Alex Okell

Why I’ve opted out of hustle culture

This is a transcript from The Compassionate Business Collective podcast. If you prefer to listen to the audio, listen to episode one here.

Hustle culture is not for me and I have officially opted out. Towards the end of last year, I found myself having constant anxiety, jumping on my laptop as soon as woke up and then being on calls or working non-stop for way over 8 hours a day. And then the evenings and weekends come. I would try to log off and decompress but I automatically would be reaching for my phone to check my emails. Even when I deleted the app off my phone, I would go onto Safari and check my emails that way. Even when I logged out of Gmail on Safari, I would cave and check my emails. It was truly exhausting and so frustrating as I didn’t even know why I was checking them.

Then it would be podcasts or books. Even when I was away from work I was listening to business podcasts or reading the latest “life-changing” business book. I would listen or read and vigorously nod along, forcing myself to agree with all the tactics and tips these so-called gurus were giving me. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t look down on anyone for getting out there and making money but I would hear these so-called nuggets of wisdom and cringe a little. Did I really need to implement these sleazy techniques to be successful? It felt that way.

So I started implementing them, feeling uncomfortable and a little embarrassed about the techniques I was using. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t multi-level marketing sort of bad but just marketing techniques that didn’t feel true or aligned to me. As someone who was still quite new to business (about two years in), I thought who am I to question this? Surely these people know better as they are 5, 10, and 15 years ahead of me and have “success”.

By the time January came around, after a Christmas break filled with being in bed with COVID, I tried to get back on the wagon as soon as the new year began. I roll my eyes so much at myself now, I am someone who proudly feels released from diet culture and has supported many people through this journey, but I was still engaging in diet-like techniques in my business. This black-and-white thinking and pushing myself to make more money and build my businesses quicker led me to feelings of absolute exhaustion and a complete lack of interest in pretty much everything in life, my upcoming wedding, my hobbies, my relationships and my business.

The parallels between hustle culture and diet culture are truly incredible. The fixation on the end goal, the numbness and the retreat from family, friends and hobbies to solely focus on the diet, or in this case, work. I recognised the influence diet culture had on my life and stepped away, but hustle culture and the expectations of us in society to be productive and profitable were still blurring my vision. I remember saying “Is this it? Do we just wake up every day and go through the motions? Isn’t there more to this?”.

As a Nutrition Counsellor, my work is focused on care, compassion and giving people space to show up and discuss whatever they need that day. But rather than this leading my work, I was bogged down in the minutiae of business. This was from a fear mindset, I now realise. I didn’t believe that my skills as a Nutrition Counsellor or my genuine passion for my other ventures could give me the business and life I wanted. I didn’t believe in myself and it manifested in working myself to exhaustion to try to prove