Rise and grind. It’s the mantra of our time, printed on T-shirts and mugs and captioned in all early-morning Instagram posts as evidence of hyperproductivity. When work and life cease to coexist and begin to blur, when your self-worth is defined by your professional success, and when self-care is viewed as something to be earned than prioritized — these are all the byproducts of hustle culture. Since when did “workaholic” become a compliment? And how much of this is performative versus actually productive? It seems as though we’re confusing the whole “it’s about the journey, not the destination” thing with “it’s about the amount of output, not the results.” It’s time we work smarter and not harder.
However, we also understand that our access to technology and the increase in work-from-home flexibility mandated by the pandemic has made it more difficult than ever to be fully present in our personal life. With the added pressure of social media, many of us, especially millennials, find ourselves comparing and competing against those who reinforce the idea that hard work and dedication can be both quantified and qualified by long hours. And we get it. Sometimes, there really aren’t enough hours in the day and the only way to get through our to-dos is to clock in. But the guilt that comes with not doing enough when we finally get a moment to breathe is a direct result of praising that non-stop hustle.
To be clear, we’re not encouraging laziness as the alternative. But it could be argued that having both a strong work ethic and boundaries can help manage chronic stress and yield higher outcomes. According to a 2018 Gallup study of 7,500 full-time employees, about two-thirds of participants reported feeling burned out by their work. And when the physical and psychological consequences of burnout can include heart disease, insomnia and depression, you begin to question the long-term effectiveness of working all day, every day. These side effects can result in more sick days, less focus, and decreased productivity overall. So it only makes sense to take a more sustainable approach.
As trendy as self-care has become, there’s nothing wrong with putting your mental and physical health first. In fact, it’s the only way to truly be able to show up for others, to produce your best work, and to maintain good health. By emphasizing the importance of balance and knowing when to recharge when you need it most, you can optimize your performance and perhaps do so in even less time than you’d normally need in your exhausted state. But we also acknowledge that we’re speaking from a place of privilege, and understand that PTO is a luxury that’s not always an option and that mental health services aren’t accessible to all. When putting in the hours are your only means of getting by, the same advice cannot be given.
But there is something toxic brewing within the corporate world that’s being largely ignored by those who can afford to address it. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to access and prioritize wellness, be it emotional, physical, or psychological, do yourself a favor and slow the f*ck down.