THE DANGERS OF HUSTLE CULTURE
By Hailey Hechtman
Twitter: @HaileyHechtmanIG: @hh.healthyliving
Hailey Hechtman is a social impact leader, mental health advocate and Executive Director of Causeway Work Centre. She is passionate about inspiring positive change through community collaboration, constant learning and self reflection. Watch her interview on 'Life Outside the Box' here.
"Amongst the many competing draws for our attention, in a world that still heavily glorifies hustle culture and encourages “I’ve been really busy” as a standard response, most of us are being ground down to some extent by the constant demands on our time."
Have you ever had one of those moments where you are feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, a little stunned by the mountain of tasks in front of you and then turned to face those around you to see an ocean of calm faces? What happens next? Do you begin to question yourself, your capacity, your abilities, your resilience? Do you assume that you are the only one who is roughing it through the grind of the day-to-day? This instantaneous response that we have to the perception of how others feel can be incredibly isolating. To sit in a room, whether IRL or on Zoom and have this sentiment that we stand on our own in feeling overpowered by our to-do list can lead us down a road of insecurity and ultimately derail us from asking for the support that we may need to feel confident once more. All this said, I have a secret to break to you, listen carefully… you are not the only one.
Amongst the many competing draws for our attention, in a world that still heavily glorifies hustle culture and encourages “I’ve been really busy” as a standard response, most of us are being ground down to some extent by the constant demands on our time. Whether it be uncomplimentary priorities like needing to do a lot of deep work and planning while simultaneously reacting to the emerging issues that pop up without warning, our brains are in an ongoing state of hypervigilance. If we then add to this those who are already going through mental health challenges, it can be a lot to respond to.
What is our ultimate tactic in addressing this? Well, it tends to be one of two for the majority who haven’t reached a point of clear boundaries or unshakeable balance. 1) We either double down on thinking that everyone else is handling work seamlessly and sink deeper into that feeling of inadequacy or 2) we remind ourselves that everyone is up against the very real invisible busyness monster succumbing to stress and therefore we shouldn’t ask for any extras because this is a universal experience.
Neither of these strategies is particularly helpful in encouraging us to meet our mental health needs especially when you factor in our second option, we are not accounting for the layered environmental stressors faced by marginalized employees.
On top of our collective cortisol rollercoaster, we also face another game of perception… comparison.
"If we play the very unfun game of comparison, we can get lost in the fact that we are all playing. That everyone that steps up to the plate has someone that they are looking to ahead of them."
For many of us, our breaks during the day consist of checking our social media feeds and scrolling through countless examples of how our colleagues and complete strangers are rocking it. The professional world has even gotten in on this with LinkedIn showcasing the award nominations, rising star promotions and new job bonanza of our networks.
When we spend our workday playing catch up through the never-ending list of accomplishments to be had and deadlines to be met and then sneak away over our lunch break to gaze at those who appear to be effortlessly rising, that too can have an impact on our understanding of the world around us and of ourselves. We can begin to see our successes as inconsequential in comparison to our friend who is one of the city’s “40 under 40”. We can look down on our educational pursuit when a co-worker gets accepted into a prestigious master’s program. This side-by-side image of us vs. them can lead us to think that we are not moving quickly enough, that we are not excelling or growing at the speed that we are meant to. Yet, I will once again divulge a little tidbit…. That person that you are looking to and saying “wow, look at them, look at me… I’m so far behind”, they are doing the exact same thing to someone else.
If we play the very unfun game of comparison, we can get lost in the fact that we are all playing. That everyone that steps up to the plate has someone that they are looking to ahead of them. Whether this is your first day on the job or you have 20 years under your belt, if you sign up to be a part of the great chain of comparison, you will always have someone to up to.
So now that we have unpacked that we all have a flood of obligations weighing us down and we all fall into the trap of looking to others to determine where we should be or what we should have done already, what can we do about it? What can we implement to preserve our mental health, battle away from the spiral of self-judgment, to eliminate the persistent dissection of our goals vs. their achievements?
First, with the busyness barrage, talk to your co-workers or fellow students if you are still in school. Get a sense of how they are handling the workload, if the deadlines keep them up too and if it all feels like a lot. This may give you clearer insights into what is happening outside of your desk and allow you to collaboratively problem solve any areas that are mutually challenging. With this too, take some time to reflect on your own stress management strategies. Can you take breaks throughout your day, even 5 minutes every hour or two to take a few deep breaths? Can you time-block your day to focus on specific topics rather than everything at once? Can you go for a walk on your lunch break to get some time away, a little movement and fresh air?
This all said, if the stressors that you are dealing with are impacting or having a snowball effect on your mental health, please reach out for support. Talk to a supervisor, school counsellor, professor or HR rep. This can feel vulnerable and can sometimes feel like you are asking for extra, but it is actually benefiting everyone. In you saying something about your mental health at work, you are encouraging a culture that takes time to check in with the team, by becoming more inclusive, we create better conditions for all.
Not sure where to start with this conversation? Perhaps consider using the four components of nonviolent communication: (https://www.cnvc.org/online-learning/nvc-instruction-guide/nvc-instruction-guide) --- first speak to what you have been observing “I have been noticing that the deadlines have started to become more last minute over the past few months” then a feeling “this is making me feel overwhelmed and frazzled” than a need “this is making it hard for me to meet my need of feeling on top of things” and lastly, a request “If I could get more advanced notice for project deadlines like this so that I have time to get organized, that would be greatly appreciated.”
"The strengths within you are boundless and it is in the time taken to be with ourselves in stillness that we can let go of the expectations created by our view of others and instead appreciate the magnitude of who we are in this world."
Back to our comparison game, how do we walk away from this? For starters, let’s take time to recognize that we never know someone else’s full story. Social media is a highlight reel and therefore we are never fully observing the behind-the-scenes that may have gone into someone getting that new role or that recognition. We also need to take a moment to acknowledge that we may be at a very different point from someone else. Perhaps we have been in our new job for 6 months and they have been grinding along for this opportunity for the past three years. Taking the time to understand that our step one cannot look like someone else’s step ten can be a relief as we are just at different points along the continuum. Further to this, there are a lot of different points of power and privilege that may play into where someone ends up--- maybe there is a family connection, maybe there have been societal advantages that someone has received that has propelled them more quickly. Although we are often encouraged to see the world as a meritocracy, there are many instances of inequity that mean opportunities go to some and not others.
All that said, the best guidepost for assessing yourself is you. Take a moment to reflect on all that you have accomplished in life. The human that you used to be is not the same person that you are now. You may have graduated school, you may have started a new job, you may have overcome barriers, you may have adapted to new contexts, or navigated through change.
Looking back on your own milestones is the best way to fight back comparison. By remembering that the only person worth taking a deep dive search into is yourself, can be liberating. Sometimes we set goals and once we achieve them, we take out a pen, check off the box and set a new one. Instead of rushing towards the next, let it sink in what you have done, what you have been through; you are still here on this planet, you have been through global upheaval, you have fought through your darkest moments, you have brought people joy, you have learned everything that you have learned up until this moment. The strengths within you are boundless and it is in the time taken to be with ourselves in stillness that we can let go of the expectations created by our view of others and instead appreciate the magnitude of who we are in this world.