Sis, Just Start the Business!* (*But Read This First.)

Genetically speaking, our brains weren’t built for hustle culture.

I’m reading this book called Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to The Age of Robots and it says that the basis of human evolution was finding the easiest way to eat and not die trying.

It was a “survival of the fittest” type shit.

“There are also many other species who, like us, seem to spend an awful lot of energy doing work that seems to serve no obvious purpose…” — James Suzman

Scientists also tell me that our ancestors had larger brains that ate up 20% of the energy our body produces on a daily basis, meaning we’d have to consume a lot more to think or do anything. Which was extremely inefficient.

Thus, our “hustle” (if you wanna call it that) as primordial human beings was to invent stuff that allowed us to work less and conserve more. The things we’ve built — spears, huts, ice boxes, guns, and calculators — were created so that we could do less to acquire more of not what we wanted, but what we needed.

That’s the type of efficiency supposedly in our DNA. Somewhere along the timeline, though, we ignored our primal instincts in favor of believing that less work = less significance in life.

Enter hustle culture. Definitely not our ancestors’ wildest dream.

If it were up to our ancestors, we’d do what’s minimally necessary to acquire what is absolutely necessary: food, shelter, safety, and community. That’s it, y’all.

And yet, millennia later, we have Clubhouse career coaches and Instagram memes telling us “Sis, just start the business!” Packed in that sentence is a false sense of what constitutes worth, productivity, and expediency.

Listen, no one is stopping you if you want to start a business. Be a boss babe if you so choose.

I just ask that you read this first to be absolutely clear on the why and the how come.

You work to be purposive, not purposeful.

Damon Young, the genius that he is, described this perfectly: chasing after your dreams, literally or figuratively, is “wrestling a cloud.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream because it sounded poetic. But what he actually had was a lot more tangible: a good explanation for why something didn’t work and a clearly defined solution that was mutually beneficial to all parties involved (himself included).

That sounds a lot less inspirational, but it’s practical. Dr. King and ancestors before us couldn’t survive or succeed working on a whim. They did what they did because it served a useful function and, in most situations, was the path of least resistance towards that function.

I’m not giving a full lecture on all that because I want to keep this short to emphasize this: we’re working with the wrong motivators. We want to give meaning to our lives rather than do something that’s meaningFUL for our species to (continue to) survive.

If food, shelter, safety, and community are the four main components of our existence, what work should we do to preserve them?

Figure that out then apply yourself towards something doing that. That’s the true hustler mentality. Anything else is simply chasing after the wind.

Stop doing the most to achieve the least.

And another thing, it shouldn’t be complicated. Chile, I’m preaching to myself as I’m speaking to you because I want so much in this world to change. And because I feel like it’s not happening fast enough, I pile on my to-do list the absolute most “to ensure” it gets there.

Let me tell you something: the world will always have its poor. That’s not harsh, it’s biblical.

In our well-intentioned desire as socialpreneurs to be the change, we try to force the change by any means necessary. That’s a side effect of desiring meaning vs. something meaningful, and as a result, ends with us doing more harm than good.

Let me put myself out there, as an example. I’ve spent the past four years working to convince people that anyone can be a successful entrepreneur, no matter your education, net worth, or network. And I do that within the context of Africa, probably the continent with governments and powers-that-be who are the most resistant to change.

Have I inspired young people, women, and people living in poverty to propel themselves to excellence through my programs? Yes.

Have I done it using the most effective, time-efficient, and manageable approaches? Not even.

And that leaves many socialpreneurs like myself burnt out, ready to quit because we’ll never become that Forbes 30 Under 30, CNN Heroes, Nobel Peace Prize-winning success story we were hoping to become. Because hustle culture tells us those titles are the only way to know we’re successfully doing what we’re doing.

I’m gradually realizing that (a) I need to check my intentions, and (b) I can accomplish a lot more with a lot less and make a significant impact. I could have produced a lot more adopting just one mentee to coach over the past four years I spent leading workshops for 500+ beneficiaries through my Foundation.

The greater urgency is quality over quantity in doing the work that changes lives.

You don’t deserve rest. You NEED it.

Leisure. THAT was our ancestors’ wildest dream.

I’m not just talking about our enslaved ancestors. I’m talking about the homo erectus and the ancient Israelites and the grandparents-sitting-in-their-rocking-chairs-on-the-porch you see in Hollywood tropes.

Centuries of industrialization, globalization, and straight-up greed (*cough**cough* CAPITALISM) made us forget the primary purpose of work is not more work…it’s REST.

Going back to that book Work, I learned that hunter-gatherers “were usually well-nourished; lived longer…rarely worked more than fifteen hours a week; and spent the bulk of their time at rest and leisure.”

Pray tell, why then do we work 40 hours a week today? Some of us out here working more than our ancestors and are on the brink of starvation.

If we want to be true activists through our work, it must result in ample opportunity to do nothing.

This is neither luxury nor a flex. This is science.

To sum it up, when (or if) you start the business, sis, consider this: are you running the business or is the business running you?

The latter is hustle culture, and that’s not getting you anywhere.

The former is a good place to start, so long as you’re clear on where you’re going.

And if our ancestors are still our guides, it’s should be towards the ability to just BE.

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Seun Shokunbi explores stories of women as power brokers in the political and entrepreneurial arenas of Africa & the African diaspora. These are personal essays that show the journey to combining hustler mentality with social activism.

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Seun Shokunbi

Seun Shokunbi

Seun Shokunbi is a past contributor to Face2Face Africa, and a speaker for TEDx. Learn more at www.itsseunshokunbi.com/bio.

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