Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Not You, It's Me (Hustle Edition)

I didn't mean for Wednesday's post to be a cop-out.  Honestly, I thought that it - the second paragraph in particular - could stand on its own.  But you don't let me off that easily, dear readers, and so I'm back to re-enter the conversation about what "hustle" means to each of us.

However, I want to offer a disclaimer before I say anything else.  (This is part of the reason I didn't publish any of my original drafts on the subject; I'm a huge proponent of disclaimer-free blogging!)  But here goes anyway:

My understanding of "hustle" has much more to do with me than it does with the people who use the word/concept, even if they are, in fact, using it in the way I understand it.  There are plenty of people - people I respect and admire - who identify with the descriptors I'll use below who don't use it in the way I read it.  And for the people who do... well, it's my choice to follow them on social media, and I have the power to stop following them.

The other disclaimer, especially for those who are relatively new to Betsy Transatlantically, is that I have a desk job and I love it, and sometimes I get tetchy about what seems like an overwhelming consensus from lifestyle bloggers that the be-all and end-all is entrepreneurship.  (I actually blogged about this exact thing two years ago and the follow up to that post, published in October 2012, turns out to presage this one a bit.)

So, admitting a great deal of insecurity and a tendency to overreact, I will tell you that when 20- and 30-something women who own their own businesses or are building a freelance portfolio talk about "hustling," I hear judgement.  I hear, "I work harder than people who have bosses and timesheets and commutes and offices that are outside their homes because there is no barrier between my personal life and my professional life like there is for you.  My work is more important to my livelihood than yours is because my income depends entirely on my imagination and my ambition, and you don't need to have either of those things to draw a salary.  I can't satisfy my innate need to create if I don't do something new and exciting every minute of every day, but you are just a cog in the wheel and you don't have to be innovative to feel fulfilled.  Hustling makes me special, and you don't need to hustle so you aren't special."

I told you this has more to do with me and my own hang-ups than it does with the people who use the word "hustle" to describe what they do, didn't I?  Because of course all that is ridiculous.  I work hard, my job demands creativity, my professional identity is intertwined with my personal identity, and there aren't a lot of people out there who could (or would want to) do what I do.  I know that.  I do.  But when millennials who freelance and/or work from home talk about their hustle, I bristle.

Yikes.  I'm a little embarrassed to have admitted all of this.  But there it is, dear readers.  That's what I hear.  Feel free to tell me I'm being absurd - or, if you didn't last week, tell us in the comments what you understand when you hear "hustle" in a contemporary non-athletic context!  I think I need a reality check.


  1. I like that you admitted what it means to you. That's the kind of honesty that brings me constantly back to your blog!

    To me hustle just means to up the pace to get a lot done as quickly and as feverishly as you can. But it's not something that I tend to associate with freelances specifically. x

    1. I just don't hear people with "typical" desk jobs ever talk about hustling - but we often have to get a lot done quickly and feverishly, too! it's just part of working for most people no matter what we do.

  2. Well I don't know about hustling or not hustling....I never use that word, and it actually reminds me of high school football practice or something! Ha!

    But just know that those of us who work from home have our own insecurities too. It's both wonderfully freeing and extremely terrifying (depending on the day, the hour, the minute! haha). It's easy to talk about the passion behind what we do, not so easy to discuss the fear of failure/not doing enough/not making enough of a difference, worrying about income, etc. etc.

    Just my two cents. ;)

  3. I've never thought of the word hustle as being about freelancing. Like, Amanda said, I hear that word and just think getting stuff done. Beyond that, I completely agree with you about the tendency of the online world to act like freelancing is the ultimate dream and if you work at a desk job in an office you're settling for something less and just a cog in the wheel being controlled by the Man. I bristle as well, and it frustrates me a lot. I see so many posts about "how to work from home" and "how to find your dream job," and every single time this dream job is a work-from-home job! It really annoys me. Again, I don't associate any of that with the word "hustle," but I do completely understand and empathize with your feelings on this topic.

