Published February 27th, 2019
by Steven Clark

An increasing number of my contemporaries are embracing what’s become known as “the hustle”. “Hustling” typically means working or claiming to work 80+ hour weeks on a job you’ve convinced yourself – or are hoping to convince others – that you care about. When you’re a practicing hustler, your job is central to your identity (or personal brand), leading to posts bragging on social media about how much you love your work, how long you spend doing it and how willing you are to abandon your newborn children to do so. This way of working and mentality has been popularised in recent years by the likes of recently-resurrected ancient-vampire Gary Vee, a man who posts memes quoting himself saying things like “Are you willing to bleed out of your fucking eyes for your dream?” Fortunately for our masters, the answer to that question – for too many people – is yes.

Stagnant wages and a lack of job stability has meant a steep rise in the number of people freelancing. This is particularly true of creative industries where 47% of workers are freelancers, compared to the UK industry average of 15%. Theoretically, without a limit on your income, the more you work as a freelancer, the more you earn. This is the worldview proffered by the hustler – that being the master of your own destiny equates to near limitless horizons. This conveniently ignores the fact that not everyone has equal access to opportunity. Instead, the practical reality of convincing freelancers that they should always be working has arguably contributed to the continued practice of working for exposure, with some estimating that the average creative industries freelancer loses around £5,394 working for free each year. This goes some way to show that working for yourself – and particularly hustling – doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t benefit those of higher status than yourself. Chances are you’re more likely to make deferential attempts to win their business or approval by sacrificing your time for little or no compensation. It also means that working more doesn’t automatically translate to an increased income.

Hustle culture is all encompassing. People typically subject to racial or gender prejudice may now see working for themselves – and by extension hustling – as a way of breaking free of the existing limits imposed on them by others. Women in particular are sold boss babe seminars and handbag-sized hustle notebooks, as a new wave of corporate feminism seeks to teach young women that glass ceilings are broken through increased competition and constant work, not real solidarity and reform. Whatever your background, even if you aren’t necessarily a strict hustle disciple, there are still many opportunities to purchase products broadcasting your intention to be one.


Average hustle notebook seller

Obscenely long work hours won’t seem so alien or objectionable to those of us who work in fields without a history of labour organisation, myself included. In the modern world, it’s hard to think about the fact that the right to an eight-hour work day and a five day work week was hard fought, mostly for the sake of the long term health of workers. As we’ve transitioned from an industrial economy to a largely service-based one, we’ve retained much of this structure despite the less physically demanding nature of modern work. In recent years, there have been calls to abolish this practice, mostly when arguing in support of more flexible working hours. While, in many instances, I’m sure increased flexibility or even the ability to work remotely would be an improvement on working conditions, I’d be wary of critics promoting the idea that the eight-hour work day or five day work week are antiquated ideas that must or will be superseded, particularly when scraped-arse billionaire spaniel Richard Branson is among the most prominent. When private employers like Branson promote these ideas, or offer them with loose definitions, it’s probably less about wanting to move on from the past or improve your wellbeing and more likely to be a desire to remove these historically imposed limits on your work hours.

None of this is to say that people don’t often work over and above what they’re legally required to work anyway, particularly in creative industries jobs. In the UK, we work so much unpaid overtime that our salaries effectively start being paid from now, so I hope you spent most of January in the toilet to redress the balance. “The hustle” is just an attempt to repackage this kind of overtime as something not only culturally acceptable but also aspirational. Delve into the insanity – or inanity – of the #hustle hashtag on any social network and you’ll no doubt see inspirational memes and congratulatory posts featuring wealthy successful people. After all, it’s in a wealthy person’s best interests to claim that they made their money hustling, instead of – say for example – inheriting most of it. The poster boy for hustle Gary “The Blood King” Vee is himself the scion of wealthy parents, an early adopter of digital methods to promote his parent’s already successful multi-million dollar wine business. And as it turns out, when you’re already wealthy and your investment losses are negligible, it’s not particularly difficult to turn lots of money into more money.

It’s no coincidence that the popularity of hustling has risen in tandem with the seemingly increased importance of wellness, self care or “mindfulness”. Employers now allot “wellness time” or build “recharge rooms” for staff to recuperate from the demands of their roles, encouraging things like meditation and yoga to alleviate stress and prepare you for more work. When these kinds of initiatives are introduced, not only is it often a tacit admission that you and your colleagues are being overworked to your detriment, but it helps shift responsibility for that away from the employer and onto the employee – as if an employee’s inability to function well or be personable after a long hours or back to back shifts are just the products of a bad attitude or mindset. While it’s comforting for older generations to think that young people have an aversion to working long hours because they’re lazy or are just too sensitive to endure blatant abuse from their superiors, it’s telling that they somehow consider a lifetime of putting up with both without protest to be worthy of praise.

This is what makes “the hustle” so infuriating. Long dead activists, well over a century ago now, petitioned and striked to get governments and businesses the world over to acknowledge that life is about more than work, so why now are so many, mostly young, people capitulating to the idea that working practically non-stop is the perfect state of being? This cult-like fervour allows a new generation to take pride in a practice of overworking and overproducing largely for little reward, while broadcasting their ability to be good little capitalists on social media. They blindly assume that one day they’ll be at the top with those they deify, despite not coming from backgrounds of wealth and privilege like many of them have. Surrendering to the hustle means buying into the propaganda of large tech companies, whose cultures endeavour to create ties between an employee’s self worth and their ability to produce and work for them. To be a hustler is to be a stooge, a person so uninteresting outside of work that they allow their work to define them. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re probably just jealous.

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Steven Clark

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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