“No days off is not a flex, you need rest, babe,” Meena Harris, a New York Times best-selling author and entrepreneur, recently posted on her Instagram account, which has more than eight lakh followers.
Harris’ call for “rest” resonates with a harried generation of youngsters that has started rejecting the “hustle culture.” For ‘hustlers’, over-working and maximum productivity throughout the day are the only paths to success. This had seen a generation of young adults willing to sacrifice weekends, sleep, and meal times to start their own ‘side hustles’ and take up gigs, as opposed to traditional 9 to 5 jobs.
“Instead of glorifying a healthy happy life, it was all about ‘work hard and party hard’, which is not a realistic approach for personal or professional success and satisfaction,” says Dr Syeda Ruksheda, a psychiatrist who founded the Trellis Family Centre in Mumbai.
More than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, as people work from home, dealing with burnouts and mental health issues, Gen Z and millennials have come to realise that the glorified notion of hustling isn’t all that it was made out to be.
“I think the hustle culture is a label for a much deeper economic problem,” says Namita, a 23-year-old freelance illustrator. “Remember when we all dreamt of having our own house by 30 and kids by 25? We basically had our parents’ goals. Now, we have realised that is simply impossible in the current economy,” she says. “Has anyone our age even saved money in the first place? All the jobs are underpaid; we are stretching ourselves thin with side hustles just to cover rent.”
Namita’s comics on her Instagram illustrate the anxieties of the generation.
In the comic, in a conversation with a squirrel named Maximillion, Namita writes, “…every time I accomplish something on my list and expect to feel good, I don’t…after I finish anything, I feel like it was insignificant. That I could’ve done it earlier. Better. More. That it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Namita is not alone. Prakhar Chauhan, a 24-year-old textile designer and the man behind the fashion brand ‘prxkhxr’, says the hustle culture is dehumanising. “It takes a toll on your mental health. You feel like you’re not doing enough, so you keep overworking. This takes away from the other elements of your life.”
Vaibhav, 23, a visual designer at a Mumbai-based studio, agrees. After creating a lot of content every day, he sometimes faces a creative block. “I want to create something, but my mind is blank,” he says.
But why do we glorify overworking, and why is it unhealthy?
Samanvithaa Adisehan, a Chennai-based consultant clinical psychologist, explains that while some are “people-pleasers”, many others derive satisfaction through their work. “They are continuously reinforced by the satisfaction that their jobs give, so they are drawn to that and less towards their personal lives,” she says.
Dr Ruksheda also highlights factors like job insecurity, competitive nature, and self-pressure as “over-achieving has unfortunately become trending and fashionable.”
It becomes hard to take a break because accomplishing small tasks can become addictive. “When you achieve something, there’s an adrenaline rush. Like in extreme sports, the dopamine reward centre in your brain gets a kick. So, when you consciously try not to work, you are missing this kick,” Dr Ruksheda elaborates. This kick “may momentarily feel good but we need to remind ourselves that it’s not,” she says.
Blurring the lines between professional and personal lives can cause burnouts, not just at work, but also in other aspects of life, “like not being able to eat, or not being able to feel happy even when good things are happening,” she adds.
Adisehan says prioritising work over families can cause relationship problems, which eventually pushes an individual to focus more on work, in a cycle.
So, what’s the way forward?
With the changing work environment and economy due to the pandemic, younger generations are starting to prioritise work-life balance.
Earlier this month, screenshots of a tweet by Kaluhi Adagala, a Kenyan food blogger, went viral on social media: “I love how Millennials and Gen Z are collectively rejecting Hustle Culture. No, we will not work on our rest days. No, we will not sleep for two hours. No, there is no glory in blind devotion to the grind. No, it is not admirable to – very literally – work oneself to the grave,” she wrote.
I love how Millenials and GenZ are collectively rejecting Hustle Culture.
No we will not work on our rest days
No we will not sleep for 2 hours.
No there is no glory in blind devotion to the grind
No it is not admirable to- very literally -work oneself to the grave
— Kaluhi’s_Kitchen (@KaluhisKitchen) June 16, 2021
However, it’s not easy to escape the nagging thoughts of not doing enough, especially as social media constantly serves up influencers who love the hashtag ‘hustle’.
Dr Ruksheda explains that social media can set unrealistic expectations. Instead of being a motivating factor, it may lead to low self-esteem. Adisehan suggests that a way to help deal with this is to “spend the first half an hour of the day with yourself.” “Every morning when you wake up, don’t check your phone or even office email. Do at least one activity you like in the day to de-stress,” she says.
Chauhan says that as the sole manager of his brand, the hustle culture feeds into his mind subconsciously. “But reflecting on what I have done in the past few years helps bring perspective that success is a long process, it’s not a short-term project. So, I try not to make it my lifestyle,” he adds.
Dr Ruksheda welcomes the idea of self-reflection. “Take stock once in a while. Have I been spending time with my family, my friends, and taking care of my physical and mental health? If your priorities are not shifting regularly, you need to do it more consciously. For instance, if you have a deadline, you focus on work; if it’s a festival, you focus on home.”
Vaibhav, who puts in extra two-three hours on personal projects after a regular office day, says he doesn’t think hustling is necessarily a bad thing if it just means working harder. However, he adds, “All your happiness doesn’t always have to come from your work. I try to prioritise my personal life by making a schedule and taking breaks to spend time with family and friends.”
The youngsters also acknowledge that rejecting hustle culture comes from a position of privilege.
Chauhan feels the over-romanticising of hustling doesn’t take into account that people come from different socio-economic backgrounds. Popular phrases like ‘you have the same hours in the day as Elon Musk’ or ‘doors will open for those brave enough to knock’ disregard the multiplicity of human struggle.
“There are many people out there who have no choice but to hustle just to survive,” says Namita. The NIFT graduate says she tries to do her part by encouraging a fair working environment for freelancers. She tries to find clients who won’t bargain for rates, so she’s not doing more work for less money but sufficient work for worthy sums. “I am also trying to buy less. Instead of Amazon, I try to go to small businesses,” she adds.
Dr Ruksheda says that while the market and employment rates can influence work culture and are beyond the control of an individual, one must acknowledge if they are over-working. She recommends addressing the problem with colleagues or seniors and asking for help.
As Namita puts it, “We’re constantly tired, angry and worried about not earning enough money. I want people to remember this is not because we should actually hate ourselves but because circumstances around us have changed. The hustle culture was just a lie all along.”