Why are we buying so much into hustle culture?
In this episode, I dive into how I’ve fallen into the pitfalls of hustling, how hustle culture can lead to burnout, and how to get past the idea of overworking yourself to have a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Full transcript and show notes at tiredtwentiespod.com
I’m tired of hustle culture.
Rise and grind.
I’ve got a dream worth more than my sleep.
I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
In our society, hustle culture has become inevitable.
We have an interest, or a hobby, and either our first instinct or the first piece of advice we get is to monetize it. And that goal starts to consume our whole lives.
Forty-five percent of working Americans, or 70 million people, report having a side hustle, according to a 2019 survey by Bankrate. And younger adults ages 23 to 38, at 31 percent, are the most likely generation to have one.
Of course, part of that is because some people need to have side hustles. Their jobs don’t give them the income that they need to sustain themselves. Today, I’m not talking about that unfortunate reality.
Instead I’m talking about the instant commodification of enjoyment and leisure time into business–a side hustle, a side gig. And for many, a very real downward spiral into toxic productivity, unhealthy stress, and burnout.
I want to break down toxic hustle culture and discuss how our generation, people in their 20s, can free ourselves a little of that inclination to always be hustling.
Let’s get into it.
This is Tired In My Twenties, a podcast about figuring out adulthood one episode at a time. I’m your host, Melissa Lent.
[Intro music ends]
What is hustle culture? For our purposes, it’s when work overtakes all of the other facets of your life–family, friendships, romantic partnerships, hobbies, and personal care. It’s a constant pressure to always keep working towards that goal, usually building a business, no matter the cost, because it’s the end result that matters.
I’m going to give a bit of a disclaimer before we start here. I’m obviously not against people building their own businesses or having a side hustle in general. If you have your side hustle and you’re enjoying it, it’s what you always wanted to do, then honestly that’s awesome. Also let me not be remiss in saying this is technically my side hustle even though I’m not scrambling to make money off of it.
But with hustle culture and having a side hustle, it is very easy for it to drain you, so much so that you don’t even remember why you wanted to hustle in the first place.
I have fallen into the depths of hustle culture many times.
Last year, I had an idea to start making stickers. Let me tell you, I have a planner and I buy a lot of stickers. A lot. It’s a bit of a problem.
And as I was fueling my new obsession, I would also watch a lot of small shop owners on Youtube who would show how they made their stickers. I had some experience with Adobe Illustrator and a few other graphic design tools, and I thought, Maybe I can do that too !
I started to design my own stickers. Bought some sticker paper online. I would enjoy the evenings on Illustrator making a character that looked like me to print. I would look at art references online, use my stylus on Illustrator, and iterate on the smallest details like the pupils of the eye, the curve of the nose, and the shape of the mouth.
And as I told people about my new hobby, the first thing they would ask me is… if I was going to sell the stickers.
I hadn’t thought about it too much at first, but then I said, “Maybe I should.”
Oh my gosh, para qué fue eso? What was that for?
I now had the idea in my mind that I had to sell them or at least I should sell them, because I’m already making them, so why not? The same Youtubers who showed you how they made their stickers, also showed you how they sold them.
And so, my time became consumed by learning about: how much money you could make by hustling with your sticker business; how to open an Etsy shop; how SEO, ads, and fees on Etsy work; which sticker packaging and label maker you should get; how to market your business; how to set up a PO box so you didn’t have to give your home address; and much more.
I set up a project management tool just to organize this business. I started to plan a timeline months into the future of what I should be doing and when. I kept a running list of the costs I would probably incur, and started doing math on how much I should charge for these to make a profit. Me, spending hours doing math!
Well, what happened? First of all, I spent so much time planning a business, that I didn’t have much time to actually create anything in the first place. Second of all, the enjoyment of designing stickers disappeared. It was replaced by stress–stress to produce, so that I could stick to my timeline, and so that I could eventually sell.
I started to avoid it at all costs. And eventually I felt so exhausted by the very idea of it, that I gave it up. What was a diversion was now an obligation.
Even this podcast was very close to falling prey to hustle culture. When I first started to plan this show, I started to think about setting myself up as well as possible. And that meant trying to do everything. Social media strategy, pitching to newsletters, designing a website, thinking of sponsors. There’s nothing wrong with that, and many podcasts take care of all these things before launch. But I have a full-time job, and this was supposed to be my hobby. And I was thinking of pushing myself to the limits to optimize as much as I could.
I have to give a shout out to my friend Steph Fuccio for reigning me in and telling me, if I’m going to make an indie podcast with a full-time job, and my goal is to have it as a hobby, then really a lot of that stuff was unnecessary. She gave me a much-needed push, and I don’t know when y'all would have heard this podcast if she hadn’t pulled me back to Earth.