  4. Honestly, I have yet to evolve past the negative connotations to the world hustle - to swindle, etc. I know the term has a wider use than that - clearly: see everything on the internet - but that's not what I think of personally. The overproliferation of hustle recently annoys me as well, but I can't quite put my finger on why.

    I don't know. I think the attitude of the internet towards getting things done is obnoxious most of the time.

  5. I feel the same way about lifestyle blogging and entrepreneurship- although I wouldn't qualify it solely by the use of the word "hustle"- (maybe I don't follow people who use this phrase, in this context!) It seems like mid size-larger bloggers judge a person's self worth by their ability to turn a blog into a profit machine. I've felt the itch on occasion, "well.. they always say 'if I'm spending so much time on it, I should make money off it.'...what am I doing wrong?" -- but that lumps everyone's motives into one generic pool. I wholly understand my blog is NOT going to be the place I make a difference and/or make money. It's my day job. So, that's where I devote my time.

    I will say, I bristle at the use of the phrase "busy"..mostly when used in the work context but equally in the social context. I don't doubt that you're busy.. everybody is, to a degree- but when you talk about working until 7 or on the weekends, I really just question your time management skills. And socially- well, that's of your OWN design. say NO to something if you're "OMG soooo busy!" ... it just seems like a way for people to justify their importance. Drives me nuts.

  6. As I had already commented last week, I think the word means to work hard, and for me, I use the word as a motivator to get my butt in gear. However, I also do see the use of the word in the context that you are referring too, and it annoys me too. I don't think that it is connected specifically with work for yourself people though. I see the connection with being busy.

    Saying "I'm busy" is something that really irks my nerves. Everyone is busy! We get it! And you're succumbing to superficial ways of human interactions and connections if all you want to hear in response to the "How are you?" question is "I'm busy." This weekend, I came across this article--

    I am completely on board with this article for many reasons. However, the point I want to make is that after posting it to my facebook page, my sister commented that she finds the "busy" thing rather annoying AND she sees words such as hustle, like a boss, etc. appearing everywhere and some are using these words as a substitute for the word busy! You are not alone-- she sees that connection too, and I thought it to be so fitting after your post and our conversation last week. My sister, much like myself, also admitted to using the word hustle, but also in the terms of needing to get to work.

    All that to say-- there IS a connection there for some, and it can result in others feeling a lack of community with those that have the "I'm busy" and "look at me hustle" mindset. I feel like I had this huge epiphany yesterday morning after my sister made that connection.

  7. Your post struck a chord with me because I too inwardly cringe at the "hustle" comments. But I think for me it's less about the entrepreneurship connection and more about what I perceive to be an inability by some to distinguish activity for activity's sake from having a long-term plan and putting in the work to accomplish your predefined goals. Being busy, busy, busy running from one project to the next is only a good thing if it is getting you closer to where you want to be in a year, 5 years, 10 years.

    I work in a traditional business environment and I always try to encourage my team members to think about what it is they're trying to accomplish. It's not about how many hours you put in. It's about moving the ball forward, to use a cliche. Maybe it's my age (turning 40 this weekend!) but at this stage of the game I'd much rather work with someone who is thoughtful and does things purposely than someone who burns the midnight oil but is kind of just spinning their wheels.

  8. This is a really interesting discussion. When I use the word hustle in reference to myself (a self-employed person who works at home), it is generally a self directed finger pointing at my killer procrastination skills. As in "Time to hustle", with an unspoken "You've been lazy/not doing anything useful" that could come behind it.

    The idea of busy = successful/good/more worthy/whatever is one that always gets me going. We're all busy. We all do some combination of work, exercise, social and leisure activities that take up our time. To me, bing busy doesn't mean you're doing something worthwhile or that you're automatically successful in relation to your business.

