A young person in their bedroom looking at their phone.

The double-edged sword of 'hustle culture'

5 min read
02 April 2024

Topics mentioned: burnout, self-care, self-esteem, university, school, social media

Author: Luke, 20

About: The pressures of hustle culture can impact our mental health and self-worth. Here's how Luke is learning to get off 'the grind' and put his wellbeing first.

Hustle culture equates busyness with productivity, exhaustion with accomplishment, and, most dangerously, self-worth with professional success.

In a world that glorifies being ‘on the grind’, the relentless pursuit of success can often become a badge of honour. My life as it currently stands, balancing my studies with my role as News Editor for my university’s newspaper, has been a profound lesson in the perils of what we call ‘hustle culture’.

I’m often praised by those around me for being hardworking and relentlessly driven to chase my dreams. On the surface, that’s a pretty big compliment. People seem to look at me and think: “Yes, he’s got his life in check.” I like to think that’s true, considering it has almost become my defining characteristic and is central to how people see me.

Yet, behind the scenes, I’m often left pondering how my self-worth has become synonymous with my achievements. Things are all well and good when they go ahead as planned. But when they don’t, it all just feels like one great catastrophe.

A young girl looks anxious while holding a mug and talking to her friend who is sitting opposite her in a school canteen.

One thing I now recognise is that hustle culture is seductive. It promises success, recognition, and fulfilment, urging us to push our limits. The narrative is compelling: work harder, work longer, and all your dreams will materialise. Now that’s a very optimistic outlook and is no doubt a useful one for people lacking a little motivation. But make it your whole life story, as I sometimes do, and the narrative quickly becomes problematic. Hustle culture equates busyness with productivity, exhaustion with accomplishment, and, most dangerously, self-worth with professional success. I’ve quickly come to learn that this idea is not only misleading; it can be rather harmful.

The moments of joy, opportunities for growth, and the simple pleasures of life become overshadowed by an undying to-do list.

I consider my time at university to be a microcosm of this wider phenomenon. Juggling my studies, social life, food, travel, and career aspirations has been a valuable lesson about priorities and over-commitment. The pressure to excel academically, socially, and professionally, when left unchecked, quickly becomes a consuming force. It’s a cycle of constant striving, where each achievement becomes a mere stepping stone to the next. Never a moment to savour, reflect or rest.

While celebrated by others, my ambition can begin to take its toll. Not only on my mental and physical wellbeing, but on my ability to appreciate how far I’ve come too. The moments of joy, opportunities for growth, and the simple pleasures of life become overshadowed by an undying to-do list. At times, I end up feeling disconnected, as I realise those around me appreciate the smaller, more fulfilling aspects of life, which I am denying myself.

Simply giving myself the time to be aware of this and having the opportunity to reflect has been vital. Through setting boundaries, prioritising self-care and learning to value rest as much as work, I’ve redefined what I call ‘success’ and embraced a more holistic view of productivity. I like to think of it as a shift from ‘doing’ to ‘being’, from relentless ambition to mindful living.

Young people, especially young men, are particularly vulnerable to its allure. It’s often drilled into us that our value is measured by our ability to produce, excel, and outperform.

It's important to note that the detriments of hustle culture are not just personal; they are societal. Young people, especially young men, are particularly vulnerable to its allure. It’s often drilled into us that our value is measured by our ability to produce, excel, and outperform.

It’s something we pick up so early on through the school grading system, perhaps through our family and friends too. Along with the rise of social media and so-called ‘influencers’, it’s easy to see how the youth of today can get caught up in this culture.

A group of students wearing school uniform sit at their desks in a classroom and write in their textbooks.

While it may not be inherently malicious, when taken out of hand, the pressure to ‘be on the grind’ can be disastrous. It pushes us to take on far more than we can handle. For me, I end up getting less done because of this pressure.

The antidote to hustle culture is not a rejection of ambition or a call for complacency. I like to think of it instead as an invitation to embrace a more balanced approach to life. It’s all about recognising that true success encompasses wellbeing, relationships, and being present in the moment. It’s about understanding that life is enriched not just by what we achieve but who we become in the process.

My experiences have taught me that while ambition is a powerful motivator, it must be handled correctly. I’m finding that true ‘success’ in life stems not solely from my ‘achievements’, but from my ability to integrate them into a life rich with meaning and connection. Rethinking success in this way leads me to believe that life is less about the destination and more about the journey. I believe the journey itself is what I should truly be ‘grinding’ for.

It’s about understanding that life is enriched not just by what we achieve but who we become in the process.

More information and advice

We have tips and advice to help you find the support you need. Take a look at our guides.

Where to get help

However you're feeling, there are people who can help you if you are struggling. Here are some services that can support you.

  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)

    Provides support to anyone aged 16+ who is feeling down and needs to talk or find information.

    Free webchat service available.

    Read information about the helpline and how it works.

    Opening times:
    5pm - midnight, 365 days a year

Thanks for sharing your story Luke, 20

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