At some point in the past few years, the word “hustle” has transformed into an exalted American anthem. Hustle and grind. The hustle never stops. Hustle harder. You gotta hustle. These catchphrases pepper our Pinterest pages and infiltrate our Instagram feeds on an almost daily basis.
Sometimes, an inspiring mantra is the extra push we need to continue chasing our big dreams and bold goals. All groundbreaking accomplishments demand hard work, and when we feel like giving up, it’s helpful to remember that successful entrepreneurs from Sheryl Sandberg to Beyonce had to hustle to get where they are.
But the more we glorify the hustle, the more we feed the beast of “busy,” and the more we praise the pursuit of personal goals above all else. Straight A’s start to trump simple acts of kindness, promotions take precedence over poetry, and we aspire to get our names in lights instead of in other people’s hearts.
The tricky thing about motivational mottos — hustle harder, hustle and grind, the hustle never stops — is that they have a tendency to spread through all of our routines, not just the ones that we intend. They slip surreptitiously into our everyday habits and manifest in ways we don’t anticipate or even notice. Suddenly, everything takes on the harshness of the hustle — not just our work, but our meals, our self-care, our hobbies, our relationships.
The diffused pervasiveness of the hustle may be why we rush to hang up the phone instead of giving that final “I love you” its warranted oomph. It’s why we spill our morning coffee on our shirts as we try to slug it down on our way out the door, already sorting through our mental to-do lists with gritted teeth. It’s why we groan when we miss the green light or feel frustrated when someone snail-paced blocks the sidewalk. We miss the sweetness of soft slowness and occasional stillness in their simplest forms. We neglect the wisdom within setbacks, the splendor of sunsets, and all of the joy that can only blossom in an expansive, unhurried space. We focus too much on ourselves and where we want to go.
And we rush until we wear ourselves down. The more exhausted we are, the more we need an encouragement to work when we yearn for rest, and therefore the more we tell ourselves to hustle. And so we hustle harder, and then we wear ourselves down further, and the pattern begins again.
If the hustle never stops, the cycle never stops. We get stuck in a state of constant doing and moving, rushing from one destination to another in pursuit of what’s next. The present stops seeming like enough; who we are, right now, stops being enough.
We harp on hustling as if it’s the hard part, but hustle is an easily adaptable habit when we tie it so closely to our self-worth. With its implications of impressive ambition and productive action, hustle helps us believe in our enoughness, and our brains learn to seek the dopamine jolt that accompanies every hustle-born accomplishment.
What’s harder than hustling might actually be unwinding that addiction to achievement. It may be more difficult to master the anti-hustle — not the doing, driving, pushing, and stretching, all the Pinterest-perpetuated girl-bossing and butt-kicking, but the slowing down and even stopping to rest for a moment. Rest is challenging because it requires so much faith that we’re good enough as we are. That our greatness doesn’t need to be coerced out of us — it’s inside us all along. That we don’t have to earn our donuts or our bubble baths or our lazy mornings — every human has a right to joy and sweetness.
To balance out the tough, strong, and speedy of most modern-day career paths, we need to savor the gentle, soft, and slow. Here are a few ways to incorporate the anti-hustle into ordinary days…
Take breaks. Sit down when you need to sit down. If your lungs are bursting, don’t run that extra mile. If your eyes are drooping, take a nap instead of gulping two more espresso shots. Press pause for a moment and reassess your progress. You can begin again when you’re ready.
Slow down. Draw out your “I love you” at the end of every phone call. Savor your morning coffee sip by sip, watching the way the sunlight strikes the steam. Linger a little longer on your lunch break, and walk an extra few blocks to listen to your favorite song through your headphones just one more time.
Save space for compassion. Share that spare change with a stranger. Do a friend a favor. When you see someone struggling, ask how you can help, and give up a chunk of your day to brighten theirs. Understand that you might sometimes need to halt your hustle at the benefit of the heart.
Treat yourself to simple luxuries. Stay in silk pajamas until noon on Sundays. Eat dark chocolate for breakfast if you feel like it. Don’t wait until you’ve stolen the proverbial throne to honor yourself like the queen you already are.
Maybe, if we treat ourselves as if we’ve already achieved greatness, we’ll bolster our belief in our enoughness. That might be the real secret to the successes of entrepreneurial icons like Sheryl Sandberg and Beyonce: not just their hustle, though that’s one undeniable factor, but their belief in their enoughness. Their deep and dedicated confidence in their own power and in the potential of their dreams.
After that, the hustle can happen on its own. It becomes the automatic side effect of wholehearted passion. That sort of passion demands attention from a place of profound love and meaning, instead of fierce force or hunger for validation.
In other words, the point isn’t the pushing — it’s the passion that precipitates the push. Sustainable hustle thrives only with wholeheartedness as fuel.
p.s. If you want to make the "hustle" a sustainable, holistic effort, then check out Leah's blog, The Core Stories.