The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.
Hard work is no stranger to me. As the firstborn son to well-educated black Caribbean immigrants, my parents instilled within me the idea of earning your seat at the table. I firmly believe every word that both my parents spoke about focusing on a goal and doing everything within your power to get it, and I practice these teachings every day in every facet of my life.
However, last semester, I took it too far. I was taking 15 credits, working two different internships, writing for The Retriever, working audio production gigs periodically and trying to do various passion projects and productions along the way. I did the work of almost three people.
After a few weeks, my body began to ache and creak. And, one day, my mind nearly gave up on me. I started seeing very fuzzily, I felt woozy every time I stood up and I was always tired. I would forget things from 20 minutes ago. It got to the point where my internship supervisor sent me home and told me to slow down. Internally, I was a mess.
I, like many other people my age, adopted a culture of workism. Workism is the idea that one must hold their career as central to their identity. Work became synonymous with who I was. I held each one of my titles close to my heart: journalist, student, audio technician, filmmaker, intern. Each position led me that much closer to my goal. I fought for every meter, every inch I could get.
I was misled by hustle culture, which promotes maximum effort at all times. All over social media, we hear motivational speakers screaming at us to fight with the heart of whatever jungle animal they choose. We hear stories about Kobe Bryant’s insane workout regimen that led him to become the best basketball player of all time. We hear about staying “hungry and humble,” “wanting it more than everyone else” and “no pain, no gain.”
Now, sustaining that hard work, determination and persistence are all integral to the idea of social mobility, the belief that people can change their social and economic status. Furthermore, we can find flaws within any economic system, if we nitpick enough.
However, within capitalism, social mobility is not solely based on merit and hard work. There are structural restrictions set up to exclude people based upon race, nationality, sexual identity, gender, and social class. Hustle culture glorifies the stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who started Apple and Microsoft respectively in basements. But it continuously fails to acknowledge the inescapable hurdles set in place to restrict others from entering that status. Essentially, we are praising the destruction of our own bodies and the demolition of our mental health, for corporate gain.
But at what cost?
What good is all that work if I end up in the hospital? Or worse, dead? Hustle culture objectifies us; seeing the workers as nothing more than cogs in the money-making machine of the rich and powerful. Even worse, it makes us feel guilty when we indulge in the smaller pleasures in life. In the world of hustle culture, there is no time for friendships. No dates, no walks, no pleasure. Someone is always out there working harder than you. The only way to beat them is to keep working. This mentality doesn’t offer a solution to the flaws of capitalism. Instead, it deceives us. The culture offers a mirage of what life could be while whispering “if only you’d work harder.”
In a vacuum, the ideas of hustle culture sound fair. In a perfect world, everyone would pull their own weight and be responsible for their own actions. Hard work is essential to success, in any setting. However, in the context of our capitalistic society, it sends a dangerous message. We must not fall into the trap of hustle culture. It may sound inspiring and motivating, but the complications of consistent mental and physical stress take a toll on your body.
I eventually learned my lesson. I begrudgingly quit one of my internships, took fewer projects and work and carved out time for myself. I learned to budget my time wisely. I started meditating, going on walks and taking entire days for myself guilt-free. I still work hard, and I still have goals.
But in the end, my health matters more. And so does yours.