I’m hesitant to write any of this down because it unintentionally comes off as pretentious; as though I’ve got it all figured out. I want to start out by saying that is far from the case. This fact can be verified by those around me, the people in my life. My wife has been a big part in shining a light on my blindness in many of these areas, and I think it’s a valuable thing to talk about consistently with her. I repeatedly fall into my own bad habits and need help in exposing those areas and I have her to thank for that primarily.
I think it’s common for us (this may be where some American bias comes in, influencing a great deal of this entire writing) to dwell on success. We think about what that looks like, we daydream about what that feels like, we talk to each other and humblebrag about what we’re doing, how fast we did it, how down-to-the-wire it was to get everything done. We take pride in it all.
It used to be that keeping up with the Joneses simply(?) meant acting on our covetous thoughts and buying things that those around us have, passively undermining their purchase with ours. We continue to deal with that today but on top of that we’ve added “the busyness factor” where we not only need to have “more & bigger” than what the Joneses have, we need to be busier than them.
I cannot count how many conversations (my own included) start with “Things are great we’re just so busy!” which most often turns into a conversation with Penelope in its own way. I don’t know why that is but I often feel compelled to agree with busyness and contribute details about my own. Kids, work, family gatherings, events, parties, vacations, and the list goes on. Our hyper-connected world perpetuates this problem in a big way as well. We’re always shouting to the world about our busyness and in turn (unintentionally?) showing everyone that sees our posts that they should be this busy too or else you’re missing out on life.
Fear of Missing Out
Busyness is one thing, having things to do with your family and those around you can be very good and very healthy for everyone involved. There’s a danger in taking that time for granted, however. Life is literally what you’re doing right now. It’s where you are, it’s who you’re with, it’s the task at hand. That could be work, it could be a concert for your kid, it could be fighting with your spouse. You are not missing out on life, you are living it.
Culture (not necessarily limited to American culture) teaches us that unless we’re doing things that make us crazy busy all the time, that we’re missing out on so much of what life has to offer. There is a (very, very) small grain of truth to that, but like many things in American culture we take it to the extreme. Any moment of “down” time is wasted.
Applying this to work culture: hustling
Being “appropriately” busy when considering work has been labeled hustling and we’re told that hustling is the only way to get things done. I dislike this sentiment. To me every time someone talks about hustling they’re essentially referencing hard work. Maybe calling it hard work isn’t enticing because that means you have to do work. Maybe calling it hustling means that you’re somehow getting around that hard work? Maybe hustling isn’t working hard after all, it’s just brute forcing your endless to-do list. I don’t really know what to make of it but if we take a look at the definition of ‘hustling’ it does a good job of encompassing what I don’t like about it:
To force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction
When we hear people talking about hustling this obviously isn’t what they mean, but this is how it plays out. Why do we gravitate toward this behavior? Why is being told to hustle an acceptable form of business advice? So many times I’ve heard that if you’re not making progress in your business that you can try hustling more, that the more hustle you hustle the more results you get. I disagree with that mentality, I think that beyond hustling there are many other ways to approach business. I think it comes down to how we perceive success.
I want to make it clear that I’m not saying all “hustling” is bad. I just think there is a fine line between working hard and working all the time. Many times when people speak about hustling it’s in the context of working all the time. It’s the ‘all the time’ bit I think is thrown around a bit too often as the one true recipe for success.
What is success?
Defining success is the age old dead horse we continue to beat, but we love talking about how to get there. I think we can concede that a definition of success is perceptive, it’s personal. We say that “success is what you want it to be” right? We quickly run to the philosophical conclusion that success is different for everyone, but for some reason we also agree that the most straightforward path to your unique perception of success is to hustle. It’s unlikely and improbable that although we all have different (but in some ways similar) views on success that we can all take the same exact path to get there: work as hard as you can as much as you can; hustle.
