Every Day I’m Hustling

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of talk on the interwebs about hustling.  I know a lot of people who are celebrating others and themselves for working really hard.

I celebrate good work ethic.  I work with teams in my job and in my personal life, and trust you me, I appreciate hard-working team members.  I appreciate individuals who are self-motivated, energized, have good ideas, seek to improve systems, and who put in their best effort.

But, this whole celebration of hustling movement has been a bit troublesome to me.  As I’ve thought about it for the last few months, I’ve tried to put my finger on just what it is that bothers me.  Every time I read a post or comment about hustling, I have a strong nearly physical reaction.

Clearly a reaction that deep points to a deeper issue.

And it came to me this morning – as a recovering perfectionist, overachiever, & control freak, the mention of hustling either leaves me jonesing for more perfection/achieving/control in my life, or leaves me wanting to turn and run from that which held me captive for a years.  Perfectionists hustle to appear just right.  Achievers hustle be productive.  Control freaks hustle to make sure things are done properly.

The word hustle doesn’t conjure up the most positive imagery for me.  The dictionary definition didn’t really help me feel better about it either:


I bet that the majority of people I know that are using the term “hustling” are referring to definition 1.  I assume they are referring to the fact that they (or their colleagues) are working rapidly and energetically.  I know that good intentions cause people to hustle by that first definition.  So do good ideas, time limitations, insufficient staffing, and a host of other good or beyond control forces.

But I have to wonder, does working rapidly and energetically over time, lead people to start to hustle by way of the more negative definitions?  (Ideally not illegal activities – see definitions 4 and 5 above).  Does hustling over time cause us to be forceful, aggressive, rushed, and addicted to a fast pace?

I ask that question, because when I’m in crazy perfectionist/achieving/controlling Allison mode, my hustle isn’t pretty.

As a trained behaviorist, I believe that there is a motivation behind every action, and there is most certainly a motivation behind repeat actions.  When I find myself hustling, or talking about hustling, or working in an organization that celebrates hustling, I do best to pause and ask myself:

1.  Do I know where I’m going?

Sometimes I’m hustling because I don’t have an end goal, or a vision, or a mission, and I’m floundering.  So I tread water instead of swim to a destination.  Treading water involves lot of movements, but results in no movement.  Sometimes when I’m panicky and feel the busiest, the best thing I can do is stop, rest, and set goals.

2.  Do I know how I’m getting there?

There is nothing more crazy-making than knowing the end goal, but having no clear plan of how to get there.  This affects individuals, but it affects teams and organizations more often.  Teams waste countless hours hustling without a plan.  Over the years, I’ve learned that just because someone is working lots of hours doesn’t mean they are being productive.  When I find myself putting in a lot of hours, but see little movement toward a goal, I pause and get a strategic plan.  Adding timelines and assigning people to tasks takes a lot of the crazy out of the journey toward meeting a goal.

3.  Do I trust my colleagues/teammates?

Man y’all, I struggle with this one big time.  I’ve been that person on group projects since grade school.  You know, the one that all the lazy people hated interacting with but wanted on the team anyway because I took over and did it all myself?  I still have to consciously tell myself on every group project: a.) My way is not the best way b.) My ideas are not the best ideas.  Over time (and thanks to many community organizing classes), I have come to embrace others’ ideas and realize the power of collective work.  BUT, every time a teammate disappoints me, old Allison tries to emerge.  My distrust of others and need to control has caused me undue hustle over the years.

4.  Do I have an elevated view of my organization/responsibility/role/project?

I am and have been guilty of tunnel-vision.  I get so focused on the work I’m doing, or the organization’s cause, or my role, that I lose sight of the rest of the world.  And when I lose sight, I lose perspective.  Sometimes,a headline or a good friend will put me in my place.  My work is not more weighty or important than  most things in the world.  Truly, if I don’t accomplish everything on my checklist today, things won’t completely fall apart.  In the helping/church/nonprofit world we get so caught up in our cause that we can justify our own suffering because we’re working toward alleviating others’ suffering.  In the business/marketplace/money world, folks justify bottoming out for the bottom line.  We need to be reminded how small we are sometimes.

5.  Do I have my priorities straight?

I know the right answer.  But in the thick of busy seasons at work when I get #4 all wrong, I can start to justify working too hard.  I have sacrificed a healthy relationship with my husband for work.  I have sacrificed a healthy relationship with family and friends because I felt like I needed to hustle.  I have sacrificed taking care of my body because my priorities were out of whack.  Hustle should never jostle priorities.  Workaholism is a destructive force.  Sabbath is a command and a blessing.  We all need a day to rest, refocus, celebrate blessings, and refuel for the week.  None of us are above a Sabbath.

6.  Do I trust God?

This one’s a real biggie for me, too.  I love achieving, accomplishing, completing.  But I leave God out of much of what I do.  I strive, I take control, and I lean into my own understanding.  When I find myself stressed, overwhelmed, and about to crack, I’m usually reminded of that rather famous verse from Proverbs 3: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your path straight.”  I’d love for that trust to come into play before I’m at a breaking point due to hustle.

So, before we go bragging about our busyness, our solid work ethic, or our crazy hours, let’s all start asking ourselves the why behind the behavior.  Let’s check ourselves before wreck ourselves, our families, our relationships…

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