The first time I can recall hearing the word “hustle” in any capacity was likely in middle or high school when a teacher was urging her students to hurry up and get to class, and the term sounded vaguely out of date. I again recall hearing the word “hustler” in Beyoncé’s song “Diva” in which she sings “Na-na-na, diva is a female version of a hustla,” indicating a subtle hint at gender bias and how we perceive hardworking women and men differently. Merriam-Webster defines the term hustle as a “readiness to engage in daring or difficult activity” or “to devote serious and sustained effort.” We can gather that this means a person who is hustling is someone who is working hard and putting in the required amount of work, if not more, to achieve a specific goal.
Within the last few years, the term hustle has risen to new heights with the help of millenials and Gen Z in particular. Hustling is not something you do to rush to class or to finish an assignment, but rather a state of mind. It has inspired a younger generation to put in the work and set out to achieve their dreams, whether it be finishing a degree, getting a job, starting their business or generally making more money. This is where terms like “side hustle” deviate from the original form, instead referring to an additional form of income through small jobs and opportunities in addition to whatever it is one does full time.
There are mixed feelings and opinions that surround hustle culture, many of which I agree with. Yes, I do find it has been encouraging people around my age to work hard, but I also feel as though it breeds competitiveness and heightens a performative aspect of being obsessed with work.
It’s one thing to hustle, which is a conversation in and of itself, but it’s another thing to be a part of hustle culture. In my opinion, it’s something that defines not just a generation but individuals and their lives. You wake up at 5:30 a.m., work out, do your journaling, write 10 pages of your novel, make breakfast, drink your coffee or green juice, get dressed, work your 9-to-5 job, come home and work on your side business and then go to sleep. Every person who is hustling has some routine that is a variation of this, and it’s likely more intense than the one described above.
The issue is it isn’t just one day, but everyday. While routine can oftentimes be the foundation for creativity and success, hustle culture is different in that the routine itself is defined by grit and struggle. We believe it’s supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to be exhausted. Everyday is supposed to be defined by “the grind.”
In the midst of all of this, I find it’s important to ask how much of the hustle is genuine and how much is performative. Though I am sure there are people who enjoy the hustle and find the value in it in their everyday lives, I think Gen Z in particular is becoming heavily influenced by this mentality in a negative manner. Hustling is not synonymous with living a life defined by work and constant toil, but it can quickly spiral into that mindset if you don’t take care of yourself and set boundaries. This feels hypocritical coming from myself, who has tried and failed to heed my own advice, but perhaps because of this, I know how important it is.
Yes, you can work hard, and you can even do it every day of your life if that’s truly the lifestyle you want to live. I hope you eventually find the results you’re in search of or achieve the success you deserve. I also think younger people, especially those graduating college and entering the workforce, who will inevitably feel obligated to hustle, should remember they’re allowed to pause and take a breath. You can stop and enjoy your life.
Graduation at NC State is in one month. I’ll be trying to write final papers and wrap up on finals before then. I’m also bearing the pressing burden of trying to secure a job, in a pandemic, that I’ll truly enjoy. Every now and then, I will convince myself that I’m defined by these successes and failures. Through all of this, I have to remind myself that these times in our lives are not forever. We get a pass to pause and enjoy these moments because it won’t last. You don’t have to hustle through it. You just have to be in the here and now and enjoy it.