‘I work therefore I am’: how hustle culture is eating up our lives

Maliha Shoaib, BA English and World Philosophies

“If your work does not reflect your primary purpose for existing, then you are shunned as unsuccessful, or worse, unambitious.”

Welcome to your future: the race to success. The stakes are high. Fuelled by the double espressos that run through your veins, you’re ready to chase after your dreams and make something of yourself. We’ve all been warned that if we want to chase our dreams, we should expect to fall at some point – but when our culture glorifies the fall as ‘hustle’, sometimes it’s difficult to get back up.

As students, we feel the pressure to step out into the real world with a game plan that maps out how we plan to build a successful career within the next five years. But in the era of the girl boss and social media hustle culture, we are not expected to simply work hard in order to enjoy a fulfilling career. Instead, we are expected to submit to our jobs, to sacrifice parts of our lives – our very being – in order to get ahead. We have been conditioned to believe that we must always strive to do better, to be better – and, above all, to enjoy the masochistic ‘hustle’ in the process. 

We endure the so-called ‘hustle’ because we believe that all our suffering will be worth it in the end when we finally grasp our ‘dream job’ and reach the peak of our existence as adults. Parents, teachers, and the media alike have whispered the seductive suggestion that we can (and should) build a career from our passions. This is the secret to fulfilment. Yet, this often-toxic mindset privileges ‘careers’ over ‘jobs’, and creates a classist paradigm of what a successful life looks like. If your work does not reflect your primary purpose for existing, then you are shunned as unsuccessful, or worse, unambitious. 

But chasing your dreams can go one of two ways: either you begin to resent the things that once gave you purpose, or you start to find it difficult to see where work ends and your life begins. By viewing all hobbies as career prospects, and monetising all our favourite parts of ourselves, we run the risk of becoming our jobs. We are told, ‘if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life’. In reality, if you love what you do, you will work every day of your life. It becomes far too easy to convince yourself to stay up a little bit later, to cancel on another friend, to make another meal of protein bars. If you love your work more than you love every other aspect of your life, it begins to consume these other parts until nothing is left. And even still, no matter how healthy your work-life balance is, a job can never love you back.

In fact, the nature of our ‘hustle’ begins to shift: exhaustion is no longer a side-effect, but rather the end goal. Here lies the danger of the hustle: seeing fulfilment in exhaustion and struggle can push us to sacrifice our health and parade it as a status symbol of success. We internalise a culture of hyper-productivity to the point where we treat ourselves the way a demanding boss would, self-regulating to our own detriment. Behind the humble-brags about losing sleep or our crazy work hours lies the burden of stress, anxiety, illness, and burnout – all which ironically decrease productivity. We sell our sanity and perform unrealistic work standards to achieve the respect that comes with the ‘hustle’. To exist we must strive for greatness; to achieve greatness we must break ourselves in the process. 

The solution? Set boundaries and stick to them. A good job is like a good relationship: it should push you to be better, it should inspire you, it should make you happy – but if it begins to take over your life, or affect your other relationships or your health, it can become toxic very quickly. As we step forward into the working world, it is important to resist equating our worth with our future careers. Our jobs should add to our lives – not take away from them. Only then can we ensure that we love ourselves more than we love the ‘hustle’. 


Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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