We live in a hustle culture. This culture pressures us to work too much, have unrealistic expectations, and project a relentless “can do!” attitude whether we’re feeling energized or not.
“If you’ve fallen prey to the hustle culture, you have bought into the idea that it’s cool to be ‘always-on’ and to push yourself to the max each of the 1,440 minutes of the day,” says Psychotherapist Bryan E. Robinson, PhD. “You boast about no breaks. No leisure. No weekends off. No vacations. No sleep or exercise. . . .”
Maybe you’re a “hard-core” hustler as described above, or perhaps a more reluctant one. To one extent or another, most of us are influenced in negative ways by this cultural tendency.
At its core, hustling is about control. Hustling as a valid lifestyle choice is built on the idea that if you try hard enough, work long enough hours, and don’t “waste time” on activities that (gasp!) bring joy but not results, you can control your destiny.
You may have noticed that (spoiler alert) we’re not in control of as much as we think.
If you’ve reached a certain age like I have, you might be starting to feel less “go get ‘em!” and more “meh” about the “toil glamour” culture. And also, you’re just too tired to try that hard.
Maybe, like me, you’re struggling to find an alternative mindset. You value a good day’s work but don’t want to be completely defined by it. You’re searching for a lifestyle that gives you permission to slow down and make time for joy, while still making a valuable contribution.
You value a good day’s work but don’t want to be completely defined by it.
To my way of thinking, we need less hustle and more grace. By “grace” I’m talking about a frame of mind that’s kinder and more flexible. I’m not quite sure what to call this, but for now I’m going with “gracious lifestyle.” It describes those of us who still desire to show up, pitch in, and serve on a regular basis, but want to do so in a way that’s thoughtful, enjoyable and sustainable.
If hustling is largely built on the idea of control, a gracious lifestyle is more open to and accepting of what’s beyond our control. It encourages us to live more in the present moment, and become more accepting of what is even as we’re hoping to bring about what might be in the future.
When hustling encourages us to focus solely on the goal at all costs, a gracious mindset is concerned more with how we move through our tasks (thoughtfully, comfortably) than with the results. Under the gracious mindset, if the goal is reached - great! If not, or if it takes longer than expected, the journey itself was still useful and fulfilling.
The goal-oriented nature of hustling encourages us to focus on the future, but living graciously is more expansive in its viewpoint, allowing us to think about the future but live in the moment, accepting both the joys and challenges of today.
Hustling is often an “outside-in” way of living as we bend to social pressures, whereas gracious living is about living from the “inside-out”. It encourages us to understand our priorities, and evaluate how we spend our time based on how successfully we live in accordance with these values rather than on our level of productivity.
Hustling seeks excellence and perfection. Living in a hustling culture means that many of us live in constant fear of screwing up and being exposed as frauds when we fall short of what’s expected. Gracious living means accepting that mistakes or attempts that fall short are signs of courage and growth, not weakness and failure.
While hustling requires us to have (or at least pretend to have) boundless energy and take constant action, a gracious mindset accepts the natural state of things. We acknowledge that our energy ebbs and flows, and welcome both the contributions of rest and work to a life well-lived.
“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” - Blaise Pascal
As Kao explains, many people act from a dysfunctional mindset. This mindset involves having ridiculously high expectations regarding the quality of work and level of focus we expect from ourselves on a regular basis. As a result, we become so intimidated by impossibly high standards that we procrastinate (which causes stress, among other things), or don’t do the work at all.
Kao says that this mindset is counterproductive. In contrast, Kao has adopted what I characterize as a gracious mindset towards his work. His mantra describes how he holds himself accountable, but in a kind and flexible way: “I’m strict about showing up, lenient about results, and gentle to bring myself back to focus again and again.”
Kao argues, and I agree, that this mindset is much more productive in the long-run - to say nothing of more enjoyable. It’s much better to set reasonable work times for yourself and show up for these periods, but be flexible about the quality or quantity of work you produce, and gentle in the manner that you manage yourself while doing the work.
This ensures that you’ll accomplish something. Even if that something is much more modest than you’d hoped, over time this work adds up. You’ll be able to accomplish important things that you otherwise wouldn't if you’d never shown up at all.
Whether you adopt Kao’s way of thinking or not, consider shifting from a hustle-mindset to one that’s more gracious, more spacious. As writer Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Grace can take you places hustling can’t.” One of those places is a calmer, gentler, more benevolent way of being in and thinking about the world.
And boy, we could really use more of that right now.