Hustling as we know it isn’t working. It’s time we, as founders, started talking about it more.
In April 2019, I stopped hustling.
Let’s rewind: I was 12 months into launching my third company, a creative partner for fast-growing startups.
Interesting timing to stop hustling, right?
From the outside, you would have seen new clients, a launch party, a perfectly curated Instagram veneer. Shiny, shiny.
The reality, however, was pretty different: Every week, I was hitting up LinkedIn, following up on emails, making phone calls, going to events and having lots of conversations with little outcome. Idea, exertion, emotional exhaustion, repeat. Motivational quotes were ringing in my ears.
And then it happened.
I stopped functioning. More specifically, I stopped hustling.
Why? Because, behind closed doors, I was struggling to get new clients and it was getting me down. Looking back, it’s because I was chasing the wrong kind of clients. I was giving my energy to the wrong kind of businesses and my entire life was paying the price.
Real talk: I’d reached a point of doubt, imposter syndrome and complete burnout. Working out, eating proper meals, seeing friends… everything I usually loved (and needed!) came second to the business. My cognitive load was immense and I was self-gaslighting like you wouldn’t believe.
Have you ever been so tired you can’t solve the very thing that’s making you tired? Yep. That.
The tipping point was when my partner, Ryan, said he felt like a ‘weekend boyfriend’. Burn. Considering we live together, I knew that something had to give and that something was hustling. Or, more specifically, my relationship to hustling.
For context, up until this point, working constantly (and I mean constantly) had been a huge part of my identity. I was a founder, for Christ’s sake. Founder culture is, so often, about glorifying the struggle and I was a full-time subscriber to that notion.
What kind of founder would I be if I couldn’t hack it? Hell, can you be a founder at all if you’re not giving it everything you’ve got (and then some)?
‘Move fast and break things’ is Mark Zuckerberg’s famous mantra (even if the thing you’re breaking is yourself). ‘You either grow or you die’ said Nike founder Phil Knight. ‘Success isn’t about money or connection. It’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone’ stated investor Mark Cuban. ‘Your biggest competition is yourself’ say a multitude of motivational quotes on Pinterest.
As I started reflecting on the big, existential stuff, I remembered what my grandad would have said. He had been a formidable force and suddenly, instead of just my own voice, I heard his too. It was loud:
“If you’re not happy with your life, god damnit, go and do something about it. Only you can change it.”
That’s when it hit me:
Startup founders are all about busy-bragging. It’s not enough to be in the ring, you’ve got to be publicly ‘winning’ too. Every podcast is about ‘optimisation’. Every Instagram story is about showing your latest projects and #success. Every conversation is about who can work the longest. It’s inspiring and motivating and it’s absolutely destroying us.
My response? Fuck that.
Fuck thinking work has to be pain. Fuck being reactive rather than productive. Fuck glorifying the hustle at the expense of yourself and others.
There are many ways to lead a successful business and it’s time we started celebrating them. The ‘Gary Vee’ model of being a founder is not the kind of founder I can — or want to — be, and that doesn’t make me, or you, any less of a business owner.
Here’s to being true to who we are. Here’s to aspiring for ease. Here’s to working in smarter ways. In healthier ways. Here’s to acknowledging that we have a collective responsibility to look after each other. Here’s to knowing that you really can do anything if you stop doing everything.
That’s certainly been the case for me: my retirement from relentless hustle has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my business. Today, my business has more clients than ever and, most importantly, they’re the right clients. I’ve unsubscribed from #startupculture in favour of my own micro-culture.
These days, I have my hustle in order. I don’t let it disrupt my life and keep me up all night. I hustle differently now.
Here goes. Third time lucky.
PS For anyone relating to my story, here are some of the practical things that helped:
The thing that helped most of all?
Writing a letter to my fear, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Yep. It sounds kind of woo-woo, but hear me out:
Take a piece of paper and write a direct letter to your fear.
Tell it exactly what you feel, as you would to a good friend. Ask for its permission to move forward. Know that you’re in control (because, really, you always were).
Try it. I’ll guarantee you’ll feel clearer and get to know yourself and your business better in the process.
Putting myself first, before my business, was hard. I’m not going to lie: it still is. I’m still finding my flow with that decision every day and, every day, it gets a little easier. To my fellow founders, my advice is simple: make the decision to put yourself before your business, for your business. I have a feeling we won’t regret it.