The critics of the word “hustle” make several excellent points about what the word has come to mean in the age of the internet. Many of them talk about hustling as a measurement of the number of hours one works, which contains a small truth about hustling. These critics worry that people are going lessen the quality of their lives by focusing too heavily on their work.
Others use the word to denote a second source of income, commonly described as a “side hustle,” which many of us recognize as part-time work. The critics of the side hustle don’t believe it is worth most people’s time, especially since most try to make money in e-commerce and fail, also a fair criticism.
The way these critics define “hustle” and “success” is not accurate. Neither of these words is limited to work alone, and they have less to do with the number of hours one works (a poor indicator of hustle or success) than some believe. If you hate these words, allow me to offer you another view.
A Better Definition of Hustle
You might deconstruct hustle into four parts.
- The first part of hustle is effort. The word hustle has long been used to describe people who take action and exert themselves in some result. Note that the result is not limited to their work, and we’ll have more to say about this later. People who hustle seem to have a greater capacity for effort over extended periods.
- The second component is how important the result is to the person who is hustling and seeking success. Some people go to work but do very little work. Others spend time at home without achieving the results they want in their personal lives. Doing things that don’t matter is not hustling, regardless of the time spent. Your priorities matter.
- The third part you can call outcomes or results. People who hustle and those who find success have always produced results. It isn’t enough to put forth the effort and do what is meaningful if you don’t produce the outcome you are pursuing.
- The fourth and final factor is the speed at which people work and the rate at which they produce those results. People who hustle generally pull results forward in time by exerting themselves in what matters to produce a result faster than people whom you might accuse of not hustling.
What It Takes to Hustle
This post is a full-throated defense of the words “hustle” and “success” as I have defined above, a more traditional definition, and one that is more accurate for those who pursue success in life. There is much about the word and idea to commend hustling.
- It is the impetus for growth: When their goals and dreams drive people, they eventually recognize the need to improve in different areas of their lives. They educate themselves and dedicate themselves to continuous improvement. If you want to have more, you start by becoming a person who could acquire the things you want. Growth is as necessary for success at work as it is for success in, say, being a great parent or spouse.
- It creates a greater capacity to produce more: As you improve yourself, you improve your ability to produce better results. There are little rewards for mediocre results, decent rewards for excellence, and incredible rewards for exceptional results. There is nothing about this truth that limits this to your work life.
- It provides a vision of a better future and a path forward: You get to decide what kind of life you have. The idea of “hustle” and “success” is that you can have the life you want if you are intentional and if you take massive action. Those who exert effort in having more end up with a better quality of life and more and better choices. What shows up as abundance shows up outside of work.
- It provides a more exceptional ability to contribute: While it is true that abundance allows you to contribute more, those who hustle tend to create enough to add to others. Part of this contribution is doing purposeful, meaningful work that helps others. Many find that their definition of success is creating more value for more people.
Some mistakenly believe that hustle is a sort of brand, a personality of some kind when it is not. There may be no bigger hustlers than people like Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, and Bill Gates, three people you would hardly accuse of being personality brands. The three are well-recognized for being voracious readers and draw very little attention to themselves.
Unfounded Fear about Hustle
Much of the criticism of the word “hustle” is around people working themselves to death. The same is true for the word “success,” which some resist because it connotes a poor work-life balance.
There is no risk of a significant number of people working too hard on the critical things in their lives to the detriment of their health. There is, however, no end of people who are doing far less than they should, less than they are capable of, and who would improve their lives dramatically by hustling. They would do better to exert themselves doing what is most important in every area of their life, pursuing the life they want instead of the default life they have now, and making their contribution.
If You Still Hate the Word Hustle
If you hate the word “hustle” or the word “success,” then let me give you a couple of alternatives. Swap “hustle” for “work ethic” and “priorities.” If you hate the word “success,” try “happiness” and “achieving my goals.”
Words are important, and we use certain words that can have a negative connotation not intended. I err on the side of choosing the word that gives the highest clarity to the idea, but I also recognize some respond negatively to the best word. However, the ideas here are more important than the words, and if you have an aversion, choose a word you prefer—but don’t avoid the central ideas here.