For most people, starting a business means effort. Even if it all goes to plan, you’re busy finding your concept, defining your messaging, ascertaining your audience and preparing to launch or scale. Even if your products and services are an instant hit and you become oversubscribed, there’s still a whole load of figuring out to do.
Someone who goes into business expecting it to be smooth sailing might have a shock. When they hear their first rejection, they take it personally. When a team member leaves, they stay up all night worrying. When their product sells worse than expected or the stockist ends the contract, or when they aren’t sure whether to hire someone; it would all be news to the entrepreneur expecting an easy ride.
What is anti-hustle culture?
Anti-hustle culture is a rejection of the notion that business owners should hustle. The grind, the working all hours, the constant activity that is glamorized in certain entrepreneurial circles and by some prominent entrepreneurs. The advice of the hustle fans is to “go for it, just do it, do whatever it takes, outwork everyone else and keep going.” Giving up is for the weak, holidays are for the unsuccessful and you can sleep when you’ve reached your goals, not before.
Anti-hustle promoters want you to chill out, relax and let it be easy. It all sounds great, but there are sinister undertones. While hustle culture can be taken to the extreme, leading to exhaustion, burnout and various health problems, anti-hustle culture has dire consequences for the early-stage entrepreneur.
Why is anti-hustle damage?
Anti-hustle culture doesn’t discourage starting a business, but it discourages many of the practices that contribute to making it a success. It supports going where your energy flows, leaning away from discomfort and gliding along an easy business life. It views the concept of resilience as toxic and unnecessary and doesn’t advocate perseverance or persistence when times are tough. If you have to push for something, it’s not your path. If something feels difficult it means there’s another way forward for you.
But here’s the problem. While there is value in parts of anti-hustle culture; namely prioritising health and wellbeing, the broader concept isn’t useful for those in their early stages of business. Entrepreneurs are using anti-hustle and anti-grind as an excuse to simply not work hard enough to be successful. They’re running a lifestyle business without the business.
Imagine rejecting the idea of hustle in your first few years. Rather than taking effort to put yourself out there, show up, be exceptional and knock door after door until you found your version of business success, you sat back and expected it to show up. Rather than going to networking events you lay on the beach. Rather than making a marketing strategy and a launch plan you wait for the phone to ring.
The plan is unlikely to work and it’s clear why. Without the execution that getting a business off the ground requires, it would stay there. Without the groundwork going in, the crops do not appear. No sowing, no reaping.
Starting a business is hard. At times it feels impossible. There will be times you want to throw in the towel. But that’s not what business owners do. They do what’s needed of them to make things work. On occasion, that might be getting up early, working late, forgoing a party, making calls they don’t want to make, working when they don’t feel like it. This is a hustle.
Downplaying the hard work of the successful
Not only does anti-hustle culture create the opposite of tenacity and proactivity, it also downplays the success of those who have grown fruits from their labor. The early-stage stories of successful entrepreneurs are not ones of relaxing and waiting, they are ones of conversation and action. Questioning the way forward, quizzing an audience, making requests to unlock opportunity. They took the hard choices to end up with an easy life, rather than taking the easy choices that actually result in difficulty later down the road.
Preparing for the journey to be challenging and preparing to level-up and work through it is far healthier than a rejection of hustle all together. Even those promoting anti-hustle are hustling to do it well. I don’t know a single successful entrepreneur who hasn’t hustled for an extended period in order to get their business off the ground. I know plenty of anti-hustlers struggling to make a living.
What’s the alternative?
Neither hustle nor anti-hustle is the solution and there is an alternative. It’s all in the framing. Hustle is unhealthy when it’s indefinite. When the grind has no goal, not only will it feel relentless, but it will be unsustainable. Anti-hustle culture is unhealthy because it undervalues the notion of effort or persistence; Both of which are required in the early stages of business.
A better way of framing is to see your business journey in distinct stages, starting with execute. In the execution stage your goal should be to establish three specific answers. The first is your flagship product or service; that offering that you are proud of, that is needed, and solves a specific problem. The second is your target audience; a specific group of people for whom your product or service is perfect, defined by specific characteristics or demographics and paying for your product. The third is the medium through which they are reached. Whether networking, Google Ads, your Etsy store or a referral partner; define this channel in the first stage of business.
Establishing these three things is the foundation of a successful business. The truth is that defining them usually takes a lot of time and effort, often with no obvious reward in sight. This is the grind that entrepreneurs speak of. This is where hustling gets you further, faster and differentiates you from other start-ups who aren’t putting in the effort of the same magnitude.
When these three factors are established, and your business is making money, you have proven product market fit. Rather than hustle here forever, take a small step back to get perspective on your business. Set a milestone. Write it down, fix it in place, work towards it without the goalposts moving. The attainment of this milestone completes your execution phase. Your hustling worked, your efforts paid off and now you have options for where you go from here. You can hire, outsource or automate. You can systemize your business to run like a machine. You can rest before going for another milestone off the back of your last sprint, or you can sit back and let the money flow.
Giving a purpose to the hustle phase means hard work feels more like playing a challenging game. Rather than seeing a loss of freedom and a big outlay of time, you see yourself as solving puzzles, directing traffic and cracking the code of product market fit. The effort is exhilarating, the days are varied and the winning means even more.
Indefinite, ego-driven hustle is not the answer, but anti-hustle isn’t either. An exceptional execution stage, with specific actions and definite purpose, can set up a successful business and a happy life.