Hustle Culture

A 60 second scroll through tags like #SideHustle and #GirlBoss will take you straight to the core of hustle culture.

They’re more than just a jokey sign off on posts, these are ways of life for their devotees. Hustle culture and the notorious ‘girl boss’ entered the internet’s collective consciousness pre-pandemic. It’s a mindset that prioritises work above all else, advocates a no-holds-barred mentality, and turns its nose up at taking time out. This isn’t the same as a healthy drive to succeed. It’s a big step beyond just pushing yourself to do a little better. Imbedding itself into popular culture, it established the attitude that if you aren’t working 24/7 – and ideally becoming hugely successful ASAP – you aren’t doing enough. This is what happens when ambition forgets to check itself before it wrecks itself.

In a world where job security is low and living costs are high, an entrepreneurial streak is a great quality to have; so how did it turn into its own worst enemy? And has the age of the girl boss finally come to an end?  

Photo by Garrhet Sampson via Unsplash

Celebrity hustle

If you’ve been even remotely online in the past week, you know Kim Kardashian recently came under fire for comments about work ethic. In an ill thought-out remark about women simply needing to get their ‘f**king ass up and work’ to achieve their goals, the billionaire was reading straight from the girl boss playbook. A couple of years ago, this might have been printed on t-shirts. After 2 years struggling through a pandemic, it comes across as tone deaf and patronising. It’s hard to take advice like that from someone who was gifted a brand new BMW for her 16th birthday and has been doing similarly well ever since.  

And who could forget the iconic photo of noughties icon Paris Hilton in that tank top. The one with ‘STOP BEING POOR’ emblazoned across the front. It’s since been revealed it was photoshopped, but too late, it’s become an iconic symbol of the milennial era.   

Celebrities – and none more so than influencers – have played a huge role in hustle culture. The irony seems to have been lost that many of them benefit from generational wealth, significant social connections and other privileges. And yet the ‘struggle til you make it’ ethos prevails. Perpetuating the idea that ‘anybody can become a millionaire if they work hard enough’ has made their lifestyles seem almost within reach. It hasn’t mentioned that the start and finish lines of the race are drastically different for everyone. 

Who is she?

Photo by Polina Zimmerman via Pexels

The girl boss started off full of promise. She was stepping up and heading into unchartered territory, maybe even taking some likeminded friends with her. Riding high on the most recent wave of feminism, she was supposed to be a trailblazer for entrepreneurial 20-somethings everywhere. And she was! Until gradually… she wasn’t. Like most role models, the cracks began to show. What started out as a motivational push towards prosperity turned into an unrealistic set of guidelines nobody could follow. It wasn’t possible to live up to her blueprint for women with demanding jobs, children, or any number of other responsibilities.

Rather than allow for real world problems, the girl boss trope insisted that women COULD have it all, if they simply Worked Harder. Once the novelty of that wore off, the girl boss began to burn out. These days no amount of quirky office supplies or power dressing can hide the fact that women still face disproportionate disadvantages when it comes to business. It’s unclear if the #girlboss movement ultimately did much to address the heart of those issues.

Unprecedented times

As people lost their jobs, or spent months in the limbo of furlough, the pandemic shook up the world of work. Starting small businesses throughout all this was a dream come true for some; but simply a nerve-wracking way to try and pay the bills for others. Working from home allowed many to side hustle like never before; from Etsy to OnlyFans, people were branching out in their spare time. But from this comes the notion that any hobby, interest or outlet must be lucrative. Pastimes must be monetized to within an inch of their life. [Otherwise what’s the point? Merely enjoyment?!]

Reels and TikToks promised to show you how to triple your income in a month, how to get paid for doing… just about anything. Suddenly we were taking finanical advice from mysteriously wealthy teenagers on the internet. Social media became overwhelmed with people claiming they could transform you into the next Jeff Bezos [often for a fee]. As long as you just worked hard enough. If it didn’t pan out for you? Well then you can’t have been working hard enough, obviously… 

Photo by Tara Winstead via Pexels

Surviving vs Thriving

But there’s a glamour to hustle culture. The idea that you might pick up extra shifts at work to make more money – that doesn’t particularly fall under the banner of hustling. At least not the kind that makes it to the explore page of your socials. It needs to be something edgy to really fit into the niche. In a clear division between those who CAN and CAN’T afford to launch their own start-ups, hustling rarely heaps praise on people doubling up on conventional ways to make money. It applauds those trying to make millions in NFTs, or who spontaneously quit their jobs to launch their own fashion line. It doesn’t seem so enthusiastic about people doing overtime as a cashier, for instance. That doesn’t lean into the uber-rich, influencer lifestyle that’s been promised. 

And the fascinating thing about that lifestyle is the way Instagram would have you believe many of these people are already living it. They attribute the cars and houses they flaunt to the 24/7 grind. They promise luxury holidays to the rest of us, if we just never stop believing and achieving. There’s absolutely no need for provenance on the internet. We’ll never know how that new car was paid for, or who by, or if it might just have been taken from google images. It’s no coincidence that the business gurus offering paid courses on how to emulate their success are keen to keep us hooked, whether any of it’s actually attainable for the general public or not. 

The price of wellness

But where’s the mindfulness we were all hearing so much about 5 minutes ago? And what about the fact studies show we’re all burnt out? Is it time for a break yet?  

Throwing back to that Kim K remark shows a lot about the point we’re at with hustle culture in 2022. The comments which followed that video ranged from ‘She probably didn’t mean it to sound that bad’ to ‘Wtf?! She’s never worked a day in her life’. Overall, it seems we don’t have time for the constant grind anymore. Perhaps it’s the sharp spike in living costs, general fatigue, or maybe the trend simply ran its course; whatever it is, people are turning their backs on relentless work ethics. And that’s great news for mental health.

Without good rest, it’s impossible to do good work anyway.  Could anybody really enjoy their success if they didn’t take a day off once in a while to appreciate it? Where would that nonstop climb end? Balancing work with leisure isn’t just a smart way to offset the two, it’s vital for our wellbeing. 

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