Look… I’m a “busy” dude. I have a job, I have bands, I have the ocassional freelance project… I’ve got relationships and booking and practice to tend to. I also waste plenty of time on Netflix and bullshitting over a pint.
When I talk to people casually (like strangers or loose acqauintances), the subject inevitably comes up. They see me gigging and making stuff like this, lunchbreak videos and the day job… And at some point the topic turns to time, motivation, productivity, and all that zeitgeisty jazz.
Some folks ask for advice, other “hustlers” offer it, and everybody talks about how they just don’t have time to do all the things they want to. I commiserate.
Why do we do it?
In short, it’s because of hustle culture.
There’s a trend, likely related to constant connectivity and the gig economy, to feel the need to always be on the go, to get shit done, to constantly be creating or otherwise moving the proverbial ball forward…
And in a lot of ways, I think that’s fantastic. If it weren’t for the pervasiveness of these ideals, I might not be doing all of those things listed above – and I certainly wouldn’t be doing them with the tenacity I currently do.
I’m genuinely glad (most of the time) for apps and to do lists, for the endless sources of inspiration and information, for whatever internal and external collision of ideas that leads to “you can do damn near anything if you put in the work.”
I like the belly full of of fire that says “get better, book more shows, write more stuff, build and grow and build and grow.”
In many ways, hustle culture has put me on a path that I’m proud of, that I truly enjoy the process and products of…
But it certainly has its downsides.
The worst, of course, is the mighty demon of comparison. That observational, self-doubting rabbit hole of weighing yourself against others. Envy is nothing new, but social media juice and the cult of the busy have created a veritable pissing contest of greatness – and we look at the highlight reel of our idols through the mundane lens of our day to day lives.
It could be a skill, an accomplishment, a body, an opportunity… And while some of it may inspire, too much of it makes even the most exciting personal developments seem dull. Worse, it makes way too much seem not good enough.
And so, whether it’s out of fear, a sense of obligation, or honest gusto to do more/be more, we burn the candle at every possible end because well… Someone you follow on Instagram is probably hustling at this very moment.
This too can be unhealthy. Work ethic is important, and so is stamina, but it’s up to each of us to find the hustle capacity we can handle without burning out – and I know I’m guilty of letting these cultural influences push me too far.
At some point, you get diminishing returns, and you’re practicing away without really absorbing anything… Staring at the blinking cursor with no brain power to identify what word to type next.
This sounds like a pretty dismal way to work, but cultural paradigms aren’t so easily shrugged off. It isn’t just mental weight for you and me, it seeps into the expecations we have for each other, affects the way we see work and creative output all around us. That means that, at least to some degree, we have to keep up.
And on the days that we don’t… When we can’t, it feels like failure – no matter how good last week’s show was or how much we got done yesterday.
Failure has its merits, as the myriad of motivational posters will tell you – but it still doesn’t feel good. Not all “failure” is created equal, either. Going out on a limb, falling on your face, and finding a new perspective is valuable… Sitting at home exhausted, feeling like shit because you didn’t practice as hard as you “could have” is not.
This too is mirrored in the way we see others, and I do my best to teach my peers that they have more in the tank than they think they do. I tell myself the same constantly… But what about when I just don’t?
Is the impending guilt something from within, or something generated outside? Part of it is legitimate desire, genuine passion, but at least a portion has to come from GaryVee vids, from social media, from the interviews that make it seem like my heroes are working around the clock – and that if I’m not in contsant hustle mode, I’ll never get to where I want to be.
In the undulations of week to week, moment to moment, what can we possibly do about it?
I’m considering more and more all the time that there can’t possibly be a right answer. It’s clear that hard work yields results, and that creative pursuits of all kinds require incredible efforts to transcend from hobby to occupation (or even from beginner to expert, and every rung in between). But I’m also coming to understand that downtime is important too, that diligence only gets you so far.
And so, it comes back to the age-old wisdom of balance.
Hustle culture is alive and well, and it should be. We need that fire to become greater versions of ourselves. We need to practice, to try new things, to face fears, to take risks, to work through pain and tiredness and frustration. I think it’s intrinsically better to look at tomorrow’s goals instead of yesterday’s accomplishments…
But still, we also have to take stock of reality. Self-help is an industry, and that means that the central marketing pillar is convincing each and every one of us that we aren’t good enough – otherwise there’d be nothing to sell. The overall message is well and good, but the perpetuity of the message is, well… Fucking us up.
This goes as much for drum lessons as it does diet books, exercise apps to time management mantras. The problem isn’t the content itself, it’s the sheer amount – and the incidental culture that develops around it.
If you want to be great – no, even just good – at anything, you have to work for it. If you want you change anything, you have to struggle through the troublesome steps, but it should come from within. Make more money because you want something specific. Get better at guitar because it feels good. Improve your health for your own wellbeing, not anyone else’s.
Making such choices is a great gift of consciousness and self-determination. You can be whatever you want to be, if you hustle – but you only have to be what you decide on.