Is “Hustle Culture” Toxic?

Toxic productivity promotes an unhealthy lifestyle

In our society today, we see a massive emphasis placed on self improvement. Social media has been plastered with posts on workout goals, academic advice, and posed photos glamourizing a standard of unrealistic perfection. “Hustle Culture” is a trend that puts work at the center of life, oftentimes at the expense of the mental health and wellbeing of its participants. This movement is underpinned by our modern fast-paced culture of efficiency and self-improvement. But in seeking efficiency, have we lost sight of what’s really important in life?

According to a Principal’s Cabinet school survey, the top two largest student stressors were respectively Homework and classes. The 4th largest stressor was clubs and activities. 24.6% of respondents of the same survey also reported feeling stress for more than 3 days, and 9% even reported feeling stressed for more than ten days. While the high level of stress could be due to a variety of factors, it stands to reason that one of the largest sources of stress is feeling the need to achieve, whether that be through homework, classes, or extracurriculars. This is the dark side of hustle culture – the side that you’ll never see on social media. 

The aesthetic study, lifestyle, and “be your best self” posts are only a narrow view into hustle culture. The lifestyle gurus and seemingly perfect teenagers who promote this “self improvement” grind have their own struggles that they simply put on the backburner when producing content. In doing so, they encourage adolescents everywhere to do the same. This only leads to burnout, a feeling of unworthiness, and a toxic self-perception.

The issue with this trend is that it leaves out the emotional energy it takes to actually achieve your goals. Humans were never made to work for hours on end to avoid “unproductivity”; on the contrary, “unproductivity” has been a fundamental part of our survival as the human race. During the paleolithic era, life necessitated that humans rest frequently to conserve energy so that when they went out to hunt, their effectiveness was increased. In the same way, we need to take breaks to ensure that we are not falling into burnout. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), studies conducted over the past 30 years have shown that increased work breaks reduced “physiological and psychological fatigue and strain” and had “numerous benefits” on individuals’ moods, productivity, and socialization. A good work-life balance is important to fulfilling our purpose as humans. 

When we spend too many hours scrutinizing ourselves to “fix” our own shortcomings, we can lose sight of what makes us valuable as a human being. Because of hustle culture, we’re putting our self worth in our achievements instead of who we are. We aren’t valuable because we worked out a certain number of hours or received a certain grade. We’re valuable simply because we are human.

There are solutions to combating toxic productivity. We can avoid conforming to hustle culture by taking breaks, maintaining a balanced sleep schedule, and asking for help if we need it. We can also focus more on living in the moment by setting habits to regularly practice self-love. For example, you can journal, go on a walk/jog, or even set up a daily skincare routine.

We are people before we are students and achievers. There will always be more work to complete, and there will always be more that we can do. However, we don’t have to fit the picture that society urges us to fit.  It’s okay to take a break if you are feeling overwhelmed to allow yourself to just be a kid, hang out with friends, and relax. We can combat toxic productivity by embracing our imperfections.