Hustle Culture: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We’re back into the college season, folks. There are classes to go to, papers to write and a thousand Snapchat stories showing your friends on that #grind. It’s hard to go a day during the semester without hearing about someone who sacrificed three hours of sleep to finish an assignment or a friend who’s so busy that they haven’t had time to eat lunch. Hustle culture is real, and thrives in a college environment, especially one where students care about their classes and grades. We want to look busy all the time, to work until we can’t anymore, because it makes us look productive, successful and passionate about our lives. It can also have different effects, ranging from securing an internship to academic burnout and apathy. Here’s the scoop, and why you should try to avoid embracing hustle culture.

  1. 1. The Good

    Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up in a particularly rough week or two. On top of classes, we have jobs, extra lab papers, two exams on the same day, and a few meetings that were all scheduled at inconvenient times. (Midterms week, is that you?) Seeing other people constantly working can be somewhat motivational, because if they can do it, why can’t you? Sometimes it’s nice to know that a friend will be in the library all day because you’ll be able to sit with them and be a little more focused. Seeing someone else look like they have it together makes you want to have it together too, and we all end up working toward our goals. 

  2. 2. The Bad

    Hustle culture has some positives, but unfortunately, it’s not great for our physical or mental health. Striving to always be busy can add undue stress to our lives. It’s part of the underlying desire of being perfect - the thought of an “ideal” student often conjures up images of A’s on exams, going over notes before class, and spending hours studying late at night. As students, we often choose homework over sleep, food, and other necessities. This isn’t necessarily the problem - sometimes to get a good grade we have to give up things we would rather do. The main issue with hustle culture is that it’s glorified. 

    It’s easy to be impressed by feats like all-nighters and showing up to class hungover, because it deviates from the ideal student behavior yet still yields similar results. Having a resume full of internships, work experience and exec positions is prioritized and celebrated, even at the expense of our mental health. It’s something we can brag about, something that relatives will applaud us for, and that kind of positive attention makes us feel good about ourselves.

    And on some level, I get it. We have to take these classes and internships so we can prepare for the next step, whether that be grad school, the job market or just the next year of college. But there’s a difference between glorifying and striving for this unattainable level of productivity and doing the things that are necessary for our future success. 

  3. 3. The Ugly

    Looking back on my first two years as a college student, I’ve noticed how much I tied my self- worth to how productive I was and how my grades and accomplishments compared to my peers. On paper, I was passionate about everything I was doing - I loved most of my classes, the clubs I joined and the friends I made through athletics. But once I was actually in that schedule, I survived on four-hour nights, hot chocolate, and the idea that if I could pull this off. It meant that I was achieving my “best self”. When I did something wrong, I could blame it on my overbooked schedule, but when I did something right, it was a merit to my work ethic despite the other difficulties. It was an unhealthy relationship with school, and my mental health reflected that.

    This isn’t just an individual thing, either. We simultaneously praise and sympathize when someone announces that they spent five hours finishing an experiment in the lab, or that they wrote a ten page paper three hours before the deadline. We know that the end goal is desirable - obviously we want to turn in the paper on time and complete our assignments, but the process of getting there can be damaging to our physical and mental health. It’s impossible to keep up this kind of workload forever, and it can lead to academic burnout and apathy, especially if you haven’t been seeing the results you want.

    Hustle culture also applies to things outside of school and work, like fitness. In each area, hustle culture promotes the idea that if you truly want to reach a goal, you have to be passionate and 100% dedicated to working toward it every day. And that’s not true! You don’t need to love what you’re doing to do it well. I’ve taken classes that I didn’t love, but still wanted to do well in them. You don’t have to be thrilled about exercising to live a healthy lifestyle. Thinking that you do can leave you wondering why your expectations aren’t meeting up with reality and that something must be wrong with the way you’re doing things.  

Basically, connecting self-worth and productivity isn’t helpful for our mental health, but it’s difficult to disconnect from the habits around schoolwork and how we spend our time. Because in the end, our grades and experiences while we’re in college do matter to some degree (for some post-grad paths more than others). The best we can do is to remind ourselves that while we should be working hard to reach a goal like graduation, a grade, or an achievement, we shouldn’t seek to glorify any unhealthy steps we take to get there.