Right now I’m not actively trying to make this podcast into a side hustle. I do want as many people to listen as possible because one purpose of this podcast is to make people feel less alone in their 20s. And if people want to support me that’s awesome; you can do it at buymeacoffee.com/tiredtwenties by the way. But personally if I’m worrying about monetizing before I even get anything out then that takes away a lot from me creatively.
I think especially in American capitalist culture, there is a push to sell, and to give as many hours of your life to sell successfully. To hustle. There is every course under the sun and a parade of social media influencers selling you hustle culture.
And why is that? Why do we have hustle culture?
At least from what I’ve gathered, and I’m no sociologist but, when we as a society center work in our lives, and tie an individual’s value to work, then that society, and by extension the individuals in that society, view those hours where you are not working as having no value.
Leisure time is useless. Doing things just for fun is useless. And if you aren’t making money, you are useless. If you already have a hobby, why don’t you try to make money off of it? Isn’t that just a win-win? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?
Where you mention a hobby to someone, at least in my experience, the comments you’ll usually get are:
“You could sell that.”
“You could start a side hustle.”
“You can get on Etsy.”
“You can start an Instagram for that.”
It's not their fault that that’s what they say. That’s what they’ve been conditioned, in a way, to say.
Hustle culture, or spending most of your hours in a constant state of overwork, has been proven to cause decreased happiness and productivity levels. And studies and experts say the prolonged levels of stress that hustle culture can cause are known to lead to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and memory impairment.
In the United States, we have a toxic productivity culture. Workers in North America spend about 8.3 extra hours working outside of their typical job schedule, according to a 2022 report by ADP Research Institute.
And not only do we have to hustle, we have to make sure that we’re good at it too. Society tells us we have to climb to the top of the hustle chain. I couldn’t just make a few stickers and post them online–I felt like I had to design a whole line and optimize my online presence to make the most profit.
But what a lot of people are missing is that leisure is also important– for our brains and for our health. And especially during this formative period of our young adulthood, we need to nurture our brains as much as possible. Leisure has been shown to contribute to a better mood, more interest, less stress, and a lower heart rate. Disengagement from work can be shown to then lead to more productivity or motivation when you actually return to it.
So what can we do to overcome hustle culture?
I hope you can give yourself permission to reject hustle culture. If you have a hobby, you can pursue that hobby simply for the joy of it.
Joy should play no small part in our lives. But if you are intent on starting a side hustle, then make sure you are also making time for yourself to enjoy things outside of your budding business, because everyone should have space to enjoy what they love without monetizing it.
When so much of our lives are spent working to make money, it’s amazing to have something in our lives that doesn’t have to be attached to that. It’s just for us. And that is not useless. It actually can be the most important thing in the world.
And also, please don’t feel like you even have to be good at it. Take that pressure off of yourself. You could crochet and make messy, lopsided creations. You could play basketball and only get the ball in the hoop one out of ten times. You can play piano and only know scales. We can create and explore and learn just for the sake of it. Because why do we live on this earth in the first place, if not to enjoy the time we are on it?
Recently, I’ve started to learn how to roller skate. I used to do it when I was little, but stopped doing it when I grew up. I’ll go out to a basketball court near my house, and go around in circles. Not for Instagram. Not to become a skater influencer. Just for me. My goals are very small. I want to go a little faster each time. Learn how to stop. How to turn. My progress is slow but there is something humbling and freeing about not being good at something, still doing it anyway, and only doing it when you feel like it.
And also, we don’t even have to really be pursuing anything. I have my hobbies, this podcast being one of them, but there are some nights where the main event is me munching on some Cheetos watching the latest season of Love Island. I’ll go out with my partner and we explore different restaurants in our area. I’m still building my list of the best pho places in Queens. Many nights are devoted to me Facetiming my friends, and there is a lot of fulfillment in that.
I hope that our generation can end toxic hustle culture, and engage just as much if not more in the other parts of our lives outside of work. And in doing so, become happier, healthier, and more fulfilled people in our 20s.
Tired In My Twenties is an independent podcast produced, edited and hosted by me, Melissa Lent! Get detailed show notes at tiredtwentiespod.com and subscribe to my newsletter at tiredinmytwenties.substack.com.
Music and sound effects for this episode come from Artlist. Lily Shahein was our assistant audio editor for this episode. Special thanks to Isabel Gouse.
Thank you for listening to Tired in My Twenties, and join us next time to keep figuring it out together.