Confessions of an anti-hustler
Ever since making my debut on the 9-5 job market as a twenty-year-old, I've had but one mission. To not have to work 9-5 ever again.
It quickly became evident that I was not cut out for any of it:
Getting up early and elbowing my way through rush hour traffic. (Highly sensitive.)
Socializing and being of service all day long. (Introvert.)
Doing the same tasks over and over, while sitting in the same place around the same people. (Easily bored Multipotentialite)
So while smiling pleasantly in reception areas, I dreamt of self-employment. Being my own boss. Working on my own terms.
I didn't even care what I did, as long as it could be done from home.
Customer service for some clothing company? Sure, why not.
Start a million niche sites and fill them with keywords and affiliate links? Consider it done.
Join an MLM company? Well, if all those other people could do it... (I once begged my mom to lend me 200 bucks so I could be an Herbalife distributor. I'm blushing of shame as I write this.)
While toiling away in my receptions and grocery stores and cafés, I absorbed everything I could about entrepreneurship and "getting rich".
I read articles and blogs. Listened to podcasts. Devoured books.
I learned about business plans, target audiences, marketing, writing sales pages, SEO, social media and every other business topic under the sun.
A few years later, I came home after graduating from college. The year was 2010. I was ready. Time to start that business. Make something of myself. (And stop living on student loans.)
While working part time in a reception, I wrote for magazines and built my blog. I networked and went on meetings. I co-founded a start-up and went on even more meetings. I even did public speaking.
I hustled my ass off. And I did well. I felt like an up-and-comer. Surely, I would be rich soon. Make six figures or whatever those Americans liked to brag about.
Rich. Wealthy. Financially independent. Successful. My long-time, unquestionable goals.
What would I do with those six figures? I didn't know. I didn't dream of mansions and yachts. I wasn't even interested in traveling.
My desires were modest. I dreamt of staying at home. Not having to go work in a coffee shop. Making rent every month. Paying the bills without crying.
But the more money the better, right? That is our culture, after all. More is better. Bigger is better. Faster is better.
I had started consulting at this point. Calling myself a "growth hacker". Because that was the religion we all followed. Growth. Experts and roles models and celebrities and politicians were obsessed with it. My clients were obsessed with it. Growth, growth, growth. Growth at every price. Go viral or go home.
Over the coming years, exhaustion crept up on me. Exhaustion over the frothing-at-the-mouth hunt for bigger profits and more conversions. The demands my clients made of me.
I started turning down profitable assignments. And I became sort of indifferent. Not just towards the growth and sales of my clients, but also towards my own pursuit of money. If this was who I needed to be in order to be "successful" - obsessed with picking the right color for my buy buttons - then maybe I didn't really want this.
It took me 5 years of stone cold hustling to realize that I wasn't actually motivated by money at all. That in fact, I couldn't care less about it.
I had to re-evaluate my whole mission and identity. And course-correct accordingly.
Now in my thirties, I don't have an ounce of hustle left in me.
Partly because I have changed: I don't have that twenty-something image and ego to uphold. I'm more in tune with my personality and values.
And partly because the world has changed: It's way more overwhelming now than in 2010. Everything spins a lot faster. There is more competition and the competition is fiercer.
There is also overwhelming evidence of how harmful our fast-lane lifestyle is, for ourselves and for the planet.
Almost every entrepreneur I know has been burned out at some point. Many of them are depressed or suffer from anxiety periodically.
At the same time, more and more people question the "growth at every price" philosophy, and the idea that our economy can keep expanding forever. Concepts like downshifting and minimalism are going mainstream. And it's hip to be a "soul centered entrepreneur".
Could I still use some more money? Uhm, yes please! I have student loans and a mortgage to pay off. But I don't want it nearly as much as I should. Not if I'm to be considered a real entrepreneur. A hustler.
If I were a true hustler, I would fill my schedule, and work full time with my business. Maybe even a few hours on the weekend. Because not doing so would be saying "no thanks" to money and success.
But I'd rather have more free time than money. I have never been able to justify working more than I absolutely need to in order to pay the bills. Feel free to call me lazy.
If I were a true hustler, I would be active on social media. Almost everyone I know is, and for an entrepreneur to ditch Instagram is just career suicide. (They say.)
But I closed my accounts years ago, and my half-hearted attempts at an Instagram presence are embarrassing. I love not knowing how hard everyone else is hustling. Not having to compare my life, career and body with theirs. I love not having to take pictures of everything remotely interesting in my life and coming up with the right caption and hashtags for it. I love not being glued to my phone. It's worth every possible loss of profit for me.
If I were a true hustler, I would put newsletter pop-ups on my site. Email subscribers are MAKE-OR-BREAK IMPORTANT, and pop-ups are proven to drive sign-ups. Can't deny the data.
But I hate pop-ups and I don't want them on my site. If that means no one will ever find my newsletter and I will die alone, so be it. I'm thinking the ones who are really interested will find it on their own anyways.
I just don't care enough.
It feels fucking scary to come out and say that, since I've made a living helping other entrepreneurs succeed.
It's not that I don't think we should make an effort. That we shouldn't put in the work to make our business flourish.
I just don't believe we need to compromise our values in order to be successful. Or that we need to obsess over minutia and drive ourselves to exhaustion.
Success isn't synonymous with fame or making six figures. Success is whatever the hell we make it. It's easy to forget that there is a quite comfortable middle ground between being poor and being rich. It's called "getting by just fine", and it can be glorious.
In my eyes, I'm more successful now than I ever was in my twenties.
I am the boss of my business. I get to do what excites and motivates me. I get to say no thanks to the stuff that don't. I'm the captain of this ship.
I don't make six figures, not even close. But I have enough. Sometimes barely, sometimes more than enough. (That's part of the excitement of being freelance, amiright?) I could make more money if I wanted to. I just don't feel like it. I prefer having lots of free time to spend outdoors or on the couch reading novels.
We moved from the big city to a house on the country side, to live a simpler, cheaper life with less pressure. I try not buy too much stuff I don't need. So that I don't have to work so hard.
This is success for me. A more manageable level of it. That doesn't cost more than it pays. That leaves room for morning walks, homemade lunches and a few hours by the piano in the afternoon.
The anti-hustle is the new hustle.