The Pitfalls of Hustle Culture: Finding the Right Balance
Breaking Free from Hustle Culture: Prioritizing Health and Relationships for Success
Hustle culture tells us that there’s no time to rest, sleep, or do anything but work.
While I do agree that doing something worthwhile, that matters to you, often takes very hard work, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of your health, relationships, or mental wellbeing.
When I was younger, I fully subscribed to hustle culture, productivity, and all related ideas. I sought out the best productivity strategies, worked longer hours, took my laptop everywhere, including hot and humid beach resorts in Punta Cana where I barely got any good wi-fi.
I loved showing off my work set up at a coffee shop, on a beach, on a nice balcony or terrace, at a park, or once at a winery! It was my way of proving to myself that no matter what, even if I was on a vacation, I was working and being productive.
Hustle Culture and The Productivity Trap
The problem was that after years of doing this…
Productivity went up a lot!
Success went up, though not always as much…
Relationships with friends and family declined.
Overall fulfillment and happiness stayed about the same…
Pursuing ever growing productivity means eventually dedicating more time to your work. However, productivity isn’t the same as success. Hustle culture is all about maximum productivity, but maximum productivity doesn’t guarantee anything. You can get a lot of things done, but that doesn’t mean your to-do list was optimized for success. Just because something is on your to-do list, doesn’t mean it’s essential. This is why my success didn’t keep up with my productivity increases. Bottom line, I got more done but it didn’t all matter. Prime example was chasing inbox zero – this made no difference to my success yet I pursued it as if it was directly correlated.
The Painful Price of Productivity: How Hustle Culture Can Damage Relationships, and Wellbeing
Finally, since most of my time shifted to work that left less time to spend with family and friends. When you say no to family and friends enough, most will be understanding and want to support your endeavors. Over time, they will simply reach out less, ask you for less, invite you to less activities.
Why? They want you to succeed and they don’t want to distract you. Absolutely great intentions, but ultimately it leads to a deterioration of the relationship. And that’s the best case! In the other cases, people may not be so understanding (rightfully so if they are special to you) and you may lose those relationships all together.
In my case, my obsession with productivity in the pursuit of massive success led to my first marriage ending in a divorce. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m lucky it even lasted as long as it did. My ex was quite supportive, but if you neglect a relationship for long enough, eventually, it comes to an end.
Postponing Life with Hustle Culture Mentality: When I’m Successful, I’ll…
One of the reasons it’s easy to put off family, friends, health, wellness, etc. in pursuit of productivity and success, as part of having a hustle culture mentality, is that we have incredible visions of the type of partners, spouses, sons, daughters, parents, uncles, aunts, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. we will be once we succeed. We fall for the trap that once we are successful, we will be able to make up for anything we sacrificed over the years.
When I succeed, I’ll spend more time with my partner.
When I succeed, I’ll visit my parents or siblings more (or at all if I’m not even visiting them).
When I succeed, I’ll focus on the problems in my relationship and give it all my attention.
When I succeed, I’ll save money or invest in my other goals, etc.
When I succeed, I’ll work out more because I’ll have more time and I’ll go see a doctor.
When I succeed, I’ll give back to my community, in fact, I’ll have a lot of money to also donate and more time to give.
When I succeed, I’ll dedicate more time to my faith.
When I succeed, I’ll go visit my relatives who I haven’t seen in years.
When I succeed, I’ll write more (or read more or draw more or paint more, etc.).
I could go on and on with this list because I’ve experienced each one mentioned and I’ve learned the hard way that hustle culture isn’t sustainable.
Trapped in the Hustle Culture Mindset: Was It All Worth It?
Well, only you can answer this question. For me, it was not. It was not worth losing my first marriage or the deterioration of my family relationships and friendships. It wasn’t worth finding myself alone at times with no one to celebrate success with.
One of my proudest accomplishments was completing my masters in psychology and MBA which I worked on at the same time. Two months before I graduated, my first wife and I split up. She moved halfway across the country, and I was left to celebrate alone. The one person I wanted to celebrate most with wasn’t there when I achieved a major goal.
