First off, hustle is not hard work. Let’s get that out of the way. Hard work isn’t optional for creatives. Neither is hustle a commitment to being our best selves or realizing our biggest dreams. In fact, I think hustle stands in the way of both of those goals. That’s because hustle comes from a place of ego and at its core is really the endless pursuit of external signs of achievement and approval.
Let me clarify. I’m not saying that hustling can’t serve a purpose. There is a season for everything, and maybe you’re in a season where you need to hustle for a while. I’ve been there. I’ve been a freelance writer since 2002, and I have often needed to hustle to find work. I’ve noticed though that while hustle may make me feel productive it does not necessarily equal satisfaction or actual progress toward reaching a dream or goal if there isn’t also some awareness associated with it. But more on that later.
Maybe though hustle is where most of us need to start. In his book Falling Upward Franciscan monk and author Richard Rohr talks about the first and second halves of life. In the first half of life, we are mostly building our ego, our identity, says Rohr. We are focused on questions like “How will I survive?” and “Where do I belong?” We are building families and careers, necessary work that often takes a bit of hustling to sustain.
In the second half of life though, we can start to move beyond hustling for survival and start to ask deeper questions. As poet Mary Oliver says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” You will never be able to find the answer to that kind of question by hustling for it.
So, what I’m suggesting is that creatives especially need to stop treating hustle as the end game and recognize its limitations. Hustle can be a small percentage of what it means to earn a living in a creative field, but hustle is a short-term tool at best. Hustle might help us break through from one level to the next, but it will never, ever be what helps us realize big-picture dreams. And it is certainly not a healthy, wise, or sustainable way to live and create long term.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brenee Brown says that her research into vulnerability links hustling with perfectionism. “Healthy striving is self focused. ‘How can I improve?’ Perfectionism is other-focused. ‘What will they think?’ Perfectionism is a hustle.” And that hustle, Brown says, is exhausting.
But maybe that’s hustle’s real purpose — to bring us to the end of our belief that we have to (or even can) control everything. Eventually, if we hustle enough, then we run out of energy or passion or steam or resources. Or we find that the outcomes of our hustle aren’t as satisfying or as beautiful as we’d hoped for. Then we are finally forced to find a better way to create and do life, to start asking better questions, and to measure success by a different metric.
In spiritual terms, hustle is a symptom of our ego’s relentless need for attention and approval. Hustle comes from a belief in scarcity instead of abundance. It’s the fear of missing out or not being special enough to matter. When we create from that mindset, we’ll never be satisfied, and we’ll never achieve our best work. Instead, we’ll stay trapped in small, safe thinking that protects our image and never risks being real or vulnerable. Worse, we’ll never appreciate the true joy of creating — the journey and process itself.
So. Where are you hustling? Are you ready to start thinking bigger? Are you ready to quit chasing after approval and learn to embrace your truest, most creative self? I know I am.
I’m dedicating 2019 to learning how to bring better awareness to my creative process as a writer, to going deeper than a hustle for survival to the heart of my one wild and precious life. I think it’s some of the most meaningful and necessary work we can do to help make our world better.
I’ll be posting about that process here on Medium starting in January. I hope you’ll join me on the journey! In the meantime, you can expect more posts like this one on awareness, mindfulness, and building a more sustainable, satisfying, productive, and creative life.
Thanks for reading —