Unsustainable: Examining Hustle Culture at Queen’s

Unsustainable: Examining Hustle Culture at Queen’s

About a month ago, I got my first concussion. I don’t exactly remember all the details that happened the night of my fall but I think it went a little something like this: tequila, wet stairs, tumble. Let’s just say it was not my finest moment. Grandma if you’re reading this, I apologize profusely! It took me a few days before I finally decided that maybe the tumble was worse than I realized and that I should go get myself checked out. So like every good Queen’s student, I pulled myself out of bed and walked straight to KGH. And what do you know? I was told that I had almost every concussion symptom possible – exactly what I wanted to hear during my first month of second year! The doctor wrote me up note, handed me an informative pamphlet about concussions, and I was sent on my way. 

For any of my readers who have never had a concussion, it was probably one of the worst injuries I have ever received. Physically, my body was completely drained. I constantly felt lethargic and dizzy. It took me so long to respond to questions that I started to sound like a broken record. And I started ‘seeing stars’ at 2 pm in the afternoon – if I didn’t know that I had a concussion, I would have thought that I was going insane. However, one thing that stayed constant throughout the entirety of my post-concussion state was my anxious mind and inherent need to always be on the go. 

According to my doctor and every concussion-related website, the fastest way to get over a concussion is to: sleep, limit exposure to sunlight and stimulants, stop working out, and try to let your mind rest as often as possible. Limiting my workout habits was easy – I barely work out to begin with! But was I going to let this concussion stop me from pushing myself to complete everything on my to-do list? Absolutely not. Most days I was good about giving my body time to heal, but I often found myself feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt for not working. 

The thought of feeling guilty for taking the time to recover from an injury seems absurd – physical and mental health should always be a top priority. However, I found it hard to give myself this space. 

Welcome to the world of hustle culture. Forbes columnist, Celine Da Costa, defines hustle culture as “the collective urge we currently seem to feel as a society to work harder, stronger, faster. To grind and exert ourselves at our maximum capacity, every day, and accomplish our goals and dreams at a lightning speed that matches the digital world we’ve built around ourselves.” 

The #grind never stops. 

Surviving the rate race.

Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done. 

Work so hard that one day your signature will be called an autograph.

To hustlers, this work-centric mindset has become more than a means to an end; rather more of a lifestyle. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of working hard. My parents work extremely hard to provide for myself and my three other siblings. Sitting around waiting for your circumstances to improve is not the manner by which success is achieved. As well, there are many systemic barriers in place, which often inhibit a person’s ability to take a step back from their work. Gender, race, socio-economic status, and one’s physical and mental abilities are all factors that can act as barriers to achieving success.

Notably, however, hustle culture tends to move beyond simply working hard. It glamorizes performative workaholism and toxic productivity. This self-sacrificial perspective denotes that the more you work, the more you will achieve. Hence, we feel guilty when we’re not being productive. If this is the case, then am I really wrong for wanting to take part in this manic hustle? 

At Queen’s, this hustle culture encompasses more than just academic success. Students feel pressured to attain high grades, overachieve in extra curriculars, workout regularly, have a social life, cook healthy meals, and take time for self-care. Let me be the first to admit: succeeding in all of these areas is simply impossible. Or at the very least, unsustainable. 

Feeding into hustle culture leads to ‘burn out’ – expounded by the World Health Organization as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Essentially increased exhaustion and decreased productivity. Ironic, isn’t it? 

We’re living in a weird dichotomy in 2019. Self-care has garnered the attention of millennials and Gen-Zs across North America, as an important ingredient to living a healthy lifestyle. Yet, we’re still expected to constantly be hustling and meeting impossibly high standards. Ultimately it is hard not to feel pressured to be productive all the time – and this includes being productive self-care wise. Taking a bubble bath, and doing a face mask are often noted as the best ways to take care of oneself. But can self care also mean sitting down for five minutes without feeling pressured to do something? When did being with oneself and simply acknowledging one’s existence not become enough? 

Being forced to take a step back from work after my concussion enabled me to start asking myself these seemingly big and tough questions. 

Is the work that I am doing solely for others, or am I doing this for myself?

Why do I feel guilty when I’m not being productive or constantly available? 

Does my value equate to doing more? Would I be an inferior being if I worked less? 

Am I just being dramatic? Maybe. But asking myself these questions and thinking thoughtfully about them, as I lay in bed in the dark for weeks – inundated by my guilt – really helped put things into perspective.
I don’t know if/when this hustle culture will ever subside – especially in a university setting, where most of us are #grinding to achieve further academic and professional success in the future. I get it. 
However, if there is one thing you remember from this article, I hope that it is a reminder to be more kind and forgiving to your needs. Need to do a readin for a class? Go ahead. Need to lie in bed for an hour and do nothing? Love that for you! Let’s stop seeing ourselves as work-obsessed robots and embrace more of our humanistic aspects. Validating ourselves by means of fitting into ‘hustle culture’ is unsustainable. 

At the moment, there are 60 days left until the turn of the decade. Let’s take this time to acknowledge where we are at, and honour ourselves and the successes we have achieved thus far. Trust me, we deserve it. 
Take it from a girl who got a concussion to figure this out.

Image sourced from https://www.marieclaire.fr/apres-burn-out,1321042.asp

https://www.forbes.com/sites/celinnedacosta/2019/04/28/stop-idolizing-hustle-culture-and-do-this-instead/#cade86c33cb0

https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
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