How ‘Hustle Culture’ Harms Entrepreneurs
If you are sacrificing your mental, emotional and physical health in your pursuit of success, you will likely end up sacrificing your own success.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A few years ago, I asked several successful entrepreneurs what advice they would give to others beginning their own pursuit of success. The advice ranged from learning to ask for help to making it a priority to live a balanced life.
One mantra that resonated throughout all of the advice I received was this: time, health and relationships are limited resources that should be protected despite the overwhelming demands we might be facing.
New studies are backing up this advice, with reports now showing a direct line between sleep deprivation and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease as well as the faster onset of symptoms in Alzheimer's disease. Even more concerning is one new study on mice which links exposure to mild stressors with higher rates of depression and lower interest in self-care, socializing, or recreational activities.
Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of Initialized Capital and Reddit, took this mantra a step further during an interview on stage at the 2018 Ignition Conference. "What I hope is that more and more founders that go on this journey realize that their physical health and mental health are a thing to value." Ohanian, who refers to the often toxic values and messaging among the startup community as hustle porn, added that his own failure to prioritize self-care during the early days of his startup ended up negatively impacting the quality of his own work.
As we have become a more virtually connected society through social media platforms, the opportunities to cultivate long-distance relationships with others interested in niche topics have increased, opening doors that may have been impossible in previous decades.
But social networks have also helped exacerbate the false narrative that pushing harder, sleeping less, and working constantly are the keys to winning. When our competition posts yet another late-night photo with terms like "killing it" or "crushing it", it's easy to look at our own efforts and wonder if we will be left behind because we actually took time to go home, get sleep, go for a walk or spend time with family.
In fact, balancing work with the rest of our lives is a value I have tried to instill in our own startup, CityLife. I counted it as a personal win recently when one of our team messaged that they would be taking the day off to celebrate a birthday. Yes, startups are hard work. And a lot of sacrifice. It is actually because it takes so much out of us that it becomes vital that startup teams are taking time away from the high pressure to enjoy the journey of their own life.
Feelings of inadequacy and overwhelm are often a constant as we push to achieve things that fall far outside our comfort zone, but sometimes the answer to feeling more in control of our future is not in pushing harder but in backing up enough to see more clearly what is vital and what is fluff. Becoming more selective means we can pursue opportunities while still making time to pursue personal interests.
There will always be one more conference and one more networking event that we wonder if we should have attended. And there is some real truth in the fact that if we don't show up, we don't have a voice in the room. But doing our research so that the travel we book, the conferences we attend, the opportunities we say yes to are strategic and aligned with our goals - that will enable us to be in the rooms where our opportunities will be highest and have a voice in the conversations where our input will have the best impact.
One thing I have learned to do over the past ten years of running a startup is to create boundaries around my time and participation on social media as well as to challenge my thinking when I begin to feel envy or anxiety over the success of someone else. Entrepreneurship is one of the few pursuits where someone else's success is not our failure. Even when a competitor succeeds, it could very well be the opening of an opportunity to now collaborate with them.
It is so easy to get sucked into the culture of hustle porn, to feel like we are being left behind or somehow setting ourselves up to fail when we take time to breathe. But when when we ignore or abuse our health, our relationships, or our time because of our hope of one day succeeding, we may find that the price is far higher than we could have imagined and that our own capacity for endurance is so compromised that we have cheated ourselves of our own success.