Hustle Culture: Is it Time for a Change?

By Lauren Hendrix, MA, PLPC

“Rise and grind,” “you can sleep when you’re dead,” and “don’t stop when you’re tired; stop when you’re done” are popular quotes you may have heard before touting the value of persistent hard work. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with working hard at something that is important to you, our society has taken this too far with hustle culture. Hustle culture is the mindset of prioritizing work and productivity above all else at the expense of rest, self-care, and other values such as building meaningful community. Operating from this mindset causes people to live, breathe, and eat work, which often entails working very long hours, not taking breaks, and attaching self-worth to productivity and accomplishments. This way of life is exhausting, but it is nonetheless a common mentality in our goal-oriented, production-driven society.

The Origins of Hustle Culture

So how did hustle culture become so popular to the point where many wear it as a badge of honor? It came to rise in the United States in the 1970’s when many work industries began expanding, requiring existing workers to work harder to keep up with demand. When the technology industry started booming in the 1990’s, hustle culture subsequently skyrocketed with several tech CEOs modeling 80-hour work weeks and sleeping at the office as the only way to succeed and get ahead. This coupled with the pervasive societal messaging that achievements and production are markers of praise, status, and success has understandably led to generations of people that have been conditioned to overwork themselves. Do you resonate with being caught up in hustle culture or know someone who is? Let’s look at some mindsets that might keep people in the throes of hustle culture while combating these beliefs with what research has found about this toxic productivity.

Hustle Culture Fallacies

The crux of hustle culture is that working harder, longer hours and taking fewer vacation days will increase productivity; however, recent research from Expert Market based on data collected in 2022 revealed the opposite! These findings showed that the most productive countries were those where less than 40-hour work weeks and more paid vacation time were common. In contrast, countries with the most hours worked populated the bottom of the productivity list. This research directly contradicts hustle culture and shows that decreasing work hours doesn’t have to come at the expense of productivity.

On a similar note, a recent systematic review of 80 studies by the Harvard Business Review found that taking breaks throughout the workday actually increases productivity, which flies in the face of those committed to hustle culture who can often be found forgoing breaks and working through their lunch. Another fallacy of hustle culture is the happiness it can be thought to bring once goals and productivity are achieved. The reality is that overworking leads to workplace burnout, which has well-established increased risks of developing both psychological (depression) and physical (type 2 diabetes, hypertension) disorders in addition to decreased productivity. Breaking away from this mentality of hustle culture can clearly provide so many benefits to both your productivity and health, but learning how to operate in a new way can be a challenge, especially if you have been caught up in the hustle for so long. Let’s now look at some steps you can take to approach your work in a more balanced way.

Combating Hustle Culture

  • Clarify your values: Realizing what you value most in life is a great first step to combating hustle culture. Do you value spending quality time with loved ones? Giving back to your community? Feeling at peace and fulfilled? Once you’ve clarified your values, ask yourself if the way you’re approaching work is helping you live in line with those values or is detrimental.
  • Set boundaries: Once you know what values you want to live your life according to, setting boundaries to help you achieve that is a great next step. Do you want to be present for dinner with your family? Set a daily hard-stop deadline to stop working and stick to it. Do you want to leave work at work and not feel like you have to respond to emails at home? Set up automatic email responses with your office hours or turn off notifications when you leave the office. Setting boundaries can be difficult, but it is so worthwhile to protect your peace.
  • Prioritize self-care: Hustle culture promotes neglecting your needs in the name of “productivity,” so prioritizing caring for yourself can help you foster a new mentality. Self-care can look many different ways from getting enough sleep consistently to taking restorative breaks with walking or meditation to actually using all your vacation days!
  • Know your worth: Living in our work-oriented society can make it so easy to equate our self-worth with our job status, work productivity, and career trajectory, but there are many more parts of yourself that make you a worthy, unique person and are worth celebrating. Truly reflecting on what makes us feel valuable and how we want people to remember us can put into perspective that work is absolutely not everything. What parts of you have you maybe neglected due to being consumed with work? Name those and foster them.
  • Enjoy the journey: Hustle culture is all about the relentless pursuit of results and achievements, so slowing down and learning to enjoy the journey of day-to-day happenings can help combat this. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to slow down, and you may find that this puts you in a better headspace to additionally appreciate the results and achievements when they do arrive.

My hope is that the above steps can help you start to disentangle yourself from hustle culture if you find yourself wrapped up in it and wanting some relief. You may have heard of the trending term “soft life,” and I think this is a great antithesis to hustle culture. Living the “soft life” entails pouring into yourself first, not having work be the center of your identity, and listening to your body and mind when making daily decisions. You can still work while living a “soft life,” because we all of course need to make ends meet, but living your life from this lens gives space for rest, cultivating your values, and self-compassion.

So where do you fall with your relationship to work after reading this article? Are you still sold on hustle culture? Do you want to give the “soft life” a try? Or maybe you find yourself somewhere in the middle. I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this today.

Lauren is a therapist at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT. She is passionate about the mind-body connection and using a whole-person approach towards healing. She also believes that knowledge is power when it comes to mental health and is an advocate for spreading mental health awareness. She primarily treats clients with OCD, anxiety disorders, and BFRBs, and she additionally has developed a strong interest in helping clients who struggle with body image issues and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. She is accepting new clients, and you can learn more about her by clicking here.