As a millennial, I live largely in a permission-less world.
The generations before us had to seek and ask permission. Knowledge was locked away in books, reserved for a certain minority. The only media was the mass media, who dictated what to disseminate.
You were given a role. You played that role. You were rewarded accordingly.
Today, we have more freedom. If we wish to learn something, we can find it with a click of a button. If we’re given one side of the argument, we can seek the other side of it with a swipe of a finger. We have access to almost everything we want, and a lot of what we don’t.
As a millennial, I consider myself lucky; proud to live in the age we do. I certainly have more chance of opportunity than most people throughout history have. Of course, none of this guarantees me success. Opportunity is what it is. You still need to make it happen. Onus remains on you.
If you want something, you must earn it.
Which is where the issue lies, because this millennial opportunity is both a gift and a curse.
The worst word in the English language?
Is there a more misunderstood word?
Defined as “a state of great activity”, it’s a word rooted into the hustle and bustle of busy cities, frantic workplaces, and nightmare commutes.
Yet in today’s fast-paced world where anyone can be an entrepreneur, celebrity, or ‘success story’, it’s more associated with the philosophy of ‘work hard now so you can play hard later’.
Now, I’m not adverse to hard work, and I appreciate how hard you have to work to create a successful business (or build a successful career). You need to put in the hours, be unique, and place your best foot forward at all times.
As such I have no issue with the notion of ‘hustling’ to move the chains and make something happen. Yet this isn’t what I see. Instead, I see a generation of people subscribe to the glorified version of hustling for hustling’s sake.
They post a status about how they have worked an eighteen-hour day, and that tomorrow holds the same #hustle.
They upload a picture at 3am, gloating about how they are still hard at work #hustle.
They beam about their long to-do list, and how many things they have got through today #hustle.
They focus on how hard they work, but I know ZERO successful people who take pride in how hard they work. No, those at the top of their game don’t give a shit about how hard they work… instead they pride themselves on how smart they work.
If that requires long days and the occasional all-nighter, so be it.
But if this allows them to only work four or five hours, and take long trips to exotic lands, great.
They work smart, not hard.
They don’t commit to hustling as though it’s some kind of religion.
They get to work and they focus on what they need to do. That’s it. They commit to success; their success. Hustling doesn’t come into the equation, yet it’s the term you will see most hungry go-getters use on a daily basis.
A badge of honour, if you will. A form of validation.
Quite simply, a search for permission.
The worst part is, I do all this myself…
I’m speaking to myself right now, too.
I’m guilty of all this.
I find myself feeling guilty when I finish a little earlier than I expected.
I scroll through Facebook and spot someone I admire talking about what they have done or achieved, and blast myself for not working harder.
I could post more. I could work more. I could do more.
Yet all I’m doing is comparing myself to someone else. Worse than this, I’m comparing myself to a version of themselves that they choose to share, which in most cases does not tell the whole story.
You and me have something in common, you see. We’re both human.
Those people we admire and are in awe of… yep, you guessed it, they are human too.
They feel. They worry. They more than likely compare themselves to others, and beat themselves up over not working harder, longer, or doing more than they could do.
You can relate to me right now, yes?
You have slipped into a low state before, as you question whether you could do more, right?
In fact, you have more than likely done it at some point today.
We’re lost in this nonsense that hustle brings to the table. We’re delusional, wondering that if we work hard enough, it will bring everything we desire and more.
Yet hustling is not a goal. It is not something to strive for.
It’s a byproduct of what you have to do on occasion, and it’s no more magnificent than hiring someone, having a meeting, writing a business plan, or visiting your bank manager (all byproducts of success and growth, and the pursuit of such).
The byproduct of hustle.
Slipping into ‘hustle mode’ isn’t without danger. It isn’t some harmless mistake everyone must make. It doesn’t come and go. It leaves a mark. It wounds you.
It’s a fast-track to depression, another subject us millennials are more aware of than any other generation before us.
When I wrote ‘The Successful Mistake’, I met people who suffered at hustle’s hands.
Ari Meisel worked long hours, smoked a pack a day, and ate terrible food. It left him Crohn’s disease and a life in turmoil.
Chris Cerrone worked himself into a frenzy, and into the doctor’s office where he learned how stressed, dehydrated, and ‘burnt-out ‘ he was.
Jenny Blake suffered a similar fate while she worked at Google.
There’ no glory in it. There is no award given to the person who works the hardest. History doesn’t remember the guy who pushes himself to the limit. They won’t tell stories about the girl who worked the most all-nighters.
We don’t give a shit about these people. We don’t remember them.
Those we remember, idolise, and share tales about are those who leave a meaningful impact. They make change. They work smart; so smart that they innovate and change the world for the better.
Don’t hustle… do this instead.
There is no glory in the hustle.
So if you find yourself working harder-and-harder in the hope it will make a difference — or you scroll through your phone in envy as you compare yourself to one person after another — you are not alone.
The gift of opportunity that us millennials are given offers a curse of equal weight.
We have access to everything, meaning we can learn, do, and be anything we want to be. Yet we also have access to everything (and everyone), meaning it’s easy to lose yourself in the chaos and turn a deeper shade of green each day.
You are not alone. I feel the same pain as you. I imagine you’re surrounded by people who feel the same (although few may never let you know it).
So if hustling isn’t the answer, what is?
You must begin with you.
Those who hustle for the sake of hustling (hoping it will lead somewhere great) are those who are unhappy with who they are. They are yet to accept themselves. They haven’t discovered what their purpose or meaning is.
These people may have money. They have lots of “stuff”. They may, for the most part, be happy.
Yet their obsession with the ‘hustle’ tells me they are searching for something more.
But they won’t find it by working harder.
The only way you will is to get smart and figure out who you are and what your bring to the table (and when I say table, I mean that big one that we call life).
I’m still figuring mine out. I’m still searching. I still slip into ‘work hard’ mode on occasion, in the hope it will help. I still compare myself to others. Some days I’m greener than other days.
I question myself. Sometimes I cry because it all gets too much.
I’m a millennial with the world at my feet, but I also have every ounce of that world’s gravity weighing down my shoulders.
We won’t overcome it with force.
We won’t overcome it with hustle.
We overcome it by being our best self, our smart self, and our true self.
So the next time you’re envious of those working harder than you, fight the urge. Like you, they are human. They have answers, but not all the answers.
Your answers are yours to find, and you won’t find them at the bottom of your eight coffee at 2:30am.