If there is one experience that unites all college students, it’s the all-nighter. I remember the first one I pulled as a freshman, when I paused only to notice the sunlight pouring in from The Study’s wall of windows. I was four coffees (and banana muffins) in, unable to comprehend time, only then registering that I had been sitting in the same spot for nine whole hours. However, instead of being exhausted, I felt proud of myself, as if the rising sun validated my hard work. Somehow, all-nighters became synonymous with dedication, and in turn, success, and I began to measure my merit based on how much sleep I sacrificed for studying. This mentality, I later realized, is the essence of hustle culture.
The Internet is saturated with memes about workaholism and burnout, our generation striving to find humor in anything and everything, but these phenomena are actually very dangerous. Hustle culture involves an obsession with working to the point where we neglect our mental and physical health. It breeds toxic productivity, where we feel like we must constantly be doing something in order to be successful. Phrases like “sleep is for the weak” and “the grind don’t stop,” as cringe-worthy as they may be, are internalized by young people and create the false idea that it’s unacceptable to give ourselves breaks. While it’s great to have a strong work ethic, hustle culture goes beyond that and forbids us from doing anything that remotely looks like self-care.
Looking from the outside in, it’s easy to see how harmful hustle culture can be, but the reason it still exists is because we continue to participate in it. Have you ever humble-bragged to a friend, “I’ve skipped lunch every day this week,” or “I’m running on only two hours of sleep,” and silently commended yourself on your busy life? Maybe you’ve even cracked a joke about your deteriorating mental health. I know I have. We think we are defined by our success, and our success is defined by how hard we work, so not only do we put in long hours and forgo basic health practices, we need everyone else to know about it.
In order to combat hustle culture, we have to remove it from the relationships we have with ourselves and our peers. Praise yourself for making time to rest and unwind, not for being sleep deprived or malnourished. Stop competing with others to be the most overworked or mentally drained. Don’t buy into the “work till you drop” rhetoric and instead, take the time to find a good work and life balance. By rewriting hustle culture’s self-sabotaging narrative and resisting the glorification of workaholism, you can avoid burnout and set yourself up for success in the long run. A little Netflix never hurt anybody, so don’t be too hard on yourself, and give yourself space to relax. You deserve it.