From Frenzy to Focus: Therapist Alicia Johnson On How We Can Cancel Hustle Culture And Create A New Sustainable Work Paradigm

An Interview With Drew Gerber

Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity
Authority Magazine

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Do one small thing a day that is just for you. Not because you have to or because your job or family needs it. Something just because you want to. It can be as small and quick as taking a few deep breaths before you go to work. It can be blasting your favorite song on your way home. Anything!

“Hustle Culture” is an ethos often propounded by young self-proclaimed internet gurus that centers around the idea that working long hours and sacrificing self-care are required to succeed. This mentality may have gained popularity in the mid-2010s, but it has peaked, and now it has been sardonically renamed “Burnout Culture.” So why exactly is Hustle Culture the wrong path to take? What damage can it cause? What is a viable, sustainable alternative to hustle culture? How can we move from Frenzy To Focus? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, mental health leaders, marketing experts, business coaches, authors, and thought leaders who can share stories and insights about “How We Can Cancel Hustle Culture And Create A New Sustainable Work Paradigm.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alicia Johnson.

Alicia Johnson is a licensed therapist and coach who helps women find meaningful balance in their lives and at work. She has a successful online business where she helps other women and entrepreneurs tackle imposter syndrome and feel confident in the work they do. She believes you can prioritize yourself and still be successful.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

I grew up very achievement oriented where I got a lot of my identity from getting good grades in school and having big academic goals. I took advanced classes and was always thinking about what career I would want when I grow up. I explored a lot of my hobbies and interests to see what I could be successful in. My family was always supportive of whatever adventure I was interested in and just wanted me to be happy. Our brains can do silly things at times so even though my family was unconditionally supportive, I put this pressure on myself to be perfect and successful. This hustle mentality followed me throughout college and my early career and eventually led to be getting burned out and almost leaving my field. I knew something had to change and now I am on the path of balance while still being successful!

Tell us about your typical day!

I run a virtual private practice for therapy and coaching so I get full control over my schedule. I start off my mornings going slow. My brain is not fully awake in the morning so I use this time to enjoy coffee, cuddle with my cat, and catch up on some tv shows. Then I go to my office and do the lighter, organizing tasks. This may be emails, spreadsheets, cleaning the office, etc. Sometimes, I try to fit in some yoga before work! Then, I typically have 2–4 clients a day. On my lighter caseload days, I do a lot of work towards my other projects, and on my higher caseload days, I just focus on seeing clients and paperwork. During the day, it is important for me to go on a midday walk. It helps break up my day and helps prevent me from getting sleepy around 2pm. Then after work, I enjoy dinner with my partner and we watch game shows for a little bit to unwind. Then we play games, go for walks, or do something creative/playful. Then I do my nighttime routine of getting ready for bed, practicing gratitude, planning for tomorrow, and watching more tv.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

Don’t lose the playful and silly version of you. Since I was so focused on grades and success, I often ignored being silly and goofy and playful. I was studying, volunteering, working, etc. I lost interest in hobbies and didn’t prioritize play. In my mind, in order to be successful, I had to be serious all the time. It took years to find the silly, youthful, playful version of me and invite her to be an equally important character to my success.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s start with a basic definition to make sure that all of us are on the same page. How do you define Hustle Culture?

Hustle culture to me is the idea that we have to sacrifice all of ourselves to our jobs in order to be successful and get ahead in our careers. It means sacrificing our boundaries for our jobs. It means prioritizing work over everything else in our life. It means giving 100 percent of ourselves to often crappy jobs that don’t give back to us.

Now let’s discuss an alternative to Hustle Culture. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the problems that come with Hustle Culture?

I am a mental health therapist that specializes in burnout. As a previously burned out therapist, I thought it was all my fault and that I wasn’t good enough for the field. Then, when I made some huge changes but still stayed in the mental health field, I realized it wasn’t my fault and it was due to the society pressure of hustle culture that was impacting my mental health. Now, I work with others who experience similar things and the common theme is hustle culture and the messages we get from society.

The specific term “Hustle Culture” may have been popularized in the 2010s, but the concept behind it and the behaviors that come with it can be traced back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years. From your vantage point, experience, or research, what were the main drivers of Hustle Culture?

Power. Hustle culture in some form or another always benefits the people in power. We get told as new employees in our field that we have to intern for free or work long hours so we can move ahead. Guess who benefits from that? The upper management who exploit new and young workers. There have always been power dynamics when we think of working and exploiting people. Our society makes up these justifications to keep lower power people working long hours, low pay, and taking advantage of them while the higher power people get more time, flexibility, and money.

I work in the marketing industry, and so I’m very cognizant of this question. What role do you see that marketing and advertising has played in creating the frenzy caused by Hustle Culture that many of us feel?

From a therapist standpoint, I am always mindful of the language we use because that impacts how we think. So in terms of marketing and advertising, I am sure there are messages about what success looks like, how to work hard and push through, quick easy fixes, and all of that. I don’t think it is fair to blame those advertisements and marketing since they often reflect the messages set from the dominant belief group, but it would be interesting to see more ads about quitting toxic jobs, having healthy balances when we get home, having a life outside of work, stuff like that.

Can you help articulate the downsides of Hustle Culture? Why is this an unsustainable work paradigm?

It leads to burnout and even a loss of identity. Starting with burnout, if we constantly pour into our jobs and make that a priority all the time, we will eventually run out and have an empty cup. I am not saying we shouldn’t ever work hard, but hustle culture is all about pushing through all the time and never caring for the other parts of ourselves. That just isn’t sustainable long term. It impacts our mental health and we can get depressed or anxious or burned out. That then impacts our work and it’s a vicious cycle. Not to mention how it impacts our relationships, time for hobbies, and sense of self.

