Hungry Hustle

As any other, this particular day was packed with stuff to do. I just finished a victorious grocery shopping and had mentally shifted to reviewing the next to-dos on my list. As I was making my way to the car to drop off my payload I heard heavy steps behind me.

“Ma’am! Ma’am!”

“Dude,” I thought (yes I still talk in mid-90’s venicular in my head) “someone help this poor lady out before she keels over running in this heat.”

There was a light touch on my shoulder and I turned around.

A little flush in the cheeks, the Publix bagger said, “You forgot to pay.”

Now I was the one with the crimson-covered face.

I busied myself in becoming an attempted shoplifter.

My grocery unawareness was brought on by juggling too much. Family, friends, job, freelance, ministry, mentorships — I was hellbent on doing everything I could to further my personal brand, maintain a great standing with my current employer, while being super mom and friend. The bagger’s tap on my shoulder not only brought embarrassment, but also clarity: Hustling was driving me to the ground.

Hustling has been a buzzword within the creative industry for the past few years. It’s pandered in mantras like “6am feet on the floor” which encourages people to start work as soon as they wake up. Countless books, articles, podcasts, twitter feeds, youtube videos are dedicated to the topic encouraging people to work as if someone is trying to take your empire away from you, or to out-work the next person. I bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

I know others probably don’t see hustling the way I previously did, but to give you some context let me outline how I personally defined it: hustling — to me — is an unceasing effort of forcefully pushing something in a direction. When I hustle, I think that largely I’m in control of my success: guaranteeing its manifestation and quickening its timing. With each milestone I crossed it triggered a reason to celebrate but also deepen the hold of an unsatisfied monster that’s hungry for more. In short hustling is characterized by three things: unceasing efforts, dissatisfaction, and focus on self gain. This is all ironic when I think about the reason why I started the hustle to begin with.

When I transitioned from project management to photography, my full time job with Focus Lab went to only 20 hours a month. I had plenty of personal time, and little street cred. With no leads, and little family responsibility — this was the time to hustle to build brand awareness: I want to be able to support my family through my work afterall. I started personal projects, writing daily for blog purposes, and posted daily on Instagram. Then little victories started happening. Little features here and there, a trickle of a lead or two, increased followers… the hustle was paying off and my motivation went kicking into high gear.

Eventually my hours at Focus Lab picked up and I generally had a freelance client each month. I wanted to keep my social presence on the uptick and personal projects moving forward, but my time for them decreased. I was at a crossroad. Unfortunately emotions dictated which direction I took.

Emotions, man. They’re pretty damn persuasive. As the pings of affirmations rolled in, milestones crossed, industry cred rose … I wasn’t about to slow the momentum. Sad to say, there were many times where my kids begged me to put down the phone, to close the computer, or not go to the shoot. Friends asked me to celebrate birthdays, called me to share hard news — calls that I ignored and events I dismissed. I discovered that it was easier to work than to build and invest into relationships. Hustling become my best friend.

Work never failed to have something for me to do. It rarely ever put me in an awkward conversation, and always pushed me forward bettering my craft. As public attention increased, so did my sense of self perception. Have you ever heard this theory: Our perception of self is the summation of what we think others think of ourselves. I fully believe this is our default mindset, and understanding so explains why it was so hard for me to slow down my hustle. The postive affirmation built up my self-esteem. Eventually, though, the climb slowed. Hello plateau; heya loneliness. This became another motivator — to dig deeper and work more. But at what expense?

We all have finite resources — time being the chief among them. Everytime I said yes to work, I said no to something else often tapping into reservoirs of time reserved for self care, kids, friends. And when I did say yes, I was often distracted or I truncated the time to get back to what I really wanted to do — work. But when the things to celebrate in my career slowed, the influx of audience dwindled I looked around to family and friends and realized that I’ve no-ed them away. Spoiler: I got lonely and depressed. My hustling became an exclusive thing, hurting those closest to me and deteriorating my capability to relate to them. Oddly though, time stealing is not the only way hustling can hurt us.

Going back into my definition of hustling: an unceasing effort of forcefully pushing something in a direction — what if the direction is the wrong way? You see while I was posting photos, or writing content I looked to see what was getting the most favorable responses. But — what if that wasn’t what I wanted or meant to create? The insatiable desire for more success drove me to produce what I thought would garner the most results. So not only was I lonely and depressed, I become creatively stagnate.

Lastly affirmation, milestones, leads were never enough. I would attain a milestone and then quickly formed another. There’s a saying: if you’re not growing then you’re dying. Therefore I thought my presence had to increase, my network become wider, my checkbook become fatter but frankly that’s exhausting. If you’re keeping track of the piling emotions, I have another one to add: unsatisfied.