I learned the hard way that it wasn’t worth all the productivity and success.
Learning From My Painful Failures and Reevaluating Hustle Culture
Today, I live life quite differently. I treat rest and relaxation, friends and family, or health and wellness the same as any career, business, or financial goal I might have.
Here are three examples of what this looks like in my life:
Prioritizing My Relationship
After four and a half years of being long-distance, my wife and I were finally going to live together for the first time. She was moving from Europe to the US and only brought her personal belongings and clothes. I was moving out from my parents’ place, so I too only had personal belongings and clothes. This meant we were starting our first home together from scratch! Add to this the fact that she was starting a new role on a new team a week after arriving to the US.
During my wife’s first two months, I chose to let go of the hustle culture and to focus on setting up our first home and helping her settle in. This became almost a full-time job for me and I was happy to shift my focus for a couple of months to helping us create our first home together while she started a new role in a new country. We always say, “teamwork makes the dreamwork” and in those months, my contribution was to help her settle in and set up our home. When I looked back on this at the end of the year, I considered that accomplishment one of the three most important of the year.
Prioritizing My Family This Summer
My business is in a critical place where I can easily argue that I must give it my 150% effort. I’m feeling the pull of hustle culture, the idea that I have to work harder and longer hours to be successful. However, I have an 8 month old and we decided that this summer we wanted to baptize her in Romania (my wife’s home country) and spend a month and a half there with her family. This special opportunity to build a stronger relationship with my wife’s family, whom I’ve never spent more than a week straight with is just as important as any business goal I have.
According to the late Clay Christensen’s article, How Will You Measure Your Life, opportunities like this one are easily more important than any business or career goal I’ll ever have. So even though it’s harder to work from here and I have less work time due to family commitments, I choose to make the most of this special opportunity.
Prioritizing and Honoring Profound Life Transformations
November of 2022 was the final month of my wife’s pregnancy with our first child. Two months earlier, I launched my first book at the Aruba Innovation Summit and traveled around the US and Europe to promote my book. However, even though most book launch strategies called for me to continue promoting the book and traveling for book talks, I decided to stop all travel at the end of October so that I could shift all my focus to my wife and preparing our home for our first child. Later that month, Sofia arrived and just five days later, my mother passed away. This was the happiest and most painful month of my life.
Despite the pull of hustle culture demanding my attention to book promotions and business ventures, in December, I decided to completely put all work on hold while I grieved my mother’s passing and started fatherhood. Just as I was starting to feel like I could open the laptop again, I caught Covid and decided not to resume work until one or two weeks into January. This of course disrupted my book launch momentum and put my business on hold. It didn’t matter though, because my priorities were being there for my wife, connecting with baby Sofia, and properly mourning my mother.
There are other examples that are smaller, but no less important, examples of prioritizing areas of my life other than work and career, even in the midst of the hustle culture’s demands.
How Will I Measure My Life?
I know that when my time on earth comes close to an end, I will be happy that I prioritized my family, friends, and my wellbeing in those specific moments.
In the last example I shared, I had faith that I would find a way to resume my business and book launch, because those would be there waiting for me. And when I did go back to it, I felt so incredibly refreshed and full of new ideas that are now the foundation of where my business is today.
Had I simply continued to work through these important life moments, I’m not sure I would have had the space and perspective to have come up with the ideas that I did in early 2023.
Life on my terms means focusing on what matters most to me, when it requires my focus, not when I have time or later when I’m successful. Over the years I’ve learned that true fulfillment and success come from embracing a balanced and intentional approach to life. It’s not about conforming to the relentless pressures of hustle culture, but rather about being mindful of what truly matters to me. By prioritizing my family, relationships, health, and personal growth alongside my professional endeavors, I’ve discovered a more meaningful and gratifying path to success.
If you have learned these lessons before and want to help others avoid making the same mistake, check out my article on coaching your colleagues.