I keep thinking about that famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada, where the heroine, portrayed by Anne Hathaway, who has basically sacrificed everything – her morality, work ethics, ultimate career dream and work-life balance – informs Emily Blunt that she will not be going to Paris. It represents the culmination of what we now know as “grind culture,” where individuals are expected to give up everything in order to advance at work.
Anne Hathaway’s Andy fell down the rabbit hole in pursuit of greatness, and found out that it cost her everything, in the end.
Business thought leader Ramon Ray defined the hustler mentality as “putting every minute and all your effort into achieving the goal at hand.” It’s the mindset glorified during the early 2010s, immortalized by infamous grinders like Gary Vaynerchuk. But then, of course, came the inevitable backlash by proponents of work-life balance, calling out grind sensationalists like Vaynerchuk for peddling “hustle porn.”
Many people rightfully asserted that it’s wrong to tie yourself and your self worth to productivity. But many of those detractors missed some of the truth behind the hustle mentality. To complete the cycle, the backlash to the backlash has arrived, and with it, the introduction of the question: What if the hustler mentality isn’t all bad?
By taking a more nuanced view of the matter at hand, it’s possible to see that grind culture and hustle mentality isn’t evil, in and of itself. Yes, when people give up too much in the name of grinding, that’s bad. However, equally bad is holding yourself back from your potential because you think that working eight hours a day on something you love is somehow evil.
The hustler mentality isn’t a curse or a boon. It’s a concept that has multiple sides, like anything else, and is open to your interpretation.
Inspired Work Can Fill You With Energy
Opponents of the hustler mentality will say that the biggest downside is that it drains you, leaving you with no energy for any of the good things in life, like relationships or hobbies. This is essentially the position espoused by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, one of the most vocal “hustle porn” critics.
That’s a fair criticism, because it’s certainly a pitfall to make sure you avoid. When you’re passionate about something, it’s all too easy to slip into work mode nonstop, leaving little room at the margins of your life for anything else.
The worst side of grind culture glorifies that burnout.
But if there’s work you love, it’s totally conceivable that doing that work fills you with energy, instead of draining you. Naturally it’s bad to use up all your time and energy for work, even if it’s your own business. It’s critical to understand that work you love can be invigorating, inspiring and soul-nurturing.
So much of the nuance has been lost in the massive backlash to hustle culture, but it’s true – working on projects and passions you love can actually help bring energy and balance back into your life.
Enjoy the Hustle Without Giving in to the Worst
The real trick to getting the most out of grind culture without losing yourself to it is by reflecting on yourself. There’s no one-size-fits-all interpretation – some people will never be able to dedicate themselves to work and find energy.
Others will never once step over that work-life balance line.
Instead of worrying about what everyone else is saying about your hustler mentality (or lack thereof), take a step back and reflect. What drains your energy? What fills you with inspiration? Feel free to experiment with different versions of the grind mentality.
Take Vaynerchuk’s own words as an example of one interpretation of hustle culture. “There is so much hustle in my day I don’t even have a second to spare to ‘hang out’ and catch up with the people around me,” he admitted in 2015. “It may not be ideal for most, but it’s what I’ve signed up for, it’s what I love, and it’s what allows me to get the things done that I seek to accomplish.”
If that works for you, go for it. If not, then don’t emulate him.
For someone like me, that would destroy my work-life balance and totally drain me of energy. But Garyvee has obviously made it work well for him, and he hasn’t felt like he’s sacrificed anything. On the contrary, he is living his dream life.
The problem stems from thinking Vaynerchuk’s massive media empire is only achievable through his methods without once considering whether those methods work for you or not. Many folks assume that it’s critical to accumulate those burnout symptoms as part of the grind.
The danger is when you let the symptoms become the “badge of honor.” Exhaustion, 12-hour workdays, and lack of sleep are not the point.
Jason Fried puts it best in his book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. Devotion to “long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days,” he writes. “Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity.”
That’s the dark side of the hustler mentality, right there.
As long as you understand what you want to achieve, identify what energizes you and what drains you, and you move away from the black-and-white mentality of hustler culture being totally good, or 100% evil, you can safely harness the hustler mentality to achieve your dreams without having to sacrifice everything else what matters to you along the way.