Hustle culture wants your soul

Sarah Karkoff, Staff Writer

Hustle culture—defined as a lifestyle that reinforces long work hours and short periods of personal time—has become a part of the workplace zeitgeist. As we collectively enter into finals season, many of us must work for longer hours and neglect our personal well-being. While working hard is a virtue, the rhetoric around hustle culture can be harmful.

Hustle culture promises that overworking oneself will be rewarded with success. When cramming for a test or attempting to finish an essay before a tight deadline, anecdotal evidence proves that this can be true. However, the relief that washes over students once break hits proves that humans cannot and should not keep functioning at consistently high levels.

This philosophy of work also plays into meritocratic morals. Meritocracy is “the idea that people get ahead based on their own accomplishments.” Claiming that anyone can be ultra-successful if they just work constantly puts a moral value on successes and failures. If any individual can truly get ahead through hustle culture, then those who choose not to hustle are choosing to fail. Inherently, this reinforces the capitalistic mindset that you must be productive to have worth.

Once you play into these ideas, it gets harder to rationalize taking time for yourself. Suddenly, finals season is your everyday life; the sweet relief of a long break will be a thing of the past. Therefore, buying into hustle culture removes the mental safeguards that come with well-regulated breaks.

Ultimately by identifying with this philosophy, you are centering work in your life above other things—even yourself. Essentially, you live to work instead of working to live. Hustle culture wants to convince you that prioritizing work and success over your mental well-being is in your best interest. The “all-work-no-play” mindset makes a moral statement that the “play” aspect is unimportant when that is far from the truth.

Even further, the meritocratic ideals are only true for certain populations. When financially disadvantaged families struggle to “move up” in life but cannot despite their hard work, hustle culture and those that idealize meritocratic values put the onus on the individual instead of the system. Author and Yale Law professor Daniel Markovitz states, “meritocracy adds a kind of a moral insult to this economic exclusion because it frames what is in fact structural inequality and structural exclusion as an individual failure to measure up.” 

In the end, hustle culture promises us two distinct outcomes. You either find that financial success at the expense of yourself, or you are disadvantaged, leading to fewer opportunities for the same amount of work. Hustle culture wants your soul, body and spirit. Therefore, committing yourself to this framework guarantees you leave your non-material wants behind in favor of production.

While this type of dedication is virtuous in small doses, you should not give your all to a job that does not have your best interests in mind. Hustle culture’s overwork can lead to a lot of unpaid labor. So called “quiet quitting”—refusing to go above and beyond in the workplace—might be in your best interest. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do what your job entails, but rather that you should only do your specific responsibilities and nothing more unless you are being compensated for it.

I am not saying that diligence and labor are meaningless, but rather that there is importance in moderation. So, do not overindulge in productive endeavors o