We had a discussion over on Instagram this week about my strong dislike of the word “hustle”. In fact, you could say that I consider “hustle” a curse word of the highest order. It’s up there with the word “yolk” for me. Okay, I don’t like “yolk” because of how it sounds and what it describes (that’s right, no soft-boiled eggs for me). But I don’t like “hustle” because of what it represents.

(Damn it. Now I’m thinking about yolk. Sorry).

I want to talk about definitions, because my issue with hustling is actually how we define it. If it’s defined the way I see it promoted on Instagram, then it makes my skin crawl. And if it’s promoted according to its true dictionary definition, then that’s no better either. Here’s why:

Instagram says:

“Good things come to those who hustle.”

“24/7 365 Hustle.”

“Not all hustle is loud. Sometimes hustle is just you, all alone, grinding, while no one hears a sound.”

“Hustle and heart will set you apart.”

“Things may come to those who wait…but only the things left by those who hustle.”

The Oxford Dictionary says:

Hustle as verb is to:

  1. Push roughly; jostle.
  2. Force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously.
  3. Push one’s way; bustle.
  4. Obtain illicitly or by forceful action.
  5. Pressure someone into doing something.
  6. Sell aggressively.

Hustle as a noun is:

  1. A state of great activity.
  2. A fraud or swindle.

Grrrr.

Why does this make me angry? Well, here we have one definition of hustling – the one that describes it as an unrelenting state of working towards one’s goals with force, possibly at the expense of others, potentially at the expense of your true identity, and without the acknowledgement of your personal needs. This definition is the one that promotes the Western ideal of chasing dreams as aggressively as possible, and as quickly as possible. The implication of this definition is that to do anything less than “24/7 hustle and grind” is to guarantee you won’t keep up with those who are willing to “sacrifice it all” and you’ll be left behind, on the outer, excluded from the cool kids’ club (who prioritise goal achievement over all else).

In other words, if you don’t hustle, you’re not enough.

Not good enough. Not working hard enough. Not rich enough. Not committed enough. Not sacrificing enough. Not chasing enough. Not wanting enough.

And you know what enoughness is about? The immeasureable thing we constantly try to quantify that is self-worth.

Brene Brown says:

Brene Brown speaks of hustling for self-worth. She asserts that, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” I love Brene for so many reasons and this is one of them. This second definition of hustling is not about hustling to keep up or get more money/stuff, it’s about hustling for approval in the misguided hope that this will make us okay. That it will confirm that we are valuable.

Hustling for worthiness is about ignoring our own needs, intuition, story, identity, dreams, and authentic path in favour of doing whatever it takes to turn ourselves inside out and upside down to fit some pre-determined shape of whatever makes us worthwhile of love, belonging, and acceptance.

Well guess what? Both versions of hustling are dangerous for living well. They make me uncomfortable – probably because I’ve been there and I don’t want to go back there again. I’ve been known to work at 2 AM (I’m a morning person, but really?!). And I’ve also been known to hide behind a version of myself I created because I thought it was more palatable to others and therefore, more likely that they would love me.

And I’ve ended up empty, desperate, hurting, and resentful as a result.

For me, hustling is inextricably tangled up with stretching ourselves beyond our limits (not in a courageous, comfort-zone-expanding kind of way). It’s tied up with the falsehood that more stuff makes us happy. It’s tied up with exhaustion, burn out, and having nothing left over for all the other things that count in life. It’s tied up with the inherent belief that there is something wrong with us; with our stories; with our way of living. And it’s tied up with proving ourselves over and over again.

I refuse to promote something that encourages such a soul-destroying approach to life.

You Can Still Work Hard

Let me clarify something: You will know by now that I am the first to rave on about taking action, following your dreams, and living an inspired, expansive life. In my experience, you can’t do that from the psychological or physical equivalent of laying around on the couch (unless it’s a couch in a therapist’s office, but really, it’s not like it is in the movies, trust me). It’s true that if you’re going to live in a vital, passionate way, you need to do something.

But it’s just not true that you need to work yourself into the ground or manufacture a media-standard version of yourself to live the life you have your heart set on living.

I am a big fan of money because it is the currency of freedom over your own time and it allows you to do amazing things for others. But I’m not a fan of putting yourself in hospital with exhaustion to get it.

I’m a big fan of big goals. But I’m not a fan of losing your sense of meaning and purpose in pursuit of those goals because you haven’t taken a day off in three years.

I’m a big fan of being comfortable in your own skin. But I’m not a fan of depending on other people’s approval to get there.

I’m a big fan of standing strong in your own story. But I’m not a fan of convincing yourself that you need to fix yourself and tidy up the story in order to own it.

I’m a big fan of going your own way. But I’m not a fan of kidding yourself that your way is the way of someone else’s expectations of you.

In short, I have a problem with “hustling” because of how it’s defined and what it perpetuates.

But what if we could redefine it? What if there was another word and/or another definition that encompassed living expansively that didn’t require you to be another version of yourself or work 24/7?

This is the question I’m currently working on.

I’m not there yet. But here are the ideas I’m throwing around and they all fall under the category of mindful living. While “hustle” promotes suffering, force, and an all or nothing approach, mindful living is flexible and freeing. It uses “and”, not “or”. It gives you the choice to make your own definition of success. And it might include some or all these things:

Mindful living is to…

  1. Work hard towards your goals; and,
  2. Rest when you need to; and,
  3. Take care of yourself; and,
  4. Connect to what’s happening right now; and,
  5. Acknowledge that your actions today affect tomorrow; and,
  6. Go at your own pace today; and,
  7. Don’t cop out on what you’re capable of; and,
  8. Stop if it’s not working; and,
  9. Ask for (and accept) help if needed; and,
  10. Know the outcome doesn’t define your worth; and,
  11. Remember everyone fits somewhere; and,
  12. Stay open and soft and forgiving toward yourself on the way.

To stay in the light of inspiration and expansive living, we need to define for ourselves a life that is consistent with our values. And most importantly, we need to step back from this false ideal that we are only worthy when we sacrifice ourselves to get there. Success is what you say it is. And your worth is unquestionable, not quantifiable: It just is.

I’ll be over here working hard, and napping, and drinking cups of tea in the sun, and loving big, and planning my next adventure, and stretching my comfort zone toward the brave. Meet you in the middle of it all.

Say No to Hustle

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