Working hard is awesome, we should all be working hard, absolutely. You can’t argue with that, but you can work (really) hard without hustling. Working smart ties in with that as well; when you’re working hard and working smart you can astound yourself with productivity. For me the danger in this concept of ‘hustling’ is the quantity of work that’s assumed, that you’re only hustling if you’re doing it in every waking moment. That the rest of life will fall into place around your hustling, that you can achieve success after hustling and everything you’re doing will be worth it in the end.
Writing those words fills me with anxiety in a way, because I’ve learned that you never hit a stopping point. I’m not saying that you never need to stop hustling, I’m saying that by our nature we will never allow ourselves to. Many of those that subscribe to the hustle mentality have accepted (and even embrace) that, but I think it’s easy to fall into a trap of deceit in thinking there’s an end goal.
Having goals is super important, but until you realize that the accomplishment of goals only leads to more goals, you can’t see the big picture. When we’re kids we want to grow up, when we get to high school we want to drive, when we get a car we want a nicer car and we want to get out of high school and go to college. When we get to college we want to get out of college and start our career so we can buy an even nicer car and a house. We get a car and a house but we want a bigger house because we have kids now, and we need a higher paying job to get that. Our kids might go to college some day so we need to start saving for that and so we need more money. We need to retire so we need money to do that. We want to build things and grow them and as we hit milestones there are just new milestones.
At every point in our life we can think ahead and say that “once I achieve this goal I’ll be all set, I’ll be successful” but to me that’s a lie. By the time we get there we’ve been surrounded and overcome by the next goals we want to accomplish, and our earlier goals having been completed are just that, they’re now the past. There’s a new prize to work for, to hustle for. It’s fighting a losing battle. The things we once put so much stock in prove only to be a passing phase in our life.
If your definition of success is purely financial that’s one thing, but many of us choose an alternate definition of a balanced family life, time with those around us, traveling, a lifestyle not filled with stress and worry. If you’re perpetually hustling you miss out on all of that, don’t you? If you’re so focused on doing everything in your power to work closer to every goal you have, you end up sacrificing many of the things you call success.
Success is not an end goal
We look at success in a light of finality and in doing so we miss out on a life full of successes. We think of it as something to achieve and be done with instead of reflecting on it as we go along. I once read a quote by Jason Fried that really struck me:
Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.
Hustling equates to workaholism to me, something I’ve struggled with for a long time and seen firsthand the repercussions in relationships around me. Calling workaholism ‘hustling’ is giving it a new title so as to leave behind the negative connotation. We love to take pride in our work, and that can be a good thing, but it can also work to interfere with what we consider success. If we have a goal of success meaning living life, we’re doing anything but that if all we do is hustle all day.
I love that quote because it speaks to so much of what we’re really after. To me it says that working hard is important, of course, but working hard should have the benefit of being able to work less so we can experience our successes. We immediately jump to the conclusion that we can work hard, which in turn creates more time to do more things and work even harder, just as long as we continue to fill the day with hustling. It’s a never ending cycle if we look at it that way, one that tries to sell us on the idea that you only have to do it for a little while to get over some sort of figurative hump that ends in a life of luxury.
Even the ‘successful’ hustlers are still hustling though, every day.
It ties back to our goal orientation: when goals are completed there are more goals to take their place. Hard work works that way. I don’t imagine myself waking up one day to look around and think “I’ve done everything I want to do. I’m done.” There will always be something on my plate, I have no idea what that will look like decades down the line, but I know I’ll want to be doing something.
Working to live, not living to work
I try my best to be thankful for what I’ve been given every day. It’s not always easy and I constantly find myself wanting more, but I try to remain oriented on the day at hand. There is so much to appreciate, so much to pass along to others, and we often push that aside in our efforts to get things done for our own sake. This concept of hustling to keep ahead of the curve, ahead of the competition, is shoved down our throats and backed up with tales of likes, shares, downloads, and revenue.
