with achieving success and creating a perfect life, it gets dangerous. It’s dangerous when every aspect of our lives becomes something to be curated, improved, optimized, and perfected.

When we become obsessed with productivity and success, we can also feel guilty about doing things that may not necessarily be “productive.” But it’s okay to do things that aren’t on any checklist. Things like having a quiet Sunday just enjoying your hobbies, without feeling the need to monetize them. Or reading a book, or watching a show just for fun. We don’t have to be productive all the time! Taking breaks has many benefits, and ironically, can actually help us be more productive. When we don’t take breaks and allow ourselves to de-stress, we can end up feeling worn down and burnt out.

Burnout is a real thing that should be taken seriously. It’s also an unfortunate side effect of hustle culture. We need to remember that we have value apart from our outward successes and accomplishments! We matter, just as we are. We don’t always need to be looking for the next thing to optimize or improve. That’s why we must prioritize our health over the hustle. This could mean taking mental health breaks, taking vacation days when you need them, getting more sleep, or just looking after yourself better.

So if you are feeling the pressure of hustle culture, maybe it’s time to stop listening to that productivity influencer, or to unfollow that person who constantly posts about their “rise and grind” lifestyle. There is a difference between content that inspires you to improve your life in a positive way, and content that promotes a toxic mentality and lifestyle. As a general rule, just unfollow anyone who makes you feel like you aren’t good enough or aren’t achieving enough. We are not perfect, no one’s life is perfect, and that’s perfectly okay!

How do you feel about hustle culture? Have you experienced it? What are your thoughts on the productivity and self-improvement mindset in our society? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Facebook: Hustle culture. It pushes us to do more, be more, achieve more, and ultimately lead us – hopefully – to success. But does it actually improve our lives? Check out this article and join the discussion.

Twitter: Hustle culture pushes us to do more, be more, achieve more, and constantly work toward our goals. But does it help us or hinder us? Join the discussion here.

9 thoughts on “The Toxic Side of Hustle Culture

  1. Wonderful easy read that is well organized with your bold sentence openings. Thank you for sharing such an important topic that has everything to do with mental health too. Totally agree it’s good to try and do our best but it can be overwhelming if those goals don’t allow for enjoyment or anything else. One thing people forget is that it’s the imperfections and contrast in life that allow us to recognize when things are really good…or really bad.

    • Thank you Vickie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, it can get very overwhelming if the pursuit of our goals doesn’t allow us to enjoy our lives along the way!

  2. All great points and I have unfollowed many as you suggested because there are just too many, as you said, out there now. Its logical to move in many directions at various stages of your life; school, family, career to name a few. Now with adding challenges, good habits, apps to help you sleep, eat, stay fit or engage you to exercise your memory. The list is endless as you describe and I haven’t thought of it they way your have articulated. Great read, thank you, Gail

    • Thank you Gail, I’m glad you found the post interesting! The list of things to work on can definitely be endless as you described. It’s so important to just focus on what matters and what actually adds value to your life!

  3. I have never really heard the term “hustle culture” before. So, I asked my parents and they heard the term as “hustle and bustle”. Which I gather is the same thing. What a great way to describe this society we are in. I see my parents and all parents living like this and it scares me.

    I guess I can say, I haven’t really experienced this. I mean, I’ve had to hustle to get things done, like schoolwork but I don’t think I worked that hard at it, where I never rested.

    I do agree that there’s nothing wrong with improving your life, but to become obsessed with it, is obscure. If you want to fix a lot in your life, then take one challenge at a time.

    Great read. Thanks.

    • Hi Ivy, thank you for your comment! It does seem like many parents live this way in our society today. I also agree that taking on only one challenge at a time is best! When we try to fix too many things all at once, it quickly becomes overwhelming for sure!

  4. Great article topic! You bring up some great points! It’s hard to have a definitive work life balance these days, with every hobby we pick up expected to be turned into a side business. It’s so important to have things that we do outside of work to allow us to decompress at the end of the day!

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, work-life balance can feel so difficult to achieve. I’ve looked into turning hobbies into side hustles in the past, but it ended up making them so much less enjoyable! It really is so important, as you said, to have things we do outside of work just for enjoyment and to decompress.

  5. This pass year I hit a point where I realized I have a very poor work life balance and almost all my energy was going towards my work. I know that COVID did not help with this at all due to the fact it made socializing with friends more difficult. I ended up working longer hours, not taking breaks, and bringing my work home with me. From my experience with burnout, I believe that business need to start realizing that they are part of the problem. With this hustle culture I have personally found that there has been more responsibility and tasks put on employees. with many completing work that 2-3 employee should be completing. I have found it challenging to work towards a better balance and to change my mentally to work is not the most important part of my life.

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