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Hustle Culture: A Reflection from STEM by Pallavi Dutta

Hustle harder? Good things happen to those who hustle? Keep on hustling? These phrases are a staple in hustle culture that continues to define the millennial experience.

What is hustle culture? It’s this culture that has been perpetuated in the 21st century of always working. We are obsessed with being ‘busy’ and occupied, leaving us with less time to care for ourselves.

Hustling continues to perpetuate the idea that your self worth is based on you constantly working. But what value is that work without your well-being? This is not to say that hard work isn’t important or that reaching our goals doesn’t require us to work for it. It’s really that we need to stop glamorizing ‘the hustle’ and constantly being busy.

In this piece, I argue that ‘hustle culture’ is counter-productive and exploitive, and how we can begin to do better. This piece is a reflection on ‘hustle culture’ and pulls from my personal experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow

Unhealthy and Counter-productive

I believe that one of the fundamental issues with ‘hustle culture’ is that the concept of always hustling can lead to an inability to say ‘NO’.

You bite off more than you can chew and you’re staying up late, cutting into your sleep. You neglect self-care. You use the word ‘busy’ more than ever. And yet, there is often less to show for all the ‘hustle’ you’ve been putting in.

I conduct research and have a science background. I’ve been through undergrad and through grad school, and I’ve made some observations about the counter-productive nature of ‘hustle culture’. There were times when it felt that people (including myself) would do things just for the sake of doing them, without clear goals or an outcome in sight. This idea of doing a million things and not stopping is especially prevalent in pre-med culture. The issue I find with this is the lack of quality and meaning behind the work you end up doing.

All this is not to say that there are not people genuinely interested in what they’re doing and are working hard with a focus and direction. But for those who ‘hustle’ and are constantly ‘busy’, take some time to reflect on what your end goal is and whether what you are doing aligns with that goal.

The Exploitative Nature of ‘Hustle Culture’

‘Hustle culture’ is very convincing. It convinced me that I just had to keep working to find my self-worth. No matter what, everyone around me always seemed to be doing more and it felt like they knew exactly what they were doing.

But the more I spoke to people, the more I realized that very few people actually knew what they were doing. Very few people had taken the time to do things with a vision and quality in mind. Very few people were working with a purpose.

“True not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” — Helen Keller

In science, a lot of students volunteer at labs or with research groups. They dedicate many hours a week to this volunteer position. They ‘hustle’ in hopes of getting a publication or for gaining ‘valuable research experience’.

However, oftentimes they are not paid for their efforts and yet are asked to dedicate a substantial amount of time. And if you’re not getting research experience, you might not have a thesis project or have research to list on your resume or application to medical school. But having the ability to volunteer a substantial amount of time comes with the privilege of having the funds to support yourself so that you can work for free.

For those who need to support themselves, they end up on the verge of burnout, ‘grinding’ away. Once again, hard work is important, but so is having a direction. My advice? Be clear about your end outcome! If you are involved in a project that you are not being compensated for, be clear about your intentions and commitment.

Doing Better

Instead of perpetuating ‘hustle culture’ and the idea that we constantly need to be doing busy work, we should work to identify our vision and create a set of goals. This can help us get focused and find things that we genuinely want to dedicate ourselves to. We still need to work hard and we may even end up doing ‘more’ but it’ll have a passion and direction behind it.

Let’s stop pretending ‘hustle culture’ is cool and be more purposeful.

Further Readings:


About the Author:

Pallavi Dutta is a MSc eHealth graduate from McMaster University who conducts behaviour change research. She is a curious individual who is always looking for opportunities to grow and believes in the power of uplifting one another. She is also one of the co-creators of Project Empower Circle.

Images taken from Canva

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