    Since I'm on the non-desk job side of the discussion, I'll tell you openly that I often get flack from my desk job friends who often don't think I work as much as they do because I don't need to sit in an office for hours on end, or that I'm living the life because I can (often) choose to start my work at any hour of the day. While these are definitely perks, you don't often see the very real struggle of self motivation and the difficulty in leaving your work behind when it is leisure time.

    So I guess whether you're a cog in the wheel or an entrepreneur, the grass may always be greener to those on the other side. You just have to pick what works best for you and run with it, regardless of everyone else's business!

  9. a) thank you :)
    b) I think part of it is that I rarely hear it as a mantra from people who work outside the home - but we often have to get a lot done quickly and feverishly too! it's just part of WORK for most people.

  10. haha I definitely don't mind it in a sports context! HUSTLE DOWN THE FIELD! but yes, you're right, and I do recognize that - and if people who work from home need to tell themselves to hustle because that's how they motivate themselves, I shouldn't take it as commentary on how I work!

  11. could it because "hustle" is the new "busy," like @Heidi mentions above? that's sort of where I get the "I'm special because I hustle" thing from - like, needing to hustle is proof that you're important and you're doing exciting things. or something.

  12. well, see that's where the whole "I choose to follow people who seem to use hustle in this way and so it's my own fault" thing comes in :P most of my friends who talk about needing to hustle DON'T use it the way I read it! so maybe also I just need to give strangers the benefit of the doubt?

  13. Yeah. I don't feel like I have to turn my blog into a profit machine, but I feel like I'm not ambitious enough because I don't want to - and that's worse, in a way. Does that make sense? Like, it's okay not to have a blog that makes a profit, but it's not okay to not want to be an creative entrepreneur (through your blog or otherwise). But, again, I think maybe that's my own insecurity coming out. I mean, like @Amanda says below, the lifestyle blogging world has a tendency to preach the gospel of entrepreneurship, but why should I care? I love my desk job :)

  14. "more about what I perceive to be an inability by some to distinguish activity for activity's sake from having a long-term plan and putting in the work to accomplish your predefined goals."

    YES YES YES SO MUCH THIS. and yes - I'd rather work with someone (and be someone) who has a strategy. I know that you can't always, and some fields rarely allow it, but I think the frenetic "hustle" mentality can be really draining and, in the long term, detrimental.

  15. haha I like that you capitalized Man. thank you :) not going to lie, I like the rare occasions when I can work from home - but even more than that I love being part of a larger organization, being accountable to my teammates and relying on them in turn. That is the dream for me!

  16. Yeah, I think you're right about the connection with people who like to be seen as busy no matter their careers - I think the "ALL FREELANCERS AND ENTREPRENEURS ARE JUDGING ME" is my own hangup :P but amen to what you're saying about business, no matter what word you're using to express it. like @Mel says above, I think the ideal (for me, anyway) is a solid steady pace!

  17. I LOVE that you're starting this conversation. As someone on the freelancer side, I wish I could've found a desk job that I love and that fulfilled me, but my experiences in traditional offices were so toxic (horrible bosses, office politics, out-of-touch leadership, the works) that I felt I had no choice but to go this route.

    That said, I also feel a little of the judgement you describe when I read about what other freelancers/entrepreneurs are doing. I just want a career that allows me to call the shots and earn a reasonable living. I don't really want to "build an empire" or "start a revolution" or be known as a "serial entrepreneur" (oh, that term. I know this isn't accurate, but when someone says that, I hear "I'm really good at starting businesses that ultimately fail, so I have to keep starting over"), but in the freelance world, the message I get is that doing so is the only way to truly be successful, and that it's not okay to not have that level of ambition.

    And, I often hear "hustle" and "like a boss" and the like from other friends with traditional desk jobs to refer to going after a promotion or climbing the corporate ladder or whatever, so the word can be used in any context... I no longer know where I'm going with this. I have so many thoughts going now I may have to write a post on my own blog!

