Success: It’s All About the Size of Your Hustle

Yesterday, I saw a bumper sticker that read “If you’re not hustling, you’re part of the problem.” As I sat at a traffic light and stared at that sticker, I began to examine my life. I wondered, what does this guy know that I don’t? Should I be hustling? How, exactly, does one hustle? Is there a potential for injury? Have I been missing out on something vital? Should I abandon all caution and start collecting pithy bumper stickers for my own car?

For the uninitiated, while we haven’t been paying attention, the word “hustle” has taken on an unambiguously positive connotation. Not long ago, it could’ve gone either way, describing hurrying or moving in haste, or meaning to fraud or swindle. Some people, myself included, would have accepted it as a reference to a silly dance from the mid-1970s.

Now, all that has changed. Today, a hustler is someone who’s constantly striking deals, trying to make his way up in the world one negotiation at a time, moving and shaking all the way. Mileage may vary, but in his natural environment, the hustler may be in the process of creating his very own Personal Brand.

But this isn’t about semantics, though I’ll never stop imagining self-professed hustlers dressed in polyester and pointing ceiling-ward on a disco dance floor. (I’m a generous guy, but I’ll die before you take that mental image from me.) It also isn’t about knocking people who work hard, plan well, and take pride in those accomplishments.

This is about the deeper message behind that bumper sticker, and it’s about me sitting at that stop light wondering why we place so much emphasis on hustling, on always being busy. On top of that, why do we take such pleasure in telling everyone how busy we are? It’s reached the point where I sometimes consider answering the question “What have you been up to lately?” with “Nothing. And it was beautiful.”

Sure, we play hard—and we have the digital photos to prove it—but that play is almost always shown in the context of the work we’ve already done. The irons in my fire, the appointments on my schedule, the side projects I’m juggling—these are the things that make it okay for me to go on vacation, and they give me an excuse to brag about how busy I am. And of course, ample bonus points are awarded if I’m fortunate enough to be working on vacation.

Who knows? Maybe seeing ourselves as incessantly occupied makes us feel better about our lives. We want to tie our busyness to our self-worth, to believe the things we’re doing have larger significance. Or maybe it’s because life is difficult and full of suffering and we have to do unpleasant and inconvenient things to help make ends meet.

This reminds me of a platitude I learned as a child: If something good happens to you, that’s God at work in your life. Maybe it’s an indirect result of prayer, but it’s still God. If a bad thing happens, that’s on you. The devil was probably in on it, and that’s your fault, too. Shame on you.

Expanding on this sentiment, it’s easy to tweak it into the following: If something good happens, it’s because you deserve it. You’ve been hustling, in other words. If something bad happens, well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but that’s your fault. Step up your hustle, son.

There’s a popular idiom that says what you are today is a result of all the choices you’ve made in your life. It’s an inspirational and heady piece of advice, and it no doubt provides needed support in dark times. It might even inspire us to hustle. Like most clever bits of wisdom, however, it’s only true until it isn’t.

Sure, it’s tempting to believe that if someone isn’t succeeding, the solution is for them to hustle more. On the other hand, it’s easy to think that if you’re succeeding, it must be because you’re hustling. Neither of these ideas is always true, though, but saying them tends to make certain people feel good about themselves.

How about this? Sometimes, things just happen. Good things, bad things, surprising things, perplexing things, all kinds of things. Some people attribute circumstances to the hand of God, while others say it’s karma or the superbly aligned universe. Perhaps we’re all inhabitants of a Matrix-type simulation, and it’s the grand plan of some petulant celestial teenager. The guy in the convertible might say success in life is all about the way we hustle.

Then again, he’d probably suggest buying a convertible. What does he know?

Photo By: iDance Studio