Hustle culture is killing entrepreneurs

Is ‘hustle culture’ killing entrepreneurs? Ask any self employed person how they’re doing and you will usually get a reply, “I’ve been so busy”. If you were to go into their workplace for a day and observe them, you would probably find that’s true. Everyone is busy.

In the 80’s and 90’s people talked about the concept of the “rat race”, which was extremely dangerous to employees’ health. Today, with so many people starting their own business hustle culture is today’s version of the old rat race.

Culture of busyness and hustle
Hustle is the latest buzz word.

How many of those projects and tasks, that entrepreneurs busy themselves with, really propel the business forward? We have a new breed of gurus creating hustle porn and telling new entrepreneurs that the secret to success is to work harder. So it seems success can then be measured by the long hours you spend in the office. Lack of sleep, poor physical and mental health and social isolation can now be warn like badges of honour, in this new hustle culture.

There’s only one problem with this approach. It’s bullshit. Do you think the only difference between you and the billionaire, Richard Branson, is that you worked 12 hours each day and he worked 13? Do you think if you sleep less, skip exercise, eat fast food and stay late at the office you’re going to be successful?

High Achievers are Most at Risk

I know you probably think I’m talking about someone else. You’re an extremely capable person and you have got this covered. Well, if you’re driven and successful, I am talking to you. High achievers like to think they’re immune to burnout but in reality, they’re often the ones most at risk.

Look, a Unicorn!

In fact, many of us look at Silicon Valley only see the unicorns (privately held companies valued at over $1 Billion). But working in technology start-ups is not all it’s cracked up to be. First, unicorns are the exception to the rule. More companies will fail than those that succeed. Second, many workers in these large tech companies report they are suffering extremely high rates of job burnout.

In fact, ‘Blind’, an anonymous social app for tech employees, conducted a survey with 11,487 participants. Respondents were asked, “Are you currently suffering job burnout?” 65% of respondents from Expedia were. 60.4% at Snapchat, 60.16% at Lyft, 59.53% at Amazon, 57.94% at Airbnb and 57.46% at Apple, just to name a few. Yep, that’s right. The pool tables and bean bags in the lunch room are just to keep people at work longer.

Burnout Among Entrepreneurs

Hustle culture and the associated problem of burnout is not only a problem in Silicon Valley. Researchers recently conducted a survey of 326 entrepreneurs (95.6% had fewer than 250 employees), who were members if Business Networking International (BNI). They wanted to find out what makes entrepreneurs burnout. 25% of those surveyed replied that they felt moderately burned out, 3% felt strongly burned out. So, over one quarter of entrepreneurs are burning out at some level, according to Harvard Business Review.

If you’re an entrepreneur you need to ask yourself, “How long can my business keep running like it is? How long could my business survive without me?” They’re important questions. After all, what would happen to your business tomorrow if you suddenly had a heart attack? What would you do if your circumstances changed and you were required to take care of a sick family member? Who will carry on your important work tomorrow if you cannot?

Who Will Drive Your Business?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Looking after yourself is just good business. If you work alone, chances are you are the engine that drives your business. Leadership needs to start with you. When you want your team to show up for work fresh, enthusiastic, focused, energetic and motivated -you need to lead the way.

What’s Your Highest Value Contribution?

Most entrepreneurs I know start a business because they have something uniquely valuable to offer. Do you? For an individual, I believe that’s where passion, ability and reward come together. I like to think of the point where they intersect as your ‘highest point of contribution’. It’s the most valuable thing you can do with your time. Greg Mckeown, Author of Essentialism introduced me to this concept.

Greg McKeown talking about your highest point of contribution.

Daniel Priestley introduced me to the idea that every one of us has a unique backstory in his book, Key Person of Influence. We each have a unique set of skills and experiences. In other words, the thing that makes your business or your workplace so special is you… and “there’s no one you-er that you” (thanks YOUI).

Busyness is a Trap

So, what happens to your firm if you’re always busy, responding to incoming demands on your time? You might be failing to serve clients properly or provide the value you promised. If you’re not making deliberate decisions about how to invest your time, you might not be working on the right things. In short, you might not be making your ‘highest value contribution’.

Being busy can make you feel stressed, overwhelmed and put you at risk of burnout too. Welcome to the world of information overload, 24/7 contact, anxiety, technology induced attention deficit disorder and the drugs we can be subscribed to fix them all.

Is ‘hustle culture’ burning you out?

Carter (Psychology Today, 2013) listed the symptoms of physical and emotional burnout including chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration, physical symptoms, poor immune system, lost appetite, anxiety, depression and anger. If you are constantly ‘under the pump’ at work, you might already have some of these symptoms. It can happen slowly, over several years. It’s like a snowball, rolling down a hill, getting bigger as it goes.

Many of these symptoms are linked too. I know when I haven’t slept well, I eat poorly (to try and get some energy). I am more likely to get sick when I’m tired and I am prone to bad moods. My wife can tell you! Hustle culture is the modern day entrepreneurial version of keeping up with the Jones’s.

Arianna Huffington wrote a brilliant book called The Sleep Revolution. Huffington explores the science of sleep and details how it can enhance our mood, cognitive ability, immune system and energy levels. You need a good night’s sleep to make your best decisions, even if people don’t understand in today’s hustle culture.

Intelligence and Success

I know what you’re thinking. “I can handle this. I’m a capable person.” But intelligence doesn’t make you immune to sleep deprivation or even burnout. Nor does success. Trust me. There’s a long list of extremely successful rock stars, actors, entrepreneurs, professionals, tradies and more who experience burnout.

In my own roles, I have shown extreme signs of burning out. I failed to sleep properly, spend time with family and friends, eat healthily or exercise. In the end, the most telling sign was me becoming angry for no particular reason.

I have seen signs of burnout in others too. From mild cases of stress or anxiety, through to people quitting their work they do or even taking their own life, even when they were at the top of their game. Sometimes, something can happen that’s not so extreme, like someone quitting their job or business.

Let’s Get Real

Pause for a moment and ask yourself a few questions, so we can put things in perspective:

  • How will I make great decisions if I’m always tired?
  • What if I never have a holiday again and I burnout?
  • Who will take care of me, if I don’t?
  • What does the future of my business look like without me?

Let’s not pretend you or your business are indestructible. In layman’s terms, if any of these things happened, your business or ‘side hustle’ would be up ship creek (yes, SHIP CREEK!). Unless of course, you have a great backup plan. And if you do, good for you -you can already afford to take a break.

Let’s Talk Work Life Sustainability

I believe we need to start talking about ‘work life sustainability’ because too many people view ‘work life balance’ in the extreme. Many employers shy away from the concept of balance because it sounds too much like leisure.

What if we see hustle culture for what it is? If we don’t address this as entrepreneurs we might be risking our health, our sanity, our most valuable employees, our most important work, our income and indeed all of the rewards that come from doing what we love. We can’t keep going like that.

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