“The glorification of working very long hours in hope of reaching one’s professional goals while having a disregard for their health, and relationships with loved ones.”
I used to be a hustler. I used to believe heavily that my value in this world is built on the work I’ve done for it. I never really knew why, but I had this drive to always work, to always achieve… Until I stopped.
Being “unemployed” in the traditional sense for about a year now, I have gained a new perspective on what I cherish in my life. Moreover, what measures as “work” in my book.
Going through the process of destigmatizing unemployment and side activities was not easy. I realized that my mind was hardwired to “work, work, work”.
So, I could not help but wonder how did this idea even come to life in my mind. The more I thought about it, the clearer it got – my professional life was shaped by the culture I grew up in.
I’ve been raised between two contradictory and yet very similar cultures. As a Bulgarian, I’m quite familiar with my country’s past, filled by the communist working party. On the other hand, we have the heavily Americanized 90’s and early 2000s TV shows I grew up with.
On first glance those have nothing in common, but me. However, both cultural phenomena bring their own version of what “hustle culture” encompasses today. Let’s take a deeper look.
The Eastern Way
I can assure you, that most Eastern Europeans are born in a society mostly defined by career and social status. We all know the talk of the “Good old days” when people had plenty and worked hard. Keyword: worked.
My grandad is an engineer (of course). As such, he has always preached the importance of your profession in the eyes of the people. He would often remember acquaintances by their name and profession. Not by the measure of their relationship. This view of the world was internalized as well: Being an engineer has always been his one defining feature.
Even though the ideals of communism were to remove the root of injustice a.k.a. social classes, the result we see nowadays is quite the opposite. Besides the division in work class and bourgeoisie, we see division in social worth.
In general, socialist society brings the idea that a person’s worth is defined by how they can benefit their social circle. Personal ideals, self-worth and priorities take a second place.
Therefore, people with qualifications (mostly of the kind needed to the economy) were and still are perceived as classes above the rest. Mostly people from the Medical staff, lawyers and people in governmental positions.
And creativity… well no one really cared about the creative part of society. So, even today, a creative weirdo like me can be no one. No matter my degree or all my projects, I am not an engineer or a doctor. Therefore, as far as it concerns my granddad, I did nothing with my life.
As barbaric as this kind of thinking sounds, it is not quite as far behind us, as we think.
The American Way
The USA had already flooded the entertainment world with a variety of our favourite TV shows. As much as their culture has been a contrast to “Mother Russia”, beyond the surface their paths have led to similar results.
In my school experience, I’ve never been good in the exact sciences. Yet, most of the shows that I watched in my early years made me remember one essential formula:
money = happiness
work = money
So, work should equal happiness, right?
If that is right, our whole existence is defined by the very profession we choose to practice.
We all remember the wonderful ladies in “Sex and the City”. Four women, defined by their careers, who often use the same approach in their love affairs.
Carrie – loved to write and wrote for love. Samantha – the PR executive who saw love as a business transaction. Miranda – the lawyer, extensively judgemental about her spouses and having trouble believing in “true love”. Finally, Charlotte tries to be the very art pieces she sells – perfect and elegant in any situation.
We cheered for our “Friends” in their struggles in the city and challenges on the workplace. Again, we knew all about their work, how it made them feel, influenced their income and relationships with themselves and others.
Rachel’s whole journey to become an adult was seen through her career path.
But those are not the only examples. So many shows airing between the 90s and early 2000s were revolving around the protagonists’ profession.
What does that mean for our work culture today?
I dare to speak in the name of my fellow 20-something fellas by saying that being a hustler in today’s society is heavily praised. We are fed all the success stories, young millionaire images, social media creators and dream-achievers. In today’s world loving what you do for a living is more important than ever.
My point is: “hustle culture” has become the new norm. We have all seen and heard the message loud and clear – if you work hard, you get far.
How is this bad for us though? Work is good.
Simple. Let me give you my own insight.
work = happy?
Having the exact upbringing you just read about, I’ve always seen my future as a successful lady. Even before I realised what success is.
I wanted to be busy. To work hard. To “hustle”, because that’s the only way to live the high life.
So, I studied hard, went to plenty of extra classes. I got into a good university and continued grinding – two study jobs, language classes, writing this very blog, hitting the gym.
All my time was dedicated to achieving. Whatever it was. I hardly ever sat down to relax, or when I did, I was too tired to enjoy. But wait, I hit the parties too. Everything my society encompassed me to do.
The moment I finished university I was more tired than ever. In the last five years, I had no time off. I was either studying, working, doing an internship, developing my side projects, taking a course or partying. There was no rest. I deserve a break, right? I should just chill out for a bit, or I will completely burn out.
Not according to my culture. Not according to my friends. Weirdly – not according to my brain. It just won’t turn off!
Truth is, I can afford the time off. Yet, my work life seems to be all the rage these days.
It all started with the university teachers, even before graduation. All telling us how with every day out of uni in which we do not look for a job, we are wasting time.
One of them told a classmate of mine that she better has kids now, so she can completely focus on her career soon. Wait, what?
Then, it was all my acquaintances. Everyone asking questions. What job do I have in mind? Did I find one already? How am I searching? How many applications do I send?
What’s the plan?
When did work become success? When did it start being more important than our health, morals, etiquette or personal happiness?
Why did no one ask me “You graduated recently. How is your health?”.
No, I don’t have a job. I am not even desperately looking for one.
No, I don’t have any clue what to do with my life. Call it a meltdown, if you wish.
… and all of this is fine.
It doesn’t fit our society’s idea of fine, but it sure fits mine.
All in all, there is nothing inherently bad in looking for success in your profession, nor loving what you do. Hell yeah, I love my field and I feel great when I can use my imagination on campaigns and brand messages.
Still, there is also nothing inherently bad in not having a defined goal for your next five years. No harm in feeling that success is something else, rather than a professional realisation. Nothing bad in being happy and unemployed. Just do you, cause judging by this, our society sucks anyway.