Grind. Hustle. Strive.
These aren’t just words. They are a mantra and way of life for an entire generation: millennials.
The New York Times says hustle culture “is obsessed with striving.” It is the complete abandonment of finding healthy work-life integration, and instead, defining oneself’s worth, and perhaps one’s entire life, by what is accomplished in the workplace. This in turn leads to overwork. And then what’s next? Burnout.
In her viral BuzzFeed news essay, cultural critic Anne Helen Petersen realizes she can’t accomplish mundane tasks — managing her emails, registering her dog for a new license, donating books to the library — because she’s burned out. “Why am I burned out?” she writes. “Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young.”
Although hustle culture is not a brand new phenomenon, it has hit millennials especially hard because of their relationship with technology. Jeremy Littau, Ph.D., an associate professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, says digital media has changed expectations of how and when we communicate, leading to a renewed acceptance of hustle culture.
“(Digital media) creates an overall sense of attachment to communication and the idea that you need to be on your devices all the time,” Littau says. “This idea bleeds into things like work, where your boss is now expecting you to be on all the time, expecting you to fix a problem right away.”
Social media has also exacerbated the rise in hustle culture. Not only has it given users a way to broadcast the best, and oftentimes inauthentic, versions of themselves, but also, it has created an environment of constant connectivity, comparison, and ultimately competition.
“We’ve been doing this in modern America for quite a while — finding ways of broadcasting our success, our wealth, things like that. I think what’s changed is that social media has given us a much larger audience for that,” Littau says. “The phrase when I was growing up was ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ to portray the idea that you’re trying to acquire as many status symbols as the people next door to you. But in the world of social media, everyone is living next door to you, and so we have more points of comparison for ourselves.”
Once one becomes immersed in hustle culture, The Times argues it’s impossible to escape. However, a little bit of self-awareness and re-prioritization can go a long way in developing a healthier relationship with technology, which can help reduce the pressure to be hustling all the time.
Jacob Morgan, the best selling author of The Employee Experience Advantage, says it’s equally important for all of us to open up about when we are burned out or in need of help. And to set clear boundaries for our time.
“Millennials need to focus on setting expectations — actually we all do. Connectivity doesn’t mean availability, so just because you are online at 6 a.m. or at 10 p.m. doesn’t mean you need to be responding to emails or attending emails,” Morgan says.
Littau recommends having a plan for every device, and using all devices purposefully. Everyday, he puts his phone away after 6 p.m. so he can spend time — and actually be present — with his family. Littau also stays away from his email on the weekend, which is an expectation he has set for himself and something others have come to expect from him, too.
To be clear, hustling, or working hard at something you’re passionate about, isn’t a bad thing. Jay Lauf, the CEO of Quartz, recently responded to The Times article on Quartz’s app, with the idea that it’s possible to find the right balance between hustling and recharging. “You should hustle because you enjoy what you do, have personal pride and see a chance for progressing your career in it. But you should also be allowed to have time and energy to explore your non-work passions (exercise, reading, music, whatever it is) with equal hustle,” he writes.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with the hustle, but if you’re ending the day worn out and sacrificing your well-being, it’s time to reassess the way technology might be impacting your work-life integration. Technology should be a tool to find balance, not burnout.
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