Stop Treating Hustle and Overworking As A Badge of Honor
“If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.” I was reading Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future and blinked and reread the proof of Elon’s working ethic. His success and contribution to the aerospace industry, business, and global warming are evident and impressive and I will always admire his ambition. But I can’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable how entrepreneurs like him, the modern day startupbros, and #Girlbawse, fetishizes working beyond office hours. Don’t get me wrong — I know hard work is the foundation of being successful, but making this unhealthy working ethic as the only way to guarantee success is just problematic. Here’s a PSA: office politics, structural barriers, and societal inequality don’t just disappear when you just work hard and call it passion or hustle.
In this millennial social justice era and looming entrepreneurial boom, posts and quotes about hustling 18-hours a day and #gettingit are glorified as much as the women empowerment movement. I’m not objecting, I myself enjoy a motivational quote and a reminder that I should work harder because I can’t live from paycheck to paycheck forever. I am also grateful that people are acknowledging that I could have big and impressive titles in the corporate world even I don’t see stay-at-home-mom any less hard working when I look at my grandmother. My problem is, even I consider myself as an ambitious person, I’m troubled that this hustle hysteria, besides being class-deaf, is overamplified to the point of being condescending. Having the same work-input with a person who inherited a business or financial security from his dad won’t give every person in the world the same outcome. It would help build a terrific working ethic, but it doesn’t guarantee a career advancement, salary increase, and more sales unless packaged with privilege, right skills, resources, and network.
I am not objecting to working hard, I want to question how we see working constantly as a mirror of worthiness. Some people are so passionate at their job they don’t feel bad working in the wee hours of the morning. If you are that person, congratulations! Some people feel absolutely sorry for themselves for working extra hours with little to no compensation — and that doesn’t mean they are a leech. Finding the work to the point of exhaustion narrative admirable is tolerable since we have our personal choices and opinions on service, but don’t assume everyone does think the same. #GettingIt by cracking the whip and forcing this idea of productivity to your subordinates, friends, or family is utterly inconsiderate. Having a life outside of work while we’re still debating the possibility of work-life balance is more aspirational to common folks.
Of course, it’s different for first-time employees and for workers in the non-corporate setting. Complaining about working constantly isn’t really an option. When you’re young, you can work relentlessly and recover quicker. As a young professional, you need to impress your co-workers, earn a reputation, and gain a ‘street cred’ so you can build a strong foundation of work ethic, humility, and patience. For people in the non-corporate setting, retail, domestic, and etc., it is just something they have to do because it is the nature of their job — their ‘hustle’ is deglamorized, overlooked, and underrated. Their narratives are excluded in this exaggerated startup grind millennials are gushing over.
Sure, this mindset gives a call to action for productivity for the masses and the tenacity to want something ‘better’ for everyone’s current situations. Yes, I would conform to this hustle and bustle because I want to think that I would be in a better place if I work hard and because it’s something to look forward to. But I certainly do not appreciate people who lament over the fact that I cannot do it 24/7 because I have other things to attend to. It’s also insensitive to send a petty level of judgment towards people who can’t or don’t work as much and from folks whose narratives are excluded.
Let’s all be realistic here, working beyond ‘office hours’ could be a badge of honor for a CEO but could be a hedge against feeling stuck and fearing of not working enough to make ends meet for an employee or domestic worker. The effort, passion, and hard work are recognized and not invalidated to any extent, but it doesn’t necessarily make any person better than everyone. Do not shame a person who doesn’t want to conform to your self-aspirational work ethic. Do not challenge them to get to your level. Your hustle and overworking is not a badge of virtue.