Blinded by the Hustle Culture
By the time I saw the movie, it was airing on cable. Any channel surfing would come to an immediate halt the minute I saw I could watch it. Again. It exemplified what I wanted so badly to believe — that hard work, persistence, dedication makes dreams come true.
The movie? Hustle & Flow, starring Terrance Howard.
About that same time in my life, I watched the comedy special Katt Williams: American Hustle. Williams does this bit about how Rick Ross’ song, Everyday I’m Hustlin, can make any job tolerable. Even working at McDonalds. By yourself.
Having worked at McDonald’s, his point was well taken. Suddenly, in that context, all work seemed glamorous.
So, when I say I get your fascination with today’s “hustle culture,” I really mean it. I was there once. I believed the only thing that separated me from success was merely more work. More effort. More dedication.
At the time, I owned my own law practice. Nearly every day felt like I was Matt Damon’s character in Rounders. Grinding. Defending a non-stop stream of low-stakes criminal activity. Sometimes winning. Many times not.
But now, I’m a few years removed from all that. Now, I have a different view of our glorification of the “hustle culture.”
I’ll agree that there’s nothing wrong with hard work, persistence, and dedication. But, when we glorify those things. When we take pride in having a “strong hustle” or praise “10xing the grind,” we lose sight of the bigger picture. We stop asking critical questions.
When we only talk about our individual efforts. Our commitment to the hustle. Then, we end up ignoring the fact that our individual efforts are actually part of a system. A global, economic system.
A system that is filled with rules and regulations. Politics and policies. All of it decided and written without our input. Or, even consideration of us, the laborers. The people doing the work. The people just trying to make our own dreams come true.
Our system of work is not that much different from our system of education. In school, you pick a path, take the corresponding classes. But, you’re doing that because you’re operating in a system governed by rules and regulations.
Same with our justice system. Let’s say you get a speeding ticket. Sure, it seems like you have a choice in how you respond to the ticket — challenge it or pay. But, in reality, you’re only picking one of two options. And, that’s because you’re operating within a system.
So, when we think about work. And, we think about finding success. We have to remember that much of what allows us, or even prevents us, from being successful is not entirely within our control. There is much we cannot control.
The rules and regulations of the system may force us to pick, rather than choose. It may dictate what we can earn, or how much experience we need for a promotion. There is simply no way that 10xing your effort will change the rules of the system.
Another problem with focusing only on the hustle is that we start to think that any failure is entirely our fault. That, if we had just worked a little harder, things might have been different.
That is just not true.
There are a lot of factors besides your own effort that contribute to success and failure. You can work 100 hours a week trying to sell a product. But, if it’s not a quality product, you will struggle. Or, you could have a great product, but the wrong marketing message. Or, you could have a great product, the perfect message, but poor timing.
Now, could hard work help you improve the quality of the product? Help you craft a better message? Perhaps. But, it will take more than effort. It will take thought. Time. Experimentation. Iteration. You simply can’t hustle your way to success with nothing other than hustle.
Look, I’m not gonna ever tell anyone that it’s impossible to find success by taking risks and working hard. It’s most definitely possible.
All I’m asking is that you keep it all in perspective. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Remember what is, and is not, within your control. And, remember, that there’s far more to life than work.
Work can be incredibly rewarding. It can also really, really suck. And, I just don’t want you to enter adulthood believing that success is within your reach if you just work hard enough.
That kind of blind trust. That belief that you can out-effort the system. Well, that will only set you up for disappointment. Disappointment in yourself.
So, work hard. Find work you enjoy. But, remember, if it doesn’t work out, it most likely wasn’t you, it was a glitch in the system.