Hustle culture is a vulture

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Sahar Sowdagar works on a programming assignment during a conference she attended.

If you are someone that tends to treat other aspects of life such as spending time with loved ones and self-care as optional, I’ve got news for you: you are a victim of hustle culture.

By Hala Nasar

When life gives you lemons, you could make lemonade. You could also squeeze them in people’s eyes. Or you could do nothing and just let them be lemons. 

Hustle culture would tell you to take those lemons and start a business with them. Or maybe invent something with them. Either way, just letting them be lemons is not an option.

So, what is hustle culture?

“Hustle culture involves people who define their life, self-worth, and financial status through their work, and they believe any moment not spent working is a waste,” said Sahar Sowdagar, a 20-year-old University of Sharjah student, when asked to define hustle culture.

Origin and money talk

According to Monster contributor Martina Mascali, hustle culture started in 2006 when Rick Ross, an American rapper, released a song called ‘Hustlin’,” to express his desire for wealth and power. 

Soon after, Millennials and Gen Z found themselves gasping for breath in the waters of continuously working, striving to achieve an unrealistic version of success by having several side hustles and labor-intensive jobs for extra cash. 

The flawed socially accepted motto was to “work more, work harder, and work longer.”

“I think it arises from poverty, maybe, people who grow up poor learn that to be rich, you have to keep working hard,” said Sowdagar empathetically.

On the other hand, Ali Kurukçi, a 20-year-old American University in Dubai student said hustle culture arises from “American capitalist culture and the rising appeal of entrepreneurship and fast paced economies.”

Simplifying and uniting both their perspectives, Abdulrahman Abdullah, a 26-year-old American University of Sharjah alumnus said, “the main and end goal of hustling is financial stability. To have more is to spend more.”

All three of them believe that hustle culture affects people in their late teens to mid-30s the most.

How it all came to be

If there was one song to describe hustle culture, it would be “Toxic” by Britney Spears. 

“Toxic,” responded Sowdagar, Kurukçi, and Abdullah, when asked what word they would use to describe hustle culture.

While different people may have different perspectives of what hustle culture is like, Sowdagar thinks her “hustling” mentality stems from her childhood. 

She explained this by saying that growing up, she had an idea that her father would not be able to afford higher education without a scholarship, so she knew she had to maintain a 4.0 GPA to be eligible for the scholarship she needed.

“I felt like I had to work to get myself places because my dad can’t support me to afford my dream.”

The need to succeed grew into every inch of Sowdagar’s life, forcing her to accept every opportunity that comes her way, fearing that it may be her last.

She takes seven university courses, has a part-time job, maintains a 4.0 GPA, and she is the president of some clubs. 

Still, she found herself in a predicament when a professor offered her a spot to work with her. She could not turn it down, despite her plate being too full.

“I was so scared of missing out on this opportunity, I kept dragging it along, until it backfired on me. I lost the respect of a professor I liked.”

However, she is not the only one sucked into the world of hustling.

Kurukçi clearly recalls trying to do it all constantly with little payout in the end for the sake of status. He had a taste of it by freelancing, soon realizing that he needs to stop and shift his priorities.

Similarly, while Abdullah had long ago joined the hustle culture party, he found his way out when he decided to be a minimalist and saw that hustling did not serve him well. 

Instead of having free time, he constantly worked for extra money because he felt like he had to rather than need to succeed, which made him miserable.

The aftermath of the hustle and bustle

Sowdagar loves to read and go to the beach.

Unfortunately, she feels she has no choice but ignore her hobbies the workload she has weighs on her chest, suffocating her dreams of having time for herself.

“To be honest, I don’t have time to do self-care, a break is going out once a week to see my friends,” she laughed.

However, when asked if she enjoys being part of hustle culture in some way, Sowdagar nodded and said she likes waking up and having a full schedule with things to do. 

“I like being busy. Is it exhausting mentally and physically? Yes. But what’s more exhausting, is for me to wake up and have nothing to do all day. It terrifies me. So, I enjoy it, unfortunately.”

However, most people are not cut out for the overwhelming weight that hustle culture can inflict on a person. 

When Kurukçi was faced with a steadily declining mental health and falling down the “hustling” rabbit hole, he decided to call it quits and focus on himself.

“The aftermath is that it deteriorated my ability to actually function as a human being,” he said.

Now able to give time to his realigned priorities, Kurukçi attributes his decision of stepping off the spotlight to building a solid foundation in his field of study to excel in his career forward.

Advice for the hustlers

Working hard is something parents praise their children for as they grow up. 

While you need to work hard to achieve your goals, there is a common misconception that you need to give up all your time to hustling and have work as your top priority.

“If I need to put my hobbies, life, and health on the side for some extra money, then I’ll spend that money on hospitals for back problems,” said Abdullah.

In a fast-paced world, people feel as if time and opportunities run away if not seized at every chance.

Sowdagar finds that she tends to forget to live her life, “I would say that opportunities are everywhere. There is no rush, you need to take your time.”