Why Hustle Culture Is Not Worth It

Recently, I was involved in that conversation for what seemed to be the millionth time. You know, the conversation that usually starts as: “I’m exhausted, I only got four hours of sleep last night.” That is normally followed by a chaotic group of responses: “Well I haven’t slept in two days!” “I have been surviving off protein bars because I have ten exams this week!” “I can’t remember the last time I got more than four hours of sleep!” This type of discussion has become so normalized, especially in an academic setting, and made me wonder…Why are we working ourselves to death? And even worse, why are we getting competitive about our unhealthy lifestyles?

This mindset is often portrayed as “hustle culture,” or the idea that we must overwork ourselves in every aspect of our lives in order to feel successful. Social media pushes this idea with language such as “hustle harder,” “action over excuses” and “the grind never stops.” In theory, promoting the idea of working hard is healthy, but it’s the impact on the expectations students are set to that is the problem. Now, we have students trying to give all of their energy to everything in order to remain busy and “hustle harder” by attempting to have perfect grades, relationships, and physical health while ignoring eating, sleeping, and self-care. Members of Generation Z are even affectionately called “Zoomers” due to the fast-paced lifestyles we were born into. This is a mindset that should be reworked in order to benefit students mentally, physically and emotionally by gaining a more balanced life with manageable expectations. Here are five steps that have helped me navigate the hectic life of being a full-time student, while also attempting to have a social life, good grades and actually sleep and eat. I also recommend watching these videos from TiffanyFerg and Rowena Tsai for some more tips and commentary on this subject!

“We live our lives as if they were one big emergency! We often rush around looking busy, trying to solve problems, but in reality, we are often compounding them.” -Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff

  1. 1. Realize your threshold

    We all have limits and everyone’s limits are different. Realize that you must prioritize sleeping and eating for a healthy routine. Changing up your sleep schedule each night makes going to sleep harder and is in general unhealthy. Think about a day recently where you felt particularly productive or in charge of your life; what was your schedule like that day? I also challenge you to figure out how long it takes to complete tasks/assignments and how long you can focus on a single task. It often takes longer than expected to complete assignments, especially in an environment where your focus is wavering. It is also important to determine your social limits and how many organizations/leadership positions you can juggle in a single day. Realize that it is okay to say no to a social event to sleep as I’m sure your friends would rather see you another day when you are giving your full attention and can have genuine fun with them.

  2. 2. Determine your priorities

    Prioritizing or making goals is crucial to having balance and not feeling obligated to give 100% energy to everything you do (even though you might want to). First, set aside sleeping and eating as those are things you cannot sacrifice in your journey to personal success. Most students want to prioritize their schoolwork and social life, but it’s helpful to get specific. Think back to that day where you felt successful or productive: what made you feel that way? Was it a meaningful conversation with a friend or a good grade from a professor/course you particularly respect? These questions can help show what your true intentions are and what makes you happiest and fulfilled. Writing down your goals (short-term and long-term) can make your priorities clearer.

  3. 3. Find ways to combine priorities

    I hear a lot of people complaining that they never have enough time to go out with their friends. Yes, maybe there is not enough time each day to do something purely social. However, there are many ways of combining these priorities in healthy, productive ways. I personally make an effort to eat meals with my friends each day, since it does not feel like I am “wasting time” being with friends as I am fulfilling my priority of food. Other ways include studying in groups, with a clear motive of getting work done in a more relaxed environment. Though it is important to realize how productive you can be with others and plan accordingly. I only bring assignments that do not require my full attention to study with friends so that I can still be social and present in the moment.

  4. 4. Figure out how you study/get work done

    Where are you most productive? For some, it may be in the library with no music and absolute quiet while others may prefer studying in a lounge with music. According to the American College of Healthcare Studies, studying on your bed is not the best environment as it can impact your sleep by associating your bed with thinking critically about your calculus assignment. Break your tasks into groups based on what level of focus you will need to complete them and change up your homework environment: a lounge, the library, your desk, etc. Having a hard time focusing for long tasks? Try using the twenty and three method (similar to the Pomodoro technique) that I have been using for years: twenty minutes of uninterrupted work without distractions followed by three minutes of break time to completely get away from your work and let your brain rest. The truth is that our minds are not built to cram or get tasks done very quickly. We need to give ourselves scheduled breaks in order to work efficiently.

  5. 5. Realize it is more than okay to take breaks

    Setting time aside for yourself is crucial for feeling balanced throughout the school year. We should not feel forced to give our full energy to each and everything we do. If your goal is to get good grades, look critically into each course’s syllabus and determine what is really going to get you the grade you want. Look for the big-ticket items like exams, projects and labs that may impact your grade and give those your attention. Do not pour out your energy towards every small assignment that, in the long run, will not mean much. There is a saying that having four quarters is greater than having one hundred pennies. When you try to do everything, you will not give significant value to each of those things. Instead, focus on those core aspects of your life and dedicate your energy to those.

I hope that these tips can help all of my fellow students out there because college is tough! Hustling until exhaustion is not a healthy way to live our lives and it is time to stop that mindset. However, maybe after we get our lives balanced and priorities together we can really become that “boss babe” social media always portrays…