The concept of “hustle” is trite bullshit

We love to discuss us some “hustle” these days, especially in the startup/tech world. Everyone is hustling. It’s noble. Let’s deify it. Break your back trying to work harder than everyone else. Get that money.

** Puts rifle up to scrotum **


I’m not the first person to argue hustle is bullshit; this guy even did back in 2015:

Here’s the thing: everyone hustles. We’re all just trying to survive and to succeed in this life – whether that’s professionally or personally – and giving another person a lecture on the extent of your hustle is intentionally self-aggrandizing and wholly deluded. How about just shut up and work hard in silence like the rest of us? Is there a point to your hustle drivel outside of self-promotion? Can you not interrupt me with that shit when I’m trying to eat my pasta? How many times do I have to roll my eyes before you get the hint? Why did you say your girlfriend left you, again?

I will add my voice to this chorus, however.

What is this whole “hustle” deal really?

It’s just an extension of three things:

Basically, the culture in America is often this: “Work kind of hard, but consistently convey to everyone in your sphere that you work super hard, even though in all likelihood your time management skills are a 3 on a 1-10 scale.”

That’s pretty much all “hustle” is.

What would be a better approach?

Life is hard. The “Second Act” — most of adulthood — can be a true slog. The only real “hack” out there is to put in the goddamn work. 

Here’s an example from a recent Dorie Clark article on HBR:

Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of The Coaching Habit, hardly knew anyone when he moved to Toronto, and he asked his friends for help. Melissa knew Lindsay, who knew David, who knew Nancy, an HR executive at a local bank. After this circuitous chain of introductions, Bungay Stanier invited Nancy to attend one of his workshops, and at lunchtime, he recalls, “She pulls me aside and says, ‘Brilliant. You know what, I was just about to sign a contract with a different vendor, but I’ve decided I want you to do our coaching program. Can you give me a contract by tomorrow . . . [and] can you invoice us for $100,000?’” It was four degrees of separation, but the relationship Bungay Stanier developed with Nancy proved invaluable.

Here’s what happened in that story: a dude put in the work — i.e. tried to extend his network in a new area — and got a six-figure contract. That’s the reality of everything. You slog, slog, slog, slog, slog, have awful bosses, work on low-context projects, have no idea what’s happening, outreach, outreach, outreach and eventually there it is. That’s life. It’s not “hustle.” It’s putting up the bar.

The other thing that anecdote underscores is the power of weak ties.

Can we get rid of the “hustle” concept? 

Absolutely not. Dude bros who can code and want to be seen as world-builders with their copied startup idea will always attach themselves to the popular vocab of the time, which would currently include “hustle.”

But it’s trite bullshit. We all work hard. We all try to put on the deck. And we’re all varying degrees of successful on that front. Fuck “hustle.” Just try to get through and be as productive as possible.

Thoughts on the “hustle” culture?

Ted Bauer


  1. I am totally on board this thought train. You hustle or you die. It really is that simple and the braggarts who bleat about their personal hustle are just…braggarts. Let me add another word of the same genre – “authentic.” What does that word even mean? Open your mouth, post a few words, whether twitter, a blog, or whatever, and guess what – that is authentically you. And if you are an authentic phoney, (or braggart, or idiot) then you will be seen as such. In my study of leadership I found that often you WANT a leader to act inauthentically. They must play a role. They must not disclose company secrets or news of the latest merger talks. That might go totally against their “natural” character, so they must mask their “authentic” self for the protection of the organization to which they owe their loyalty, or in many cases to follow the law! IMHO, “authenticity” is not all it’s cracked up to be. True confession – I TEACH inauthenticity whenever I teach negotiations. It’s all part of the process, not in a Machiavellian way, but part of the process nonetheless.

    Once again, Ted, pulling the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and messing around with Jim. Well done.

  2. I suppose when you are doing what you’ve been convinced by a “thought leader” to do (“Gotta hustle…no one else is; it’s your chance to show the world you’re out on the edge of life taking risks!”), and it’s not working…then the next best thing is telling the world how hard you’re hustling in the hope of convincing yourself you matter.

  3. I’m torn. I see your point: hustle is just the trendy word for “doing your job.” But I tend to hear (and feel) this much more now that I’ve been working for myself a few years now. In a 9-5, I commuted, did some stuff, talked to some people, got promised a LOT about career moves, and was never well compensated. Eventually I could do the job well without continuing ed or training, and so I sashayed to work every day. I also had a network of people in the trenches with me as backup, leadership and support. That is not at all how it is as a small biz owner and self-employed schmuck. I am a lot more anxious about client acquisition, retention and satisfaction. I have a wider range of skill sets that I “sell” now that were dormant in a 9-5. And, during downtime I struggle to stay productive and tend to feel stretched thin and busy, without reaching goals. It definitely feels like a hustle to me, as it takes a lot more — I’ll use the word awareness here — to bring ideas to fruition, grow the bottom line, follow-through on decisions, and sometimes avoid outright panic: “Am I doing the right thing? The next best thing?” Great food for thought. Thanks.

    • I see what you’re saying and often feel the same way, but even if I am hustling, I wouldn’t tell everyone about it. And isn’t that the key differentiator? We all work somewhat hard, right?

Reply If You'd Like