Working hard is important, but acting responsibly within the other roles we’ve been presented with is arguably more important. I don’t mean to boil it down to something overly simplistic. I recognize that there can be great purpose, great accomplishment, and great byproducts from work effort around the world. I personally don’t want to see that as a main goal, though. In my life I have a wife, two kids, family, friends, church, and more. All of that correlates to many roles and responsibilities I have a duty to respect and afford time to.
There is a myth of a proper work-life balance, but many people smarter than me have illustrated how that’s not possible, that we can just do our best to keep things in check when we see a need. It’s impossible for us to spend equal amounts of time with all of our responsibilities every day, everything is constantly in flux. There are seasons to it all though, we can react to what we’re presented with and live among our circumstances, not to overcome them.
Your life today was created for you, mine was created for me, we need to be attentive to that, we need to be present. We get put in each other’s lives for reasons and we need to be active in that. As we grow, our relationships become more involved, more serious, more reliant, and we need to be working on them as much as we are the latest efforts in our place of work.
It’s often said that you get out of something what you put into it. If you don’t put anything into everything outside of work, there’s nothing left for you outside of that work. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that our work will turn to dust, if it hasn’t already. This is especially apparent in a world of the Internet. Putting our heart solely into our work is setting us up for disappointment, but spreading that out into the life we’ve been given will bear the fruit intended for us.
I have been through multiple seasons (and even tried to justify extra work hours) where I would tell myself that working in the evenings wasn’t really working because I was doing my hobby, what I loved. There is truth in that, but it’s also an excuse to work more. There will always be more work to do, it’s never ending. It’s an act of discipline to keep that in mind and remember that everything else in life needs that level of attention, care, and effort if you want it to flourish.
For me in my situation, time outside of work is exponentially better spent reconnecting with my wife, playing with my kids, being a dad (including the array of situations that presents), and devoting energy to important areas outside of Iron to Iron and side projects. Sure I could spend evenings and late nights losing sleep, writing code, forming relationships with clients, and keeping up with the latest industry information, but that firehose is never ceasing. Yes it might “earn some extra money” but at what cost? The people my wife and kids are today will evolve over time, I can’t miss out on today. I need to actively pursue that as much as I do success in work itself.
I’m not saying there is absolutely no way to balance work and side projects off-hours, not at all. I think there are many of us that can schedule work times that facilitate attention in many areas day-to-day, it’s something that can surely fit into the goal of keeping areas of importance in check through seasons of life. There’s no hard-and-fast rule allowing (or disallowing) work (even play work) outside of work.
People often ask us why we don’t hire, why we don’t expand. For some reason the idea of a lifestyle business is frowned upon, with the natural inclination to be expansion of the company to be as big as possible, to do as much as you can as fast as circumstances will allow. We don’t subscribe to that, a lifestyle business is exactly what we’re after. Do as little work as possible so we can enjoy our wives, kids, and surroundings in ways most people aren’t able to because they’re too busy hustling all day long. That does not mean we’re slacking off, in fact I’d go so far as to say I’m working harder now than I ever have. The difference is working fast so as to leave time in the day for other important things. Again, this is always a work in progress, but it’s something we keep at the forefront of our minds whenever possible.
An encouraging (self) reminder
I write this as encouragement, not only for others but for myself. In becoming a husband and a dad I see (and am shown) more every day how much work I have to do in truly believing all of this. God is gracious and has provided me with much to be thankful for, well beyond what I deserve. To say that’s not enough and devote my life to getting more and better things is a disrespect to Him and to those he’s given me life with. He has given me so many precious things and I feel it’s my duty to try and steward over that to the best of my ability, for His glory. I will fail at times, I know I will. I also know there is a lesson in it all, helping me to be a better son, husband, father, and friend.
Modern culture tells us to focus on ourselves, to make life everything it can be for ourselves. But when you spend every waking effort working as much as possible to make things better for yourself, you’ll likely end up alone.