Letting Go of Toxic Hustle Culture

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It’s easy to get sucked into Millenial hustle culture. And I’m finding that it’s being pushed during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Holy Spirit has been nudging me to rest for a few weeks now. And I admit, I have not been obedient.

There is a tweet circulating with a premise that if you don’t come out of this pandemic having gained a new skill or more knowledge, then one lacks discipline and a work ethic. There is merit to this thought. But, I will also argue that it reinforces how toxic the pressure to be productive is in this country. I also see how easy it is to make an idol out of anything. These idols include productivity and hustle culture.

When I was at home on “Spring Break” last week from my regular 9-5 job as an educator, I was restless. I found myself creating a daily schedule with a list of to-dos to fill up my days. I felt inadequate when I felt short of reaching my daily “goals”. It was frustrating to have days where I didn’t want to exercise, create new content, or anything else. And when I did something even remotely “unproductive,” I would chastise myself.

It seems that I am filling up my time to justify…myself? To seem busy? I don’t like NOT having things to do. Is it my anxiety? My perfectionism? Social media telling everyone what to do? My family’s personal values around work? It’s probably a combination of many things. Why should I feel shame if I want to watch Netflix, take a really good nap, or consciously make an effort to relax and do nothing? Spending most of my time at home these days is forcing me to ask these hard questions.

Less criticism and more compassion

I think it’s presumptuous to believe that most people are in the mental state to be productive while facing a major global pandemic. The pressure to be productive during a pandemic, to immerse oneself in hustle culture, is toxic. Hustle culture justifies burnout. It tells me that making time for rest means having idle hands. It sends a message that “self-improvement” doesn’t prioritize self-care. And it perpetuates several myths. Firstly, this pressure reinforces the myth of meritocracy: that people get ahead with only talent and ability while ignoring race, class, and privilege as factors for upward mobility.

Not everyone has the luxury to work or to create at this time. It could be the school counselor or advocate in me speaking, but I also speak as a human being. I have close family members and friends who have been laid off, furloughed, or taking care of their sick loved ones. Surely, they are doing the best that they can with their resources. Some of us, like me, are navigating a new normal in our professional lives. And a whole lot of us are just trying to manage our growing anxieties and remain optimistic during a time of uncertainty.

Hustle culture also reinforces the myth that one must “keep doing” in order to “get ahead,” as if God has no hand in our matters. I have been guilty of sacrificing much-needed rest if it meant accomplishing a goal, even when I was clearly instructed to rest.

Over the last few weeks, I justified “working hard now” in order to “rest later”–whether it was for work, for school, or my creative projects. And God reminded me that partial obedience is still disobedience. King Saul believed he was still pleasing God when he only partially followed God’s commands. But when he disobeyed God’s clear instructions to destroy all of the Amalekites and their possessions, his brother Samuel said to him in 1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT):

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, a listening ear than the fat of rams.

Productivity is not bad. It becomes toxic when we choose to take on the pressure of what the world is telling us to do. It becomes disobedience when we don’t heed God’s specific instructions for each of us. I can’t be after the hustle if my mind, spirit, and body tell me no–and most importantly, if God is telling me “no.” I have to remind myself that obedience is better than sacrifice.

More grace and less guilt

It’s amazing how much we add to stress that is already mounting. And while work is important, rest is just as valuable. In fact, God delights in it:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

I am reminded of the quote by St. Augustine that says, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” This quote is featured in one of my favorite worship songs by All Sons and Daughters, called “Rest in You”, which has been timely for me in this season. Honestly, I just want to be right now. And I want to be okay with that. I don’t need anyone telling me what I should or should not be doing during this time.

Lately, God has been telling me to actively rest and to use this time to seek Him more earnestly. If that means spending time in His word, listening to songs, basking in the beauty of nature, or finding other ways to relax and self-care…then that’s fine with me. As believers, I think the most important reminder in all of this is to really attune ourselves with the Holy Spirit. I am letting the spirit guide me in how I make use of my time. What is God telling you to do during this season?

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