The Gaps Of Hustle Culture That Can Hurt You And Your Startup's Growth

Entrepreneurs are bombarded with hustle culture on the blogs, Youtube videos, podcasts, and influencers that they frequent where they receive some form of “get sh*t done” motivational advice in 500 different deliveries. Hustle culture has its place and importance for entrepreneurs — it hammers in inspiration at the endless number of obstacles and crossroads that we inevitably encounter. It’s necessary and absolutely welcome when you’re working on your startup by yourself for an ungodly number of hours per day with little traction. The struggle is real to be an entrepreneur.

After hustling through 3 startups, I’ve had a very close relationship with hustle culture. Beyond what it has taught me, I’ve become equally cognizant of what it hasn’t taught me. By exploring these gaps, I’ve been able to use them as learning tools to balance out the negative impacts of hustle culture on my life. Here are the hustle culture gaps that have taught me a ton about building and growing a business in the past few years  —

Doing Nothing Does Not Compromise Excellence

What largely has been problematic for me with hustle culture is that there’s zero respect for doing nothing. There’s little acknowledgement that hustle sometimes needs to be cushioned with nothing in order for it to actually manifest tangible accomplishment.

I’m a big fan of filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi who created the films Meru and Free Solo. Both films do an incredible job of showcasing the multi-year journeys of several human beings who are going after unimaginably large, seemingly impossible goals. These films highlight the process of each athlete’s journey, inclusive of all of its exciting, disappointing, and ordinary every day moments. You expect to see extensive scenes of these athletes’ rigorous training and nutrition routines, but instead you find scenes of house shopping, extended training pauses, and 3-year long breaks. Despite these breaks, these athletes still ended up achieving their goals.

These scenes really emphasize that doing nothing is sometimes enough, and that it doesn’t compromise excellence. Working isn’t always productive, and at times, it’s necessary to not hustle in order to achieve the end goal. That reflection period and time of pause is important to the larger equation. Hustle has as much weight and importance as doing nothing, even for all-consuming feats.

Many entrepreneurs have a strong distaste for doing nothing and see it as a sign of weakness. However, so many businesses that entrepreneurs admire, historic accomplishments, and athletic feats were a result of multi-year marathons complete with hard work, wins, failures, and doing nothing. 

I spent so much of my entrepreneurial career repulsed by doing nothing, that I ended up wasting hundreds of hours on mindless work (for the sake of being “productive”) that produced $0 for my business. Looking back, I would have much rather invested those hundreds of hours on improving my happiness levels or reading books that I would have reaped the continuous benefits from today.

If you do nothing but “get sh*t done” all day, every day, take a break. It’s impossible to hustle every day during a multi-year sprint without losing steam. Focus your efforts on quality rather than quantity outputs and get comfortable with doing nothing.

Stop Tinkering Because You’re Bored

Another unfortunate product of hustle culture is that when you’re constantly seeking ways to improve and grow your business, you may end up changing things that don’t need to be tinkered with. When you’re working on your business all the time, you eventually end up finding reasons to make more work for yourself, sometimes to your detriment.

There are so many components to a business that require the test of time in order to produce an accurate picture of its compatibility, such as: marketing and sales channels, budget allocations, pricing, hires, product offerings, target market identification, and the list goes on and on. Impatience for immediate results leads to adjusting sound strategy that would have produced the results the business was looking for (if it just had more time to develop). I’ve made this mistake so many times in my businesses and I’ve paid for it financially in big ways. Patience is a skill I’ve had to continuously practice over the years and that I’m still practicing to this day.

If you’re as impatient and impulsive as I am, set rules for yourself to double check any decisions and changes you intend to make. I personally like using the 3-day rule, where I don’t make any changes or say yes to anything unless 3 days have passed. It’s a long enough time for my impatience to wear off and to thoroughly think through the pros and cons of a move.

Burnout Has Lifetime Repercussions

When I was building my first two businesses, hustle culture was promoted without a disclaimer of its potential negative impact. There wasn’t as much out there back then about the long-term effects and negative impact of burnout — entrepreneur mental health and self care wasn’t a mainstream conversation.

The negative impact of years of practicing hustle has blindsided me as I’ve been building my third business. I’m not as enthusiastic, outgoing, or risk-loving as I used to be because I’m still recovering from 10 years of burnout. Maybe it’s a result of adopting a “work smarter not harder” mentality or from getting older, but I can’t deny that rallying for work events is much harder and that I’m much more cynical about trying new things out of the norm. Although this has pushed me to establish a healthier work-life balance for my current business, not having the I’m game for anything attitude is a large asset to lose.

It’s a shame when a relationship you had with hustle 5–10 years ago slows you down and puts definitive borders on your mental fortitude. When burnout and entrepreneur fatigue have a strong hold on you, you become hyperaware of getting too close to the edge instead of just going for it.

If you’re someone who is always hustling, take a step back and reflect on how it’s affecting your mental, physical, and emotional state. PTSD from burnout and entrepreneur fatigue should be viewed as a serious byproduct that you may have to carry with you for years — just make sure that the burden is worth carrying. 


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Sophia Sunwoo