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“Hustle Porn” is Bullshit

Sarah Nuttycombe March 16, 2020

“Hustle Porn” is Bullshit

You’re either here because we used two not safe for work (NSFW) words in the title of this article or because you think being against “Hustle Porn” is blasphemy.

If it’s the latter reason, we’re here to say the Religion of Hustle deserves to be contested.

Hustle porn is the fetishization of long work hours, the glorifying of being a workaholic. It’s all work and no play, the notion that work is only work if it’s grueling and difficult. It’s a concept that has become widespread through social media and deeply entrenched in modern culture.

“Hustle harder” is a toxic mentality. We even think it’s flat out bad entrepreneurship and we will dig into where it comes from and why it’s risky for your health and dangerous for business.

Ready to excommunicate us from the Religion of Hustle and the Cult of Entrepreneurship?

We’re staking our claim that Hustle Porn is bullshit. Just hear us out.

Where Hustle Porn Comes From and Where It Thrives

Hustle is no longer a thing you do. It’s who you are.

The New York Times coined this phenomenon as “performative workaholism”, or the idea that one must glorify ambition not as a means to an end, but as a lifestyle.

To bring this concept to life, the New York Times used the patron saint of hustle, Gary Vaynerchuk’s media company, One37pm, as an example:

“The current state of entrepreneurship is bigger than career,” reads the One37pm “About Us” page. “It’s ambition, grit and hustle. It’s a live performance that lights up your creativity…a sweat session that sends your endorphins coursing…a visionary who expands your way of thinking.” From this point of view, not only does one never stop hustling—one never exits a kind of work rapture, in which the chief purpose of exercising or attending a concert is to get inspiration that leads back to the desk.”

Those who are in support of hustle porn and the preachings of Gary Vee would read this excerpt, nod along, and agree. In their eyes, hustle porn is a mix of encouragement to follow your dreams and a dose of reality on achieving real success. The hustle community will tell you no one who achieved anything of merit did so in a normal 9-5 work scenario. When their idea of hustle is contested, accusations of “whiners” and “laziness” are quick to emerge.

Hustle has a stronghold in the tech community, which is often credited as the birthplace of hustle porn. Big paychecks validate long hours and once such a workload is normalized, doing anything less than your peers means you fall short of the (very high) bar that’s been set. Thus begins a vicious cycle of work you can’t escape and must pretend to love in order to cope.

But it’s not just tech—hustle culture has permeated gig-economy job providers like Lyft and Fiverr. Lyft applauded a driver who gave birth on the job, instead of driving to the hospital when she felt contractions. Fiverr’s advertising for new workers calls for “doers” whose drug of choice is sleep deprivation. Even on a gig-to-gig basis, it has become socially acceptable, even encouraged, to ignore your well-being in the name of work. Writer Jia Tolentino wrote that the pressure to hustle, even for the most economically vulnerable, had roots in the “American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system.”

Hustle porn is often cited as a by-product of the American Dream. The idea that anyone in the United States can climb the ladder of success with a little hard work and perseverance is a cherished American ideal. Questioning its reality feels uncomfortable for many Americans, leading swarms of people to lean on hustle porn as a means of feeling like their American dreams can actually come true.

However, unwavering acceptance of hustle in America is beginning to change. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian called out the concerning rise of hustle hysteria in the US at the 2018 annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon:

“Hustle porn is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in the tech industry right now. And I know so much of it comes from the States. It is this idea that unless you are suffering, unless you are grinding, unless you are working every hour of every day and posting about it on Instagram, you’re not working hard enough. It’s such bullsh*t, such utter bullsh*t.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

It’s apparent across the US, from tech to side-gigs, that hustle has kicked up a storm. In its own way, online business feels insulated from the “normal” work world, though are we really as safe as we think?

Does Online Business Have a Hustle Problem?

In online business, we boast about the ability to make a living without the 9-5 commitment.

Yet the Hustle porn mentality is alive and well within the online community. The constant bombardment of Facebook ads from online hustlers and gurus shouting about their hustle (along with the newest course they’re offering) is enough of a reminder that you are supposed to hustle, even online. It’s a daily reminder that you’re going to fail if you don’t.

If you’re working online, and working in coworking spaces, there are literal signs demanding hustle.

Many remote work hangouts, like WeWork, have bought into the hustle porn mentality in their spaces. The New York Times observations on WeWork’s hustle propaganda reveal this clearly:

“…during a series of recent visits to WeWork locations in New York, where the throw pillows implore busy tenants to “Do what you love.” Neon signs demand they “Hustle harder,” and murals spread the gospel of T.G.I.M. (Thank God It’s Monday). Even the cucumbers in WeWork’s water coolers have an agenda. “Don’t stop when you’re tired,” someone recently carved into the floating vegetables’ flesh. “Stop when you are done.” Kool-Aid drinking metaphors are rarely this literal.
Welcome to hustle culture. It is obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and—once you notice it—impossible to escape.”

Imagine how hard it must be to be a digital nomad or remote worker trying to find balance when you’re surrounded by signs to push at all costs.

As an online entrepreneur, everywhere you turn someone or some sign is telling you to not stop—to keep working, grinding, and hustling no matter what, that everything you’re giving up and risking will be worth it in the end.

The very real health risks of overworking should not be overlooked. Burnout can take an immense toll on mental health and relationships with others. Working 55 hours a week or more can make you 40% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that can skyrocket your chance of getting a stroke within ten years. Imagine having that choice: you can work more hours, but there’s a coin-flip chance that your heart will give out in the next ten years.

If we could put this in flashing text without being tacky, then we would. We’ll settle for bold instead: You do not need to put your health at risk to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Hustling is Bad Entrepreneurship

When you visualize hustle, what do you see? Do you see mania or do you see strategy?

