Contributed by Daryl Goh (@dargoyaki)
We all want to be exceptional, don’t we?
We look at our peers that we perceive as overachievers, getting their 10k a month internships, starting side hustles and businesses that are earning big bucks, and scoring well in school.
We admire their tenacity and drive, that all-encompassing energy to achieve everything they can, while lamenting our mediocrity, chastising ourselves for not being able to be like them. We wallow in constant envy, thinking to ourselves:
“We pay the same school fees, we have the same 24 hours a day, we are the same age, why am I NOT like them?”
Now. What if I told you that to become exceptional, you have to convince yourself that you do NOT have to become an exceptional person.
Why you think you want to be special.
A lot of us in our younger years don’t exactly have a concrete direction we want to head towards. We don’t have a subjective idea of what success means to us as unique individuals. When you have no concrete goals, what do you do? We set our eyes upon the goals that others have around us especially so on those that are ‘objectively’ ahead of us in terms of success.
Typically for students, this might come in the form of securing internships every time you have a holiday, grinding out case competitions to pad out your portfolio, and studying yourself into oblivion to achieve first-class honours for your degree.
We look in awe at their star-studded CV/Resume on LinkedIn, and feel this nagging pressure to build up something similar to fulfill this internal sense of jealousy and wanting. You compare that to yourself and find that your relative achievements are lackluster as compared to theirs.
“If they can do it, that means I MUST be able to do it too, if not, I’m a failure.”
And thus begins your journey into Hustle Culture.
So what is hustling?
There are plenty of definitions out there, but I would say Hustling means working hard and doing your best to achieve the success you want.
What is hustle culture?
It’s a lifestyle where a career has become such a priority in your life or the environment that you work in that other aspects of being human, such as hobbies, family time and self-care, often take a backseat.
And here’s where things go bad.
You inculcate this mindset that you have to be an overachiever otherwise your life is mediocre and meaningless. The mindset that you will live your life feeling unfulfilled and unhappy because of this supposed lack of achievement that you must have. And as a result of this, the more you get sucked into the hole of spending every waking minute of your life grinding for things that don’t matter as much as you think. One day, you’ll realise that you don’t know how to take a break because taking breaks stresses you out, making you feel like you’re wasting time. One day, you’ll start passing up opportunities to go out with the people you love because you have some extra work to do, citing that there’s always another time you’d be able to meet them. One day, you’ll give up that lifelong hobby you’ve always enjoyed because it does not fall into the definition of productivity that you’ve indoctrinated yourself with.
And here’s why it’s bad for you.
Essentially, what happens is that you unload this tremendous amount of pressure on yourself to become an ‘exceptional’ person. Someone adorn with paper achievements and the praise of others. But what this potentially creates is an endless cycle of beating yourself up to the point of developing a mental disorder like anxiety or depression. You start to expect too much of yourself, and when you fall short of that, you berate yourself, thinking you should do better. You berate yourself every time you take a break. You wonder why you’re struggling to do something as simple as checking off your to-do list for the day, not aware that you’re burnt out, convinced that you’re just lazy and unmotivated. You then try to persist through that burnout and eventually fall short again. And thus the endless cycle begins.
Why can other people do it and not me?
Okay, so now we know why we shouldn’t do it. How are other people doing it then?
In my experience, it’s because they are striving towards a goal that they intrinsically want to achieve. That’s why they can put in the consistent hard work, the consistent hours, and hustling into what they do.
This is where the problem is: a lot of people end up working towards the goals of others when it’s not something they intrinsically want. The focus is on these high flyers, and viewing success through their lens, is highly unlikely to be the success we actually want for ourselves.
Subjective success might not look like objective success, but if that subjective success is what makes you happy, fulfilled, and what makes you able to live, then that’s all that matters. And for what it’s worth, everyone has their own timeline. You don’t have to succeed at 25 years old and retire at 35. You might not become a millionaire by 25 years old but that doesn’t mean you won’t become a billionaire at 40. Although let’s be real that’s pretty unlikely for most of us.
It’s okay not to be an overachiever.
We choose to look at people who build companies, rake in millions of dollars, and manage to cram out productivity every hour of the day for inspiration, rather than the people who have achieved a life where they are happy every single day, even if they are working a standard 9–6 job, spending their weekends watching Netflix or simply taking things slow and doing nothing sometimes.
I’m not saying that the people that are all about the hustle aren’t happy, I just think they aren’t the only people we should be taking inspiration from.
There is a value in simple living, and no amount of achievements could make up for the fulfillment you’ll gain from doing the little moments in the present, even if that means passing up on a few hours of productive work to go for a round of drinks with your friends. Ultimately, I can bet the memory you’ll remember and reminisce on is that night of drinks rather than that night you crammed in a few extra hours of work.
The only times I would say to hustle would be if you’re in it to survive financially, or if you’re someone that has a clear direction and goal on what to achieve in your life.
You can hustle if it doesn’t come at the expense of your health and wellbeing, if it doesn’t interfere with your ability to live, and if you have that constant awareness of what you’re doing — not just doing it for the sake of glory or what others are doing around you.
If you’re not one of these people and are currently stuck in this mindless grind, I implore you to stop for a second and take a long hard look at yourself. Question yourself if you really want this.
So yeah, you don’t have to be an overachiever.
Once you relieve yourself of that pressure, you’ll realise that you can achieve anything, and it’s your choice whether you want to or not.
Hustle culture might not be for you, and that’s okay. Stop working so much, and learn how to live a little.
Young NTUC’s Youth Taskforce and NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations
Every young worker matters. Did you know? An NTUC x SUTD study found that the top three challenges young people faced were in the areas of career opportunities and prospects, finances and mental health. Are these your concerns too? Or do you have something to say? Visit the Youth Taskforce website here and make yourself heard.
This is part of NTUC’s larger efforts to engage 20,000 workers and beyond in the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, to understand their concerns and aspirations in order to distill key findings, produce recommendations to the government. Know a worker? Share the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations website with them and let them be heard. You too, can give your inputs on how we can shape the future of work.
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A young Singaporean concerned about issues workers face. As humans, we spend a third of our lives sleeping and recharging, and another third for our personal life, and the last third at work (based on a 24-hr distribution). That’s why we should pay attention to issues surrounding work.