OPINION: If unchecked, hustle culture can lead to anxiety and dissatisfaction in one’s work

I pride myself on my work ethic. Like many college students, I balance multiple jobs, a full course load, bills and professional aspirations. On paper, it appears that all of my responsibilities are neatly managed.

But I am exhausted. Not only that, but I am also riddled with anxiety. As an aspiring journalist, I’ve heard all of the jokes about the lack of available jobs in my chosen field. While I tend to laugh them off and tell myself that I can be an exception to the rule, I often find myself paranoid that I am not doing enough to ensure my success.

If I’m not worrying about writing enough impactful stories, I’m worried about not taking enough freelance opportunities or improving my photography skills in order to be more well-rounded, among other concerns. At only 20 years old, I feel the weight of the professional world on my shoulders, having barely even entered.

Perhaps this is due to my own anxiety issues, which plague other facets of my life. Perhaps it is because my generation’s upbringing was in part defined by the Great Recession, which put the frustration and panic of joblessness in clear focus.

I very well may be getting in my own way, but the “more is more” attitude of so-called “hustle culture” is certainly not doing me any favors.

The New York Times refers to hustle culture as “obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor and — once you notice it — impossible to escape.” It is a culture that is always demanding more and expecting it with a smile.

“There’s a big push for people —especially young people and especially young people in a city— to work hard in school, make money, climb the job ladder and find success in whatever you’re striving toward,” said Evan Dye, a senior journalism major. “It seems like the new norm is hustling.”

I don’t think that people should be handed opportunities and success simply because they want them; I believe in the maxim that hard work is necessary for achieving one’s goals. However, the growing fixation on overworking oneself to the point of breaking in the hopes of achievement is a deeply unhealthy one.

“I’m always comparing myself to others, because many students in my school are doing a lot more than me,” Dye said. “It makes me feel like the hard work I’m doing isn’t really hard work at all. I find it hard to appreciate myself for what I’m doing, and I feel guilty for taking it easy, even though I know I have the rest of my life to work hard.”

Hustle culture is deeply ingrained in capitalism, which is, in turn, an inescapable factor of American society. While some may posit that “money isn’t everything,” it is. Money bolsters security and comfort, and is a result of continued success.

“Technology contributes to the ‘always on, always working’ culture,” said Jeffery Lanfear, director of University Counesling Services. “There are no longer clear boundaries between work and play. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with too much information coming at us and non-stop demands on the self.”

So what can we do?

The best method of surviving in a culture that is always demanding more and prides success above mental wellness is to set realistic expectations for oneself and be satisfied with the progress one is making each day.

“If the system doesn’t change, I think the best way to avoid the anxiety of hustle culture is to accept that you are in it,” said Eric Henry, a graduate journalism student.  “From there, you can readjust your expectations to play the game properly, or you can try to leave the game entirely.”

I may not have all of the skills necessary to make it as a professional journalist yet. I may not get straight As every quarter. But it’s ok. I am trying and will continue to try and keep my drive alive.

“I think the best we can do is remind ourselves that just because we’re not doing everything that someone else is, it doesn’t mean that we’re not doing enough,” Dye said. “Everyone deserves to take life at their own pace without feeling worthless.”

In between my responsibilities, however, I will take time to recognize the progress I am making and allow myself room to breathe. The path to success is a long and bumpy one and if I try to run the entire way there, I’ll be exhausted before I reach the finish line.


Read an opposing view on this opinion here.