  18. Recently, I noticed that my Feedly and Twitter timeline were chock o block full of life coaches and entrepreneurs who were always talking about "escaping" a desk job and "are you doing the best you can?" etc etc. Man, that's draining. I like my desk job and, as of now, have no desire to start my own business. AND YES, I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. So I deleted/unfollowed all of that noise online and feel much better for it.

    I wrote a post about it actually that is rather similar to yours... not sure if I'll ever publish it as it came from a rant-y part of me but it felt good writing it out! I don't have an issue with the term "hustle" as I associate it with personal finance blogs who have "side hustles" or "multiple streams of income" as a way to pay back debt faster, but I've got similar issues with other "buzzwords" from certain niches of the blogosphere so I totally get where you're coming from.

  19. My comment isn't really about the hustle aspect of your post, but what you say about needing to be creative. Even when you talk about your job, you say it demands creativity almost like that helps makes it worthwhile. I think there are so many hardworking and productive people in a variety of type of jobs, and not everyone has to be in a "creative" job. I wouldn't consider myself creative at all, but I know I do good, hard work that helps people. Sure sometimes I have to be creative in the way I have a conversation or help my students make plans or create a workshop, but I would never consider creativity to be one of my strengths or a necessity to do my job and do it well. I think a lot of people who have blogs are creative, and I have so much respect for that. I wish it came more naturally to me. So I think just as you might bristle a bit at the use of the word hustle because of your own hang-ups, creativity can come across the way way. I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, and this is definitely not something I think about much, but reading this post made it come out!

  20. I love {sarcasm} browsing through blog-world and reading all these posts trying to convince me that I am the uncoolest of the uncool. I have a job. Sometimes it's even a desk job. Next summer, I will have held that job for fourteen years. I have no ambitions to quit my job, move to an exotic place with only a backpack and my creativity and passion, and start a business or a side business.

    But that doesn't mean I - or the rest of us working in desk jobs - don't have ambition. Whether hustling means working fast, working hard, marketing, calling the shots, or anything else, having a desk job doesn't mean I don't hustle. I might be working inside a more developed and structured system than an entrepreneur on their own, but it's still work. Well, except for the paid vacation those of us with desk jobs can take, thanks to that robust, developed, and structured system that provides us a little redundancy in our work. To me, that time is of greater value than being "busy" or keeping up the "hustle."

  21. I have been slacking in blog reading but the post you did on Sunday the 23rd popped up and I read it so I then went back and read the two posts you mentioned. While I would love to read all the comments honestly it is not going to happen but I just wanted to add my two cents in. I associate the word hustle with gaining money in a somewhat nefarious manner and if I ever use it in context to myself it is in a joking manner. For instance Fredrik sold some of his old textbooks and we were like o yeah hustling for the money. With that in mind I personally have found the sudden onslaught of the word odd. If I had any job that I was proud of I would never think to use the word hustle in the same context.

  22. Ha, it's funny reading this because I work from home, legally freelance even if not so much in practice, and I also don't really get the whole "hustle" trend. But I also see it among "young professionals" who have a similar judgmental tone, but about climbing the corporate ladder.

    I like my job. I'm good at my job. My job sometimes interacts with my personal life. But I'm not married to my job, and that doesn't mean I'm not ambitious or creative or driven.

  23. I really want to join the blogging world again, but since I was last active on blogs (2009?), the scene has changed so much. I find blogs increasingly intimidating (to start: I need a new camera, a dedicated photographer, better lighting, etc). There does seem to be this notion out there that blogging must transform into a professional business that generates substantial income, book deals, features in magazines, etc. I like when I come across blogs that are written by people with full lives and careers outside of the blog. I respect people who have turned their blog into a business, but not everyone is meant to do that. I like your blog so much because it is very authentic. Real life, yo!

    By the way, I actually have the word "Desk" as part of my job title, and it's on my business cards. How about that!


I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.