The hustle culture, or a millennial’s exhausting playground
Today, I want to talk about hustle culture, and the millennial way of life. Let me lay the land for you. My usual day looks like this. My eyes open. I’ve snoozed three times already. I unlock my phone, filled with various digital reminders of what ‘needs’ to be done. My habit tracker to-do list items, an overdue workout reminder, my social media notifications, the daily news, texts from family and friends and a bunch of ‘urgent’ emails. Cut to 20 minutes later, messy bun in place and a cup of black coffee in hand, I’m already behind on my ‘ideal’ schedule. I rush to the office, where I’m greeted with a plethora of meetings, deadlines and urgent tasks that require my undivided attention. I power through the day, healthy snacks and caffeine drips on stand-by. I snap a couple of shots to showcase my busy #girlboss life and pat myself in the back for eating a salad. Cut to dinner time, I’m sitting on my couch, the candles are lit, the incense is burning, sometimes, I’ve squeezed in a quick sweat sesh’, and I’m hopelessly trying to disconnect with heavy doses of Netflix and ‘chill’, all the while frenetically checking my phone, answering a couple of emails cuz why the hell not, and maybe even working on a presentation for the next day. Some days, I might slap a fancy Korean-branded sheet mask on my face and pretend it’s self-care, pop a herbal night remedy and tuck myself into bed, way past my supposedly recommended bedtime, according to my sleep cycle app, ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
Sound familiar? That’s because we all do it. But where does this hustle ‘culture’ come from? This hustle is a “collective urge we seem to feel as a society to work harder, stronger, faster – to grind and exert ourselves at our maximum capacity and accomplish our goals and dreams at a lightning speed that matches the digital world we’ve built around ourselves” says Celinne Da Costa for Forbes Magazine. And other than sounding a lot like a now ancient Daft Punk song, this kind of says it all. We are all chasing the same goal: be the best version of ourselves every single day, and advertise it as much as we can. You know the saying, if you didn’t ‘gram’ it, it didn’t happen…
Credits: Justin Veenema
Millenials are obsessed with productivity, down to the smallest details of their lives. This is painfully obvious with the rise of apps like ‘Productive’ or ‘todoist’, which basically allow you to create daily habits and to-do lists for the simplest of tasks like ‘Drink water’, ‘Exercise’, ‘Eat a healthy meal’ or ‘Cuddle’ or music apps that help you focus. – Sidenote: as I am writing this post, I have succumbed to using one of these productivity tools, as I’m listening to brain.fm, a brain booster that helps you focus in 15 minutes or less. Stamp of approval of Forbes, NBC and the ever-so-cool VICE Mag. I was sold in a matter of seconds.
Everything is scheduled, optimized, trackable, and of course, publicized. We are always online. For work, for friends, for meaningless Instagram feed scrolls, and each individual has now become a brand of its own. There is no ‘off the clock’. Your daily outfit posts, morning yoga poses, power lunches and midnight work sessions are immortalized for everyone to see. ‘Look at me, I’m hustling, and I’m doing it all, and I’m happy. I’ve found the perfect balance.’ Even though we know this digital snapshot is inauthentic at best (we’re all faking it ‘til we make it, we do not have it figured out, we just get through the day, hoping things will fall into place…), this constant chase to perfection and performance has become our benchmark. When we see someone hustle harder than we do, we feel guilty. When someone seems to have it all figured out and juggles a million things at once while keeping a smile on their face, we feel inferior. When we don’t have any ‘hustle’ juice left to give, we feel weak. The use of social media has exacerbated this hustle culture, ultimately creating a constant state of connectivity, comparison and competition.
The perfect phenomenon to illustrate this hustle culture in a digital age is the rise of the ‘influencer’, who is paid to use his/her image as a brand online and depict this perfect lifestyle we all strive for. Influencer marketing is now valued at $10 billion and budgets are expected to grow by 65% in 2019 according to Big Commerce. Instagram is leading the charge, with over 1 billion users and a fast-growing network of influencers churning out millions of sponsored posts each year, it has become the most important influencer marketing channel. Don’t get me wrong, some influencers are absolutely brilliant, support great causes and produce valuable content that has a purpose way beyond this smokescreen that is our Instagram feed (but more on that later, with a curated list of people you should definitely follow because they will light up your day and spark joy – take that, Marie Kondo!) but the majority is there to get free product, make a buck and keep pretending. Everybody is guilty of feeding into that system: brands will work with pretty much anyone for the sake of putting their product out there (although we are finally seeing a change in the way brands deal with influencers, at last!), and we keep following these ‘influencers’ even though we know that what they’re ‘selling’, we ain’t buying. But the digital hamster wheel keeps on turning…
A random pic from my instagram feed, proving my point. No one has this much fun grocery shopping. No one. Fact.
The trends and heroes that millennials cheer for also feed into this hustle culture. Gary Vaynerchuk, aka @garyvee, has no less than 6.8 million followers on Instagram, and founded content company One37pm, which glorifies ambition not as a means to an end, but as a lifestyle; the motto ‘Rise and grind’ was the slogan of a Nike ad campaign, the American co-working space company WeWork splashes quotes and inspirational slogans on neon signs on the wall, coffee mugs and throw pillows all shouting ‘Hustle Harder’ or ‘Thank god it’s Monday’. The fashion trend Athleisure is the perfect example of this optimization compulsion. We, as a generation, have invented attire that allows us to jump from our early morning yoga class – because, hey, you’re no one if you don’t rise early and hit the gym, right? – to our meetings, co-working spaces, skype sessions or what have you. Our parents’ generation would never have imagined wearing tie dye printed leggings outside of the gym’s premises, but we have made that possible. Congrats! We’ve pushed practicality and optimization beyond just work and and style, we’ve even brought it home with us. Our living spaces are now being minimalized, Marie Kondo style, and all for the sake of having more time to do the things we love. But what exactly are those things nowadays?
