Hustle Culture: The Problem or the Solution?

by | Nov 13, 2023 | Blog, Stress Management

“If you work hard enough, you’ll succeed.”  Right?  That was how I was raised. The work ethic I learned was “do more”. If you wanted to get ahead, you got up before the other guy (gal), did more with your time, put in more effort and were the last to leave.

There’s an integrity to this way of being. There’s also a built in righteousness; it’s only fair that the hardest worker gets the rewards. There are benefits, and also costs. Right now the costs are coming to light and the answers I keep seeing are rebellion, blame and ‘do the opposite and it will fix itself’ schemes. 

I don’t think it’s that simple. 

As with most of life, there is more complexity than we, at first, assume.

This fantastic Times article calls the hustle things like “toil glamor”, “performative workaholism” and “grim and exploitative” and posits that it was started by tech companies around the turn of the millennium when they began to make the workplace a ‘friendlier’ place. I’d argue that the culture started in the 50s when marketers turned ‘citizens’ into ‘consumers’ and everything became a commodity to be exploited, including our time. 

Do More, Get More, Make More, Need More

Over the years businesses and consumers not only towed the ‘more, faster, now’ line, but planted it as the flag that defined success. The result is where we are today, ignoring natural cycles, destroying water, depleting earth, taking, pulling, and mining until there are gaping holes, dying forests, depleted farmland, and sick and stressed out people. Changing us from citizens of this planet to consumers upon it caused a huge shift, everything became a commodity to be extracted – including people: our bodies, time and ultimately, our wellbeing. We’ve become an expendable resource – to our culture and even to ourselves. 

In the US we measure success by GDP: Gross Domestic Product. We don’t measure our success on the happiness of our people, the health of our communities or any multitude of other ‘people’ oriented quantifiers; we measure production.

No wonder our priority both at work and at home is how productive we are. No wonder individually and collectively we are in a never-ending consumption binge. No wonder we see ourselves and our planet as expendable.

“A huge source of harm has been a relationship to time that centers productivity with a capitalistic understanding of what it means to be valuable, what it means to be productive, and that shapes our understanding and relationship to self, to money, to work, to land, and to rest.” – Larissa Crawford, Future Ancestors

The Backlash: Just (Don’t) Do It

We’ve seen people doing what they can to take back their humanity, to stop being a commodity – 

  • We’ve seen it with quiet quitting – showing up to work but not giving your all because you DON’T want to be there but need the money. 
  • We’ve seen it with boundary setting – shutting off your phone in the evenings to try to create a ‘balanced’ work/home life. 
  • And we’ve even seen reactive disconnection – taking the time you need as a reaction which can look like outright quitting, illness, acting out, etc.

What all these have in common is that they are reactions, not solutions. They are a start, but they are not the final act. Showing up half-assed, creating a balanced work/home relationship, or stopping altogether – those don’t actually address the real issue, they are bandaids. Unless there’s a ‘next step’, a process to get to the real transformation, they will cause repercussions of their own.

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan has legs for a reason. It resonates deep within us. We do want to ‘just do it’. We want to have the passion and commitment of the superhuman athletes we see in those commercials. We want desperately to connect to the part of us that is so engaged, that has found so much meaning, that our work feeds us, excites us, connects us and makes us better people inside and out.

We don’t want to be ‘quitters’, quiet or otherwise. Balance doesn’t address the elephant in the room – that most of us work because we’ve been trained as consumers thinking we ‘need’ more, seeking the ‘stuff’ marketers tell us will make us happy, complete, loved, etc. If those things worked, I wouldn’t have a job. People who’ve ‘made it’ wouldn’t still be looking for meaning and fulfillment.

Work in our culture is not about feeding our souls, it’s about filling our pocket books, our homes and even our storage units. So we cash in all of our chips, follow conventional wisdom and ‘hustle’, only to find out that when we make it to the top of the mountain. But, we were sold a lie.

Yes, we’re seeking. Yes, we’re in rebellion. No, the answer is not “work life balance”. We’re seeking meaning, we’re tired of being consumers and we want our work to mean something, to make a difference, to feed us instead of deplete us. 

Changing Work to Wyrk

My spiritual teacher coined a phrase last year: “wyrk”, work with a y (why). He’s an amazing man. At age 3, he was aware enough to know why he was on the planet, his life’s purpose: to help others to do what they came to do. He’s held his focus on that his entire life, he lives his life mission 24/7. 

Wait, Maren, that sounds like a mantra of the hustle culture?!?!

Trust me when I say that what he does looks NOTHING like what the hustle culture is pushing, nothing like you imagine. Living his life mission means he’s always in conversation with life and spirit about his why. It means he’s ALWAYS in the right place at the right time. It means life is his business partner and his life is magical

Work is pushing, striving and forcing, out of balance with nature itself, a recipe for personal (and global) destruction – doing that 24/7 is literally killing us. Wyrk is stepping into your soul’s calling and being in the flow of life – doing that 24/7 is the antidote we seek.

My teacher partners with life and with time and has an abundance of both- for everything that matters.His time is not transactional, he’s invested his time into his life mission and it’s paid dividend after dividend. He’s by far the happiest and most fulfilled being I’ve ever met.

Meaning, Fulfillment and Dancing with Life

So the question is not, ‘how do we create balance within the current system?’ It’s ‘how do we transform ourselves within the system so that we can be in flow, be fulfilled and be working with life?’ How do we step into our meaning and purpose?

There are two parts start the ball rolling:

First – we have to recognize that the problem may be outside of ourselves, and the solution is inside. Living your personal meaning is more powerful than any protest, rebellion or outward stand you could take. The Sufi’s have a saying that one person stepping into their life mission lights the candle for 10,000 others.

We’ve been programmed to do the outer work, it will take some discipline to start looking inside for the answers.

Second – we have to cultivate a productive inner dialog. Most of our self talk is punitive, and derogatory – the woulda, coulda, shoulda, ought-tos, the push harder, do mores. It’s time to develop your relationship with a different part of you, the one that knows that every choice you’ve ever made is absolutely perfect and led you to this moment.

It’s time to plant a seed – what if every single thing you’ve done is perfect? What if you were meant to make every brilliant and messy decision, every mistake, every win and every failure? You might keep a journal on these questions for a week, a month or even a year. You’d be surprised at the transformation you’d observe in your outer life, without trying to ‘make’ anything happen.

If ‘living your personal meaning’ and ‘cultivating an inner dialog’ sound like good ideas but you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone. 

That’s why each year more and more people are joining us for the Great Uplift, Your Year by Design. Where we use ancient, mystical traditions to guide a small group of intentional minded people and step into their future in a whole new way. Click for details on how to join us.

In case this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Maren, an executive life coach, speaker, dancer, and serial entrepreneur empowering you to step into your purpose and live your most fulfilled life.

When you’re ready, here are a few ways I can help regardless of where you are on your journey to self discovery:

Book me to speak at your next event and inspire your team of high achievers to step into their purpose, master their mindset, amplify their impact, and find fulfillment.

Join the Dance with Life Program: Uncover your unique gifts and experience a more fulfilling way of success with my Dance with Life program. I’ve helped dozens of high achievers transform their lives. Learn how you can join this transformative journey.

Download my free guide – “Spinning Life in Your Favor”: Access three simple steps you can take TODAY to start dancing with life instead of slogging through it.

Listen to The Soulful Leader Podcast: Tune in to the Soulful Leader Podcast every Tuesday for inspiration, tools, and actionable tips for personal and professional growth.


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