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When the constant grind becomes over-glorified, it can be tough to slip out of the rat race.
Many of us have had those days when our “9-to-5” feels more like “rise then grind until we get the job done.” For some of us, it isn’t just a day here and there but a constant hustle, logging over 40 hours a week to be seen as a “productive employee.”
Whichever your rhythm, there are countless ways we’re being encouraged to keep it going. Many business moguls and celeb-preneurs would applaud you on for all those days of grit and sacrifice; some CEOs would reward that dedication with a raise or a promotion; and there are countless memes on Instagram to keep you “motivated” when things get tough.
After all as a very rich man (a.k.a Elon Musk) once famously tweeted, “Nobody ever changed the world in 40 hours a week.”
In some circles it appears that always going the extra mile in your career — and even in other aspects of your life — is celebrated as walking a heroic path despite the drastic negative effects overworking can have on mental, physical and emotional health.
This is all a part of what experts call “hustle culture” and it’s so normalized that it can be tough to identify when you’re in it, and sometimes even tougher to break away.
“Fundamentally, [hustle culture] is about work dominating your time in such an unnatural way that we have no time to live our lives,” says Joe Ryle, the Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign. Meaning: It’s a lifestyle where career has become such a priority in your life or the environment that you work in that other aspects of being human — such as hobbies, family-time and self-care — often take a back seat.
Today, this is very common since work seems to be taking up more and more people’s time across the globe. According to a 2021 survey published by the ADP Research Institute, 1 in 10 employees surveyed across 17 countries have said that they’ve been putting in more than 20 hours of free work per week, while workers on average are logging 9.2 hours of unpaid overtime weekly, compared to 7.3 hours in 2020. While many are putting in extra time at their full-time corporate jobs, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) claim that the increase of overworking is also likely due to the rise of the gig economy and teleworking with the boundaries between work and personal life being increasingly blurred.
Now, people log in long hours and take on side hustles for many reasons — one, unfortunately, is that many of us (particularly women) have to work more to earn the same amount of money as our grandparents, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
But, what’s distinct about hustle culture is how taking on extra labor is viewed.
“Hustle culture carries this overarching belief that the more you do, the more valuable you are,” says Kate Northrup the founder of The Origin Company and the author of Do Less: Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management. In other words, proponents of hustle culture will tell you that “busier always equals better,” and that constant busyness will always lead to more money, prestige, happiness and high self-esteem.
In certain work spaces overworking is expected, applauded and sometimes incentivized with promotions or raises. The pressure can be so intense that experts have even found that many people will say that they’ve worked more hours than they actually logged to appear to be “the ideal employee” — which Erin Reid, an associate professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business defines as being “fully devoted to and available for the job, with no personal responsibilities or interests that interfere with this commitment to work.”
For example, in her research, Reid discovered at one global strategy consulting firm that some employees pretended to work 80 hours a week to be lauded as “stars” and “superheroes” by management. Meanwhile, men who openly asked to pull back from the heavy workloads were denied promotions and marginalized among their peers.
While hustle culture glorifies overworking as a badge of honor, it often sets up an environment of fear, guilt and shame, especially when you don’t feel like running at the same pace as everyone around you, according to Nicole Cammack, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and the CEO of Black Mental Wellness.
“You become an outsider, so to speak,” she says. “You’re not being a team player, or you’re not caring — like everyone’s doing more, so you should do more.”
As a result, as an employee you may…
It’s important to understand that this hustle mindset isn’t just isolated to corporate America, says Northrup. For example, she often sees it with many female entrepreneurs that she coaches.
“Since women have historically been underestimated and have been told since they were born that they’re less valuable, we think we need to be spending most of our lives proving to others how much we can do [at work, at home, and in our extracurriculars] to show that we are lovable, important, and deserve to take up space on the planet, which, of course, is not true,” she says.
And yet, on TV we are constantly being fed celebratory stories of people who sacrifice parts of their lives to do a lot of things, she adds. Take the super mom archetype, for example, who can somehow cook, clean, raise the perfect family, train for the upcoming marathon, and manage a successful business without breaking much of a sweat. (Or so it seems.)
Social media can amplify this aspect of hustle culture since it encourages us to compare our lives to the seeming “perfection” of the lives of others, says Cammack. “It can make you feeling like ‘Maybe this life I’m creating isn’t enough because everyone else has so much going on.’”
Cammack has also observed with some of her clients that, subconsciously, many people hustle, not just to keep up with the Jones’, but to avoid addressing difficult emotions or issues in their personal lives.
“Sometimes the busyness keeps the thoughts away, or it becomes a way of avoiding the conflicts at home,” she says. “But you’re still going to have to deal with it, whatever it is, so is it worth it?”
One of the biggest fallouts of hustle culture is the burnout that comes with it, says Cammack.
“Burnout is when you get to that mental and emotional exhaustion where it just feels like you can’t add anything else to the plate and maybe don’t have the motivation in the way that you did before,” she says.
According to Cammack, with burnout you may:
“But sometimes people go on autopilot and don’t even realize that they are burnt out,” says Cammack. “They just keep going.”
Constantly staying busy can also have grave effects on your body as well. Studies have shown that working long hours can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and even stroke.
“So many of our health problems are because of the way we approach work and the levels of stress in the office,” says Northrup.
Since hustle culture is very much embedded in many offices, entrepreneur spaces, and even some family environments, it can be really challenging to slow down and create new habits for yourself. But thankfully, it is possible to set a new rhythm for yourself, even if it’s just small changes here and there.
Here are some expert suggestions that may point you in the right direction:
In the end, life can be so much more than just about work despite what hustle culture has to say. While hard work can certainly reap benefits, we can still make more room to appreciate the little things that have us feeling fulfilled, says Northrup. “I wish we could celebrate the more quiet moments in life,” she says. “That at the end of our day we can say ‘Wow I went to sleep today,’ or ‘I was really present with the people I love.’ That that was actually the good stuff. And maybe none of the rest of it was as important as I thought.”
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