Hustle: Make or Break?

[Cover art by the author]

As you may have noticed here at The Slow Down, Productivity Culture is pretty antithetical to our ethos. This is the home of the Anti-Hustle.

Lately though, I've been hearing a rather vexing whisper echoing from the darker corners of my mind (where my ego monster lives), telling me that hustling is definitely probably necessary in order to attain a sustainable enough career/venture/business to be able to, as a consequence, slow down and embrace an abundance mindset.

A very troubling and discouraging idea indeed, especially considering how detrimental the hardcore hustle + grind is to our health, relationships, and spirit. But is an alternative even possible? What could that look like?

Ease over Effort

Selection bias may be feeding that rude little voice, since many of the most vocal people I notice embracing the anti-hustle philosophy are already “successful” in the ways this society generally defines that word -- aka wealth and recognition. I mean, these folks are established professionals, big enough to have very popular platforms, which is how their work even reached your humble author. And the reason they now preach "ease over effort" is because they've done the hustling and can safely put it behind them -- although they don't usually admit as much.

They often focus on how grinding sucks the vibrancy out of life. They 're right: the hustle is a vampire. I don't begrudge their powers of observation but rather that they may have taken for granted the foundation that their prior hard work has laid. Not to mention the adversity that others could face traveling the same path.

For example, artist Lisa Congdon recently wrote a personal essay about over-work, burnout, and slowing down, wherein she makes so many great points about health and creativity. But I can’t help but think “Well, that's all easy for you to say now that you have more commissions than you can handle and you’ve been doing big-name client work for many years." Likewise, two of my favorite podcasters, Jess Lively and Jonathan Fields are both fully aboard the anti-hustle train, even playing conductor for their audiences as they impart philosophies and tactics for chilling TF out. Ms Lively even claims that since she’s begun prioritizing her spiritual alignment and “efforting” less, her business now makes more money than ever. But, I wonder, would this even be possible if she hadn’t already created such a successful and well-known company? Would she have been able to slow her roll three or four years ago, when her business was much smaller? 

Same also goes for Ruby Warrington, whose amazing professional connections that she collected while grinding hard as a fashion journalist for big name magazines no doubt helped her when established her more spirituality-focused project-turned-full-time-gig The Numinous (btw, keep an eye out for my upcoming review of her new book!). She too laid the tracks for her more intentional life by first working herself into near-illness. 

Which leads me to my ultimate question: Is it possible to Start Slow? To grow your career/business more gently and with intention from the beginning, and have that actually translate into financially sustainable work?

And, reflecting on the examples I’ve described above -- all of whom are rich and white -- I have a corollary query: Is the hustle + grind in fact necessary for more marginalized people? For poor folks? For anyone whose barriers to access are even somewhat higher than the examples above? 

By the author N. Marie

Journey to the Center of the Low-Paying Nonprofit World

Reflecting on my own path, I cannot say with confidence that I could have gotten to where I am without sacrificing my mental and physical well-being. While I certainly have my heaping share of privilege, a career in a field of my preference would probably not have been attainable without the extreme hustle I committed. And I'm not even a professional creative or entrepreneur! (Yet.)

I could recount the tale of my 8 years of college, during which I worked multiple concurrent jobs, how I started working before I was legally able, how my rich classmates -- especially in grad school -- had it so much easier, and how I lost several years absent from the "real" job market and that I'm much older than my office peers as a consequence. It is the same story of so many other poor people. But even the memories exhaust me.  

It took me all of that, to gain entry to the international nonprofit world. Which, if you're curious, does not pay particularly well. It also forces you to live in super pricey DC or NY, or else uproot your life entirely and move overseas. I only recently emerged from below the poverty line (where I've been my entire life), and I'm still considered solidly low-income. Middle class status is a fantasy before I reach age 35. 

there is another way

Which is all to say that I wish it could have been different for me. For so many of us. Maybe slowing down and living with more intentionality is only for rich folks.  

I don’t want to believe that though. My health, our collective health -- not to mention the well-being of the planet -- depends on living the alternative. 

I’m working on re-training my brain to slow down and take life a bit easier (hence, this blog). At the same time, that change is terrifying. The productivity-centric, busy-equals-good worldview predominates in this culture and it's extra hard to break out of when it's all you've ever known. When, maybe, it's even helped you survive, if not thrive. 

And so I seek inspiration in people who, even if they've played the hustle + grind game, they're charting their own intentional life path. Folks who acknowledge not only the struggles they've faced and still encounter, but who also call out the structures that often cause that adversity. I admire them for being unapologetically themselves and standing in opposition to imperialist capitalism and its attendant social prescriptions, which is evident in their work and their public commentary. People like this are rarely extremely famous, but some folks that come to mind (along with links to their most inspiring interviews/writing), include:

Also, shout out to In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney, which is filled with over 100 profiles of women and genderqueer entrepreneurs, creatives, and makers of all kinds -- over half of whom are either WOC, queer, disabled, or otherwise "other." I love flipping through this big coffee table book on gray mornings for a little inspo and motivation. 

How about y'all? Have you had success with Starting Slow (as I'll be calling it from now on)? Any other human sources of inspiration that you think I should highlight on the blog? Leave a note in the comments below!