What I mean by loss of identity is that many of us view our identity as what we do. Whenever we meet someone new, that’s one of the first things we ask. We spend so much of our time at work, it makes sense that is what we start to identify with. Well, that can lead to erasing other important parts of ourselves. If we only focus on the work aspect of our life, we may not make time for hobbies, friends, parenting, learning, travel, etc. This can be problematic because if there is ever a problem at work or you decide you want to quit, well if your whole identity is around this job, that can really shake someone at their core and can lead to deeper mental health problems.

Let’s now discuss Focus, the opposite of Frenzy. Can you please share one area of your personal or business life where you simplified things and then felt less frenzied and more fulfilled? Can you please explain?

I love simplifying areas of my life. My motto is work smart not hard. Anywhere I can, personal and at work, I find ways to preserve my energy and work smart. Part of that for me is to create routines around the not so fun parts of my job. Instead of having these daunting tasks follow me around each day that I dread and put off, I make a routine. For example, my paperwork. Instead of constantly putting it on my to-do list and putting it off, I schedule time every week to get it done. During that time, I put on music, grab some coffee, and open up the blinds to look outside. Then I crank out all the paperwork I need to do. I don’t put it off because I know that is the time for it to get done. I also don’t stress about it during the week because I have a dedicated time for it. This frees up my brain to focus on other things about my job that I enjoy doing rather than always worrying about or dreading the not so fun parts.

What life experiences have you adopted in your business or personal life that have left you more satisfied? Can you please explain?

Definitely incorporating joy and play into my every day! Before, I would constantly work work work and then have no time for myself. I was living to work rather than working to live. Now, each day I do something that brings me joy and something that is silly. Sometimes it is small like watching goofy videos while other times it is playing games with friends. By doing that every day it has helped my mental health and made my overall wellness so much better.

Okay, fantastic. Here is the main part of our interview. In your opinion, how can we break the addiction to being busy or trying to find the next big thing? How can people truly focus on tasks that make THE difference to their business and lives giving them satisfaction or life purpose alignment? Based on your experience and your area of expertise, can you please share “Five Ways To Move From Frenzy to Focused”?

1 . Do one small thing a day that is just for you. Not because you have to or because your job or family needs it. Something just because you want to. It can be as small and quick as taking a few deep breaths before you go to work. It can be blasting your favorite song on your way home. Anything!

2 . Have an identity outside of your job. This doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time and energy on this area either, but remember you are a person outside of your job. You have other interests, skills, strengths, and likes. Just remembering this can be enough challenge hustle culture. Bonus points if you are able to do something intentionally each week or month to strengthen that aspect of your identity.

3 . Start small. If you’ve noticed my language, I give a lot of small, tangible examples because change is freaking hard. It can be overwhelming to go from working as number one priority to suddenly taking a ton of time for yourself. We can feel guilty or weird during this change. So start small! Start with getting a few minutes a day for yourself or start by saying no to something small. You don’t have to jump into the deep end right away!

4 . Slow down. So much of frenzy and hustle culture is about being on autopilot and just getting stuff done. With focus comes being intentional. Slow things down and it becomes a lot easier to not get swept away with what we should be doing or what others want. With a slow, clear mind, we can think about what we want and if we are living and working within our values.

5 . Ask for help. I think a lot of hustle culture also implies that we have to do things alone otherwise we are weak, and that is totally wrong. Ask your managers and colleagues for support. If that isn’t safe, talk to friends or get a therapist where you can get support with the mental load. You don’t have to do these things alone.

How would you describe a work paradigm that is a viable alternative to Hustle Culture? What would it look like, and what would you call it?

Balance is the first thing that comes to mind. I know in the burnout world, that word can be controversial but hear me out. Balance takes effort. If you’ve ever done yoga and tried to balance on one leg, that takes work in the beginning. Then over time, it gets easier to balance on one leg. Same with riding a bike. We have to learn when to lean one way and the other and over time it gets easier. Work life balance is the same. Also, a work life balance doesn’t mean we can’t work hard. I run my own business. There are times I am working 60 plus weeks. However, I am always intentional about when I am working those long weeks, I have a vacation coming up or I get to take long weekend breaks to recharge. Even during my busy weeks, I am still doing things for me like walking, connecting with nature, being social with friends, and cuddling my cat. Balance means I prioritize the important things such as traveling with my partner and friends (and then working enough to make sure I can afford it). It means engaging in hobbies and taking breaks and having fun. It is a lot of back and forth and reflection and making sure I am never leaning too far into work for too long.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you about working differently?

Yes! The book BURNOUT: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. Game changer!!
Also, the book How to Keep House While Drowning by KC David. A must read for all tired, burned out moms.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can inspire.

Honestly, what this whole article is about, tackling hustle culture. I wish everyone could get some sort of career coaching that helps them work on their goals while also prioritizing their mental health. Not through the company though, like an actual counselor that will help people find their confidence, meaning, and values so people can set boundaries and leave toxic work places.

Oh and not having unpaid internships. That is a way to exploit new workers and we need to do better. People have bills to pay and their time is valuable.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

I have my website, www.aliciarjohnson.com where people can see all my workbooks and courses about burnout, content marking, success as entrepreneurs, and more.

You can also find me on instagram at handle @aliciajohnsonlmft

Make sure to sign up for my newsletter where you get monthly free resources sent to your inbox!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world. Schedule a free consultation at WasabiPublicity.com/Choosing-Publicity.

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Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity
Authority Magazine

For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world