Hustle, in our minds, looks like a chicken running around with its head cut off. It’s energy spent without real results. It’s action without a plan.

That’s why hustle doesn’t equate to good entrepreneurship. It doesn’t prioritize optimizing. It never stops to ask, “Is this really working?”

Assessing how well things are going is something hustle seems to miss. Writer Nat Eliason addressed this concept in his article on struggle porn, an idea he coined about the “masochistic obsession with pushing yourself harder, listening to people tell you to work harder, and broadcasting how hard you’re working”.

He said one of the biggest downfalls of struggle porn is not quitting. “When you believe the normal state of affairs is to feel like you’re struggling to make progress, you’ll be less likely to quit something that isn’t going anywhere.”

The biggest lie that we’ve all been sold about struggle/hustle porn is that struggle is worthwhile because it’s the secret to success.

But if you think about seven- and eight-figure business owners, you’re not going to conjure up many (real, non-Instagram ones) that are hustling.

Why?

It’s because they’re beyond hustle.

Sure, they might have spent some late nights in the early days of building their business, but they grew past that. They built their teams, processes, and systems so their businesses would scale beyond the hours they could put in.

To hustle without second thought means you’re missing your chance to regroup and optimize your strategy to create a well-run business, which can happen without the burnout and insanity of hustle culture.

Look, this isn’t to knock the concept of hard work or those who identify as hustlers. Hustle’s heart is in the right place—there’s nothing shameful about working hard to build something for yourself. But your hustle should have a purpose, a Northern star to guide you towards the ideal: not trading all of your hours and energy for what might be an empty pursuit of success.

The Problems with Hustle and Anti-hustle Solutions

We don’t want to talk all about problems without providing solutions. Overcoming hustle culture has some intuitive solutions if you’re open to thinking about yourself and your work in a different way.

Here’s our advice for redefining a healthy outlook on work and life:

  • Stop Chasing the Coin

Stop Chasing the Coin. It is not necessary to grab every last dime to call yourself a success.

One of the less spoken of problems with hustle is that it promotes hyper-growth, whether that be for your own business or your personal net-worth.

Hustle creates an endless cycle of chasing the next biggest thing, a relentless pursuit that leads to striving for money you don’t need or growth milestones for your business that might not be sustainable.

There’s such a thing as getting so big you bust. Through hustle, you can risk going so far that everything you worked for can implode.

To avoid this, you have to know what you’re working towards and check to see if you already have what you’re striving for.

Despite what hustle culture tells you, it’s okay to acknowledge when you have a good thing going. Some might call that settling. It’s not. If your business is going well and you’ve earned the money you hoped for years ago, then it’s okay to call it a day and stop chasing the coin.

  • Take Stock of How Far You’ve Come

Overwork can be a way of avoiding bigger problems.

Now an advocate against hustle porn, Alexis Ohanian had once been sucked into it when he founded Reddit in 2005. He realized later that he was using work as a way to cope with his depression.

“As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy ‘crushing it’ that physical, let alone mental health, is an afterthought for most founders,” he wrote. “Take care of yourself because you’re not getting uploaded to the cloud anytime soon. And when things do get hard, which they will, you especially need to prioritize your well-being.”

One way to prioritize your well-being is to pause and take stock of how far you’ve come.

Grinding away will have you looking ahead towards what you haven’t done or what you don’t have. You’ll likely breeze past milestones in your business without celebrating them.

Allowing yourself the chance to pause and reflect on what you’ve actually done relieves you from the pressure of feeling like you haven’t done enough, and that you must hustle to get it done.

  • Define a Healthy Version of Success

It helps to know what you’re working towards in business and life, but how often do you gauge whether what you’re working towards is actually good for you?

Success isn’t one size fits all and it’s not all personal jets and mansions.

You should look at your version of success and ask yourself, “Is this healthy? Does this allow me a life outside of work? Is this a never-ending quest? Will it bring me fulfillment?”

If your version of success doesn’t leave you room to live a life while pursuing it, then maybe it should change.

What you are doing will mean nothing if it kills you over time. You need relationships. You need down-time. No one benefits from a burnt-out you.

  • Normalize Rest

Nowadays, if you ask someone how they are, it’s not surprising to have someone respond with “busy”. Busy is a state of being and it’s become so normalized that it can be anxiety-inducing to not be working and always busy.

Needing busyness leads to a spiral of unrest, one that should be fought against instead of applauded by the hustle porn camp.

Jason Fried of Basecamp summed it up best in his interview on staying healthy:

“Sustained exhaustion is not a rite of passage. It’s a mark of stupidity. Literally. Scientists have suggested that scores on IQ tests decline on each successive day you sleep less than you naturally would…You’ll die faster without sleep than you will without food.”

Normalize rest. Resist the hustle hype. You’ll be smarter for it.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

This isn’t revolutionary advice. Work smarter, not harder. Have a way to optimize or outsource your work because it’s the best thing to do for your business. It might even be the right thing to do for your health.

The only reason this advice might feel revolutionary to some is because, as a society, we’ve all caved to the pressure of hustle porn and normalized toxic work behaviors. When it comes to our work, it’s like we’ve been offered a choice between jail and freedom, and we answered: “jail sounds great!”

What’s incredible is that so many get into online business to escape the pressure of long hours, yet buy right back into the idea that success means toil.

This post is a friendly reminder that success isn’t hustle. If you think it is, then you need to re-define success.

A well-lived life can be a success. Personal projects can lead to success. Spending time with family and friends can be a success. You can stop and appreciate what you have—no hustle necessary.

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