Credits: WeWork Friesenplatz Köln1 Offices
Let’s back up a little. I’ve described the world we live in and the ‘rules’ we all abide by. But how did it come about? To understand it, we need to dig deeper into how we grew up, what we were taught, and how that affected the way we see the world. We were raised knowing that doing well in school and filling your schedule with extra-curricular activities, sports and charitable work would reward us with fulfilling jobs that feed our passion. Yeah, that’s right, we were also taught to pursue our passions, and do what we ‘love’. Fast forward 5 years after we all graduated, a lot of us are stuck in a competitive and ever-so demanding job with mountains of paperwork, high-pressure deadlines, politics and hoops to jump through, possibly crushed under student debt, and are all filled with this unshakable sense of emptiness. On top of that, we still have to keep up appearances: make our parents proud, look cool in the eyes of our friends and our digital community, but also satisfy our fleeting and intangible need for purpose, which has always been the end goal since we were kids. You WILL do what you love. What if you’re not?
Optimization + hustle + competition… Put all of these ingredients into a blender, shake hard and you get… the now highly common and yet unavoidable millennial condition, burnout. Our life is a series of tasks, and has been deprived of fun or spontaneity. ‘Adulting’ is synonym of a to-do list, and the to-do list never ends. Work, errands, bills, exercise, dieting, seeing your friends, doing ‘fun’ stuff, carving out some alone time. It all goes on the list, thus sucking the sole purpose of fun out of it, since it’s being scheduled, pre-planned and almost mechanical.
Credits: @jealousweekends – Unsplash
Let’s look at the self care industry, valued today at over $11 billion. We’re talking beauty, yoga, meditation, clean eating, juicing or even experiential travel and activities such as sound deprivation tanks, color therapy, silent retreats and the likes. In theory, this is supposed to make us feel better, disconnect, and recharge our batteries. The problem with our hustle culture is how pervasive it is. Picture this: we’ve now been given an additional layer of ‘branding’, through all these ‘self care’ and wellness moments we can capture to show the world that, on top of hustling, we’re also taking time for ourselves and being healthy and happy , and all of that in the most stylish way possible and in the coolest places you can think of. It’s no accident self care has made itself highly instragrammable, from beauty and food packaging, to the interior design of yoga studios, trendy gyms and organic cafes, pushing people to document their ‘experience’, thus defeating the purpose of alone time and disconnection and feeding into that very same digital hamster wheel we’ve been wanting to get off of. Self care the way we do it these days isn’t a solution, it’s an added source of stress. When we don’t achieve our daily self care goal, be it a yoga class, meditation session or beauty routine, we feel that, once again, we’re not reaching our full potential and we’re not as good as the perfect glossy digital representation of what our day should look like.
Now what? Anne Helen Peterson, a Buzzfeed News Reporter, broke it down for us: “As millennials, we’re deeply in debt, working more hours and more jobs for less pay and less security, struggling to achieve the same standards of living as our parents, operating in psychological and physical precariousness, all while being told that if we just work harder, meritocracy will prevail, and we’ll begin thriving. The carrot dangling in front of us is the dream that the to-do list will end, or at least become far more manageable.”
It’s time to change the way we operate. Our life shouldn’t be an endless to-do list of tasks to complete, devoid of joy or spontaneity. It shouldn’t be a life of comparison and competition. Instead, it should be based on a fundamental shift in mindset and behavior. We are now all becoming more and more conscious of the ways in which the system is broken. That’s the first step. The second step is change. Change the way we do things, why we do those things, and change the actual things we do. Instead of optimizing our lives, why don’t we actually live them? Unplug – and I mean, really unplug – start figuring out what makes you happy, without the digital pollution that is today’s information ecosystem, and do just that.
I’ll leave you with a challenge, and I’ll break it down in 3 parts for you.
- Disconnect: find 1 day this week when you know you have no commitments and no expectations and when you can truly disconnect. Turn off your phone, your email notifications and do NOT check social media. Don’t even take pictures of what you’re doing – I know, that one’s hard, especially if you happen to do the coolest thing that day. But guess what? Just enjoy it, for you, and no one else.
- Write: you must have seen that one coming, since I’m writing now and I can guarantee that writing, on a journal, on a piece of paper or just typing a few random thoughts on your laptop is therapeutic in more ways than one. We consume information like never before, and our attention span is about as short as Dory’s. When you disconnect, you’ll find that taking time to just write down your thoughts without any external factor pressuring you is one of the most blissful activities you’ll engage in.
- Be grateful: I know I’ve bashed self care a lot in this article, but it isn’t self care that is the problem, but rather the way we practice it. Mindfulness and alone time, when done right, are absolutely essential to keeping your shit together, and should be regarded with high value. And being grateful, ladies and gentlemen, is the first step towards a lot of joy sparking. Be grateful for the people that surround you, grateful for the house you live in, the food you put in your body, the body that carries from place to place, the places you were lucky enough to see, and all of what you have experienced in your life. Strive to live in the moment, make memories and be grateful, every step. of. the. way.
Let’s do this, people.
‘Til next time.