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Against “Hustle”

At some point it became fashionable for entrepreneurs to “hustle.” There are podcasts, and blogs, and books, all proudly proclaiming that they are about “hustling.”

Call me old-fashioned, or boring: I don’t like it.

I’ll spare you the Webster’s dictionary meaning of the word. I guess all that really matters is what it means to the people who say it, and those who hear it.

To me, when I picture people hustling, I picture them moving in a sloppy or harried manner. I picture energy being wasted in a histrionic attempt to draw attention to oneself.

This drives right to a big problem in entrepreneurship. When someone claims he’s hustling, he gives himself a sense of personal satisfaction. That sense of satisfaction can fool himself, and others, into thinking he’s actually doing something.

It’s like wearing the label of “entrepreneur,” and feeling accomplished for it, the same way you might feel cool by telling the bouncer that you’re “with the band.” You didn’t do anything. You didn’t earn it. But, it feels good.

Rather than say that we’re “hustling,” how about we say we’re deliberately and methodically discovering and pursuing what we can offer the world?

Okay, so that doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

Hustling also conjures up criminal images. I picture the entrepreneur, crowded in a circle in a back alley, rolling dice. Perhaps busting someone up for not paying up at the end of the game.

It’s entirely possible to make a comfortable living in a completely honest manner—to not have to bust someone up to get them to pay, but to have them actually be happy to give you money for your product or service.

Why would you would want to connote that you have somehow coerced, deceived, or cajoled others into giving you money? I don’t know.

When I see someone proclaim that they are “hustling,” I really just feel bad for them. They’ve gotten sucked into the chest-puffing posture so prevalent in entrepreneurship today. Everything needs to have a violent our tough connotation to it. You’re hustling. You’re crushing it. You’re even killing it.

I believe it’s all just a shell. Underneath that shell, besides a vast pocket of air, is just another scared human, searching for meaning in the world.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with it. We all have faked a little extra self-confidence now and then. Sometimes, it actually works, and we grow to fill our shell.

And I can appreciate that making something that matters in this world is really, extremely, unbelievably hard. Maybe saying you’re “hustling,” helps you withstand it all.

I guess I’ve worn that shell enough times, and I don’t want to wear it again. Maybe I just want different things, since I’ll never be a billionaire.

But it seems if we would all just stop proclaiming that we’re hustling, the world would be a much better place. We’d stop living in fantasy versions of ourselves. We might actually overcome our insecurities and fears of realizing that each of us is just another mortal being.

We might look forward to the discomfort of pushing against our hard-wired desires to be sedentary, and we might take pleasure in honest, challenging work. Our feet would remain on solid ground, with no shell to protect us from the elements. Maybe we could plant something there, and watch it grow.



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David Kadavy

David Kadavy

Author, ‘Mind Management, Not Time Management’ https://amzn.to/3p5xpcV Former design & productivity advisor to Timeful (Google acq’d).