In summation — Because of insecurity and low self esteem hustling hurt me by:

  1. Taking time from the reservoir meant for self care and others
  2. Took me down a creative trajectory I wasn’t meant to go
  3. Having limitless milestones which made me exhausted
  4. Distracting me from dealing with my emotional wounds

Leading me to feel lonely, depressed, creatively stagnate, and unsatisfied.

While I started in control, eventually Hustling took over and I was being led by it.

Thankfully this is where the story turns around. Just like the internet is full of memes of squirrels and cats, it’s too brimming with self-development content. My boss, Erik Reagan shared a EntreLeadership podcast episode that resonated with me. The episode was covering a book that was just released “Breaking Busy.” I listened intently to the interviewer and the author, Ali Worthington, chat about the book. The intro story was much like my attempted grocery shoplifting, however the Ali was traveling out of a state to a conference. It was an ungodly time in the morning and her staying up late and waking up early pattern finally got to her — she feel asleep in the tram on the way to the airport. Once the tram scuttled to a stop, Ali woke abruptly and then sped to her check in. She looked around for her phone but couldn’t find it. Thinking she left it on the tram, Ali asked the couple in front of her if she could use their phone to ring hers to see if someone would pick it up. With the couple’s phone to her ear, waiting on the ring she heard it: twice. Once in her ear, the second time in her bra. Ali, like me, were so busy that things started blurring together. Naturally her experience resonated with me. I quickly bought her book, and also started transparent dialogues with the handful of creative entrepreneur friends I had.

My first shift was mental: replacing hustle with productivity.

Hustle leads a person vice versely the person leads Productivity.

I define Productivity as making the most of the time you have. We still want forward momentum in our business and personal brand growth but it’s done with an overall contentment of what we’ve achieved and where we’re headed. Because steps are measured, progress may seem slower.

Productivity is:

  • a respecter of priorities
  • efficient
  • effective

Here are few things I did to amp up my productivity:

First I wrote down my priorities. It sounds silly, almost as if we all know our priorities intrinsically. Until you try to write them down. Sure the first few might be easy to list in order — Faith, Spouse, Kids — how do you prioritize career, friends, hobbies? Where’s self care?

Next time-diary the hell out of yourself for a week. How do you spend your time? From morning to night, log every minute. It’s annoying but by the end of it, it’s telling. When I did this exercise I noticed that generally my time splits aligned with my priorities, but I felt that how I spent my work time was very fractured. I quickly realized that I needed to prioritize my career.

When I did the time-dairy I was

  1. Instagramming daily
  2. working at an agency creating lifestyle imagery
  3. Freelancing
  4. creating stock photography
  5. dabbling in still life photography
  6. teaching photography through broadcasts, workshops, articles
  7. writing talks about general obstacles we creatives have
  8. mentoring creatives

I loved all these, for different reasons — BUT — What priority should those things have?

A friend of mine encouraged me to do prayerfully sit down for 30 mins to an hour and write down the victories and events that I was most proud and satisfied by during the previous 3 or so years. Frankly I thought the exercise would reveal specific images created or clients I’ve worked with — but it wasn’t. I was surprised to find that my main points of satisfaction were actually the things I had lowest on my career priority list — helping, mentoring, encouraging people.

With my newly informed, and more detailed list in hand I started pruning my efforts. The 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle states that 80% of the outcomes comes from 20% of the causes. To say it more in my language — 80% of the fruit comes from 20% of the effort. I had a lot of work to do to trim down my efforts.

I analyzed each item I was doing and weighed it against the potential fruit. My goal wasn’t to make money anymore, it was to increase my audience and reach. Though it was emotionally hard freelancing and stock photography got cut. Unless the collaboration helps put my name in a wider audience, it doesn’t align with my end goal of helping others. Instagram posts pivoted to teaching about photography, or dealing with creative myths head-on. Working at the agency is a huge priority, as their support fuels my ability to help others in sponsoring my workshops, articles, and future broadcasts.

Armed with specific career-oriented priorities, understanding my time availability, it was time to create a time-blocked schedule. Understanding it may flux to meet daily needs, in general it can be reoccurring. I have social, agency, teaching, family, and friend time blocks. To keep the blocks on track, I have them written out on a calendar. During each block, I restrict the use of social media to ensure I stay on track. Currently my favorite is the Freedom app, which allows you to create recurring blacklist sessions on all your iOS devices and Computers.

Now I own my time. Each hour is more effective and aligns with where I want my career to go. I have time to spend with friends, invest in others, and most importantly myself. While forward progress does seems slower, my chances of paying for groceries before I leave the store has drastically increased.

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