It is irrefutable that the following dreams are common to many Americans: to climb the corporate ladder, to get rich and powerful quickly, and above all, to win the race against everyone else striving for these same goals. After all, we live in a capitalistic Western-world nation that usually measures success in terms of wealth and power. This concept might be better summed up in the well-known idea of the American Dream, the notion that everyone can achieve their dreams as long as they work hard. But how far is too far before this hustle becomes toxic?
This idea of the constant hustle is applicable not only in the corporate world but also in high school and college atmospheres. At my own high school, a friendly discussion of academics will inevitably turn into a competition of who has stayed up the latest working on a paper, who has waited the longest to finish up an assignment last-minute, or who has turned in something the furthest in advance. People are constantly one-upping one another to see who can get the furthest, work the hardest, and do the most without falling apart. This theory is known as hustle culture.
According to Kendall Rooks of the Ferris State University Torch, hustle culture is “a motivational movement which urges society to work harder, stronger, and faster … the idea is that if someone works really hard, they will see success and can achieve anything they put their mind to.” While everyone constantly discusses how hard they are working, there is little to no discussion of the dangers of it. Overworking and immense stress levels can have detrimental ramifications, including burnout, anxiety, exhaustion, and substance abuse. In a study conducted by ABC News, it was proven that there is also a distinct correlation between overworking and increased stress levels with workplace shootings, road rage incidents, and other forms of violence.
Further, hustle culture also has a negative influence within the more personal sphere. It can cost individuals sleep, harm social relationships, detract from time spent with family, and lessen productivity rates. With regard to time spent with family, even Elon Musk, billionaire CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, said in a 2013 South by Southwest keynote talk that, “I find I can be with [my children] and still be working at the same time … in the absence of that, I would not be able to get my job done.” People who rely on hustle culture do so for self-gratification, which has negative implications concerning mental health. Suppose someone dependent upon hustle culture is not working every waking minute. In that case, they will often feel disappointed in themselves, which can result in depression.
April Wilson, MD, chair of the preventative medicine department at Loma Linda University Health Center, says, “[h]ustle culture is about being a human doing rather than a human being, which is dangerous in many ways.” Wilson explains how hustle culture and overworking place more focus on what the person does than who that person is. On this note, overworking can lead to the shutting out of emotive responses and result in communicative blocks. It can also lead to anxiety in saying “no” to requests from others and make a person feel inclined to accept all commitments asked of them.
There are further scientific explanations of the harmful nature of hustle culture. Stressful scenarios cause the steroid hormone cortisol to be secreted from the adrenal glands, which, according to California emergency services physician Stephanie Benjamin, MD, then signals the flight-or-fight response in the human body. Hustle culture is a trigger for the fight response, and these resulting hormones can only be reduced through rest and recovery. Without this proper recovery period, overworking oneself can become an addictive cycle. As mentioned earlier, utilizing hustle culture as a form of self-gratification results in mental health issues and obsessive behaviors.
The only way to truly balance hard work and a social life is to reject the detrimental hustle culture. However, the rejection of hustle culture does not equate to the rejection of hard work and dedication. Instead, it is vital to recognize how hard work can get you far and damage your chances of success if not appropriately handled. This means that it is necessary to find a healthy balance for day-to-day life, understand what is important, and find the time to sleep and rest well. In other words, slowing down is keeping up.