Stop Worshipping Hustle

Todd Brison

Generally speaking, the message we are told in order to find success is not “make your work as frictionless as possible.”

It’s “hustle your face off.”

This story dominates our culture. It seeps into every nook and cranny, every blurb, every billboard. You can’t scroll YouTube without seeing an homage to the god of grind.
Image credit: Comedy Central Stand-Up

Now, look, before I go too much further, it’s worth pointing out that hard work is a worthy pursuit. Hustle itself is not a bad thing.

It’s also not the only thing.

Assuming hustle solves all problems is like assuming that you can take down any wall with your face. The ones made of cardboard will go down easy, but the ones made of brick will give you a heck of a headache.

(And the wall will still be up.)

Still, the message is there: Hustle. Hustle. Hustle. Anyone who has what you don’t simply hustled harder. Anyone who is where you want to be put in more time. Anyone who climbed to the top put forth extreme effort to be there.

The weird thing is, there’s a bit of a chicken/egg dichotomy with this narrative. Did we believe in work first, or did the marketers force it on us?

Here’s the 2-second blurb advertisers played on a radio station I listen to promote a podcast featuring Zach Braff.

“I don’t idle well.”

The interview is 82 minutes long. This is not the most interesting thing Braff said. But, this is what the marketer knew would draw our attention — the story of an average guy who became a successful actor and director by virtue of his workaholism.

We consumers echo these values, of course. I’m currently working with a client who has written two very good books. One of them is outperforming the other in every way. The OLDER book, not the newer one, was killing it.

One book is about working hard.

The other is about making work easy.

You’d think the second one is making all the sales. After all, who wants to work hard?

As it turns out — everyone. Or at least, everyone believes working hard is what will give them what they want.

Individual effort is glorified above all else. It’s in our media, schools, and workplaces.

The latter is most baffling. Think backward for a moment: why would employees get reviewed individually? Why is credit for success in the workplace awarded to people, not groups? Why are CEOs lauded and executives touted despite their narrow roles?

No company could be built by a single person. What is a company except a team of individuals, performing as best they can?

Any victory of consequence is a team victory.

Again, none of this is a discredit to individual effort itself, just the suggestion that ONLY individual effort is meaningful.

We revere the individual in this modern era, but at what cost? When we look only where the spotlight points, we miss not only the stage and set but the lighting director, orchestra, supporting cast, chorus, dancers, choreographers, as well as the humble writers who conceived of the drama all of these players are acting out in the first place.

Promise me this: for every hour you spend hustling, spend at least an hour figuring out if you can do so smarter, better, or easier.

What’s the point of keeping your nose to the grindstone and ending up with no face?

Hustle, but accept help.

Grind, but give yourself grace.

Work, but be willing to wait for answers.

The ideal experience, in work and life, is found in the unassuming middle.

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