Never Satisfied with Life? You May Be a Victim of the ‘Hustle’

Photo by Ila Meister

As I shut my laptop and kept it in a high cupboard, I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. Even though the practice of keeping the laptop out of reach was meant to cultivate psychological distance from work, it wasn’t working that day.

Perhaps I didn’t check off enough items from my to-do list. Or the moment I blocked all messaging and email apps for 12 hours, I remembered 5 different people I had to follow up with. Not reading enough pages that day could also be the reason I felt someone was poking my mind.

In short, I felt like I was not doing enough. I felt I had to write one article, post on LinkedIn, work at my day job, read 30–50 pages, go for a walk, practice the flute, and meditate for ~2 hours every single day.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy all of those activities. I adore my meditation and walks — perchance, I can’t live without them. But the idea of checking all those boxes every day seemed like a tall order.

And then it hit me — I embodied the ‘hustle’ mentality. No matter how much I’d written against it in the past, it crept into my psyche masked as “hard work.” I thought I was being productive, serving others using my skills, and taking adequate time off.

Yet the activities that rejuvenated me themselves turned into an item to be checked off. This is when the trap stiffened and I knew I had to get out of it.

A Sign That You’re Deep in the Hustle Culture but Don’t Know It

If you’re even mildly ambitious, you likely struggle with expecting too much of yourself. But it’s not your fault. In a utopian world, where people don’t have FOMO and jealousy, it’s easy to do what you do, regardless of what others are doing. But the world will never be utopian.

We see people around us working multiple jobs, having multiple income streams, and striving to live a life of #abundance. The plot seems innocent until you read between the lines.

Since we’re far from utopia, we feel FOMO and we feel jealous when people boast about their side-hustles, choked calendars, and long workdays. To top it off, you only need to see a vlog by Garyvee or read about Elon Musk’s insane routine of flying 3 times a week to manage all the companies he owns.

Seeing all this, we make bogus assumptions of how our life should look like:

  • I need to have a side-hustle
  • I need to have multiple revenue streams (because someone says an average millionaire has seven streams of income)
  • I need to be so exhausted at the end of the day that I just fall asleep and repeat the process forever.

Instagram is filled with 20-somethings reminding you that they’re already making six figures. And they’re also willing to tell you exactly how they made $948,261 in the past 6 months. When you pay for their online course of course.

These courses often sell the dream life of being a digital nomad, promising that you can convert the banalest hobbies into business “empires.” Then you can quit your job, put your money in an index fund and retire.

It’s charming. It’s seductive. But not everyone can be like that. And not everyone wants to be like that. Which is totally fine! Except, the world makes us feel it’s not.

It makes us feel less than “them” for not having multiple jobs and having freelance clients on the side. For not actively thinking about quitting your job in favor of something you build for yourself.

We’re thus driven into a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. And if you feel that dissatisfaction looming on your head for more than a couple of weeks, be warned! Your whole body is smelling of hustle.

This emotional state is a sure-short sign you’re hustling and need to hit pause.

The Supreme Virtue

Yogis call contentment the supreme virtue. But it seems the more we progress, the less content we are. I’m all up for working hard to achieve your goals. The problem is when you can’t ever be happy with what you have.

Instead of delaying gratification, we delay happiness.

We condition our happiness by achieving our goals, making a certain amount of money, or acquiring knickknacks. And what happens when we do get what we want? We’re bored with it and the pattern repeats itself.

To come out of this trap, we don’t need better business plans, online courses, more money, or anything external. We need to be content now. Right now.

We need to be content with wherever we are. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. When you have a feeling of dissatisfaction pause and reflect. You might regret not getting enough work done or not having the perfect body. Whatever it is, just observe it. Write it down if you want.
  2. Resist the urge to distract yourself from this uncomfortable feeling by doing more work or just wasting more time on social media, drinking, etc.
  3. Realize that you’re doing your best. You want to be better at life and that’s phenomenal. But you can’t do it at a breakneck speed. And you can’t do everything in one day. Accept that. Really, accept that.
  4. Be grateful for what you have and appreciate yourself for the work you’ve done till now.
  5. And from this point, resolve to take every action in your life not with the fear of falling behind but with the excitement of exploring your full potential.

That’s the only way to be content and still strive to achieve whatever you want.

People say “If you don’t work hard, you’ll be ‘average’.” I had that as my wallpaper for a long time. In reality, average and excellence are just mental constructs. Every time we achieve excellence, we undercut ourselves to think that we’re still average. It doesn’t work.

Unhappiness and a sense of lack are subpar motivators. Contentment and self-love are what we need more of. To strive not to fill a hole in our soul but to grow into our full potential.

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Written on May 6, 2021