The dangers of subscribing to hustle culture

We’ve all heard the phrases “the grind don’t stop” and “rise and grind” countless times throughout our educational careers. We admire those who hustle and value their tireless work ethic. We strive to meet high standards, whether it’s society’s view or our own, and we don’t stop until burnout comes knocking. 

Among younger generations, hard work is praised. And although hard work is important, there comes a point where hard work turns into overwork. This glamorization of hard work and praise of insatiable work ethic is known as hustle culture.

Though hustle culture is more common among young adults working in business and corporate professions, the hustle culture mentality is embodied by college students as well.

At first glance, hustle culture doesn’t appear so bad. What’s wrong with wanting to be hard working and productive? The short answer is nothing — that is, until the behavior becomes toxic.

Toxic productivity can be hard to spot because among college students, lack of sleep is praised, caffeine addictions are celebrated and the concept of rest is scoffed at. It’s no secret that balancing life in college is tricky. We’re tasked with balancing homework, a job, spending time with friends, volunteering and so on. Even on my free days, a small voice in the back of my mind reminds me of something else I could be doing, some class I could get ahead in or some scholarship I could apply for.

Perhaps we embrace our hectic lives to brag about it to our peers. We compare our schedules with our friends, claiming that we’re busier and more tired, as if there is a reward attached to our sleep deprivation.

It’s easy to believe the lies hustle culture feeds us. One of those lies is that less sleep equals higher levels of productivity. More time awake means more time to get things done, right?

According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), insufficient sleep is defined as an average of less than seven hours a night. As much as we want it to, six or seven hours just won’t cut it. 

In his TEDx Talk “The Science of Sleep,” Dr. Matthew Carter highlights how college students have normalized sleep deprivation. He compares this bad habit to that of smoking and eating only junk food. 

“The effects of being sleep deprived all the time can be just as bad as smoking and just as bad as eating too much junk food, and yet lots of students would actually choose to go to a college where everyone looks sleep deprived because it looks like it’s a really hard working college where people are very productive and achieving great things,” said Carter. 

Hustle culture has allowed us to believe that productivity is more important than our physiological needs. The truth is, our productivity increases when we are well-rested. Our minds are clear and we are able to do much more with the time given to us.

Hustle culture also tries to convince us that we don’t have time for rest or relationships, that work is what we live for. Though our studies are in fields we are interested in and passionate about, they are still demanding and take a toll on us mentally, physically and emotionally. We all need a break at some point, and acting like we don’t will only lead to burnout. 

After all, we are only human. Hustle culture tries to convince us that we can do it all by ourselves through sheer willpower and fierce independence. But truthfully, we are fragile and frail. We are dependent on others and the rest their company provides. We need time for our minds to wander free from the constant beckoning of our busy schedules.

The longer we sit in the mentality surrounding hustle culture and toxic productivity, the more likely we will take the fruits of this thought pattern into adulthood. We can prevent falling into this trap by remembering that life extends beyond a job or career. We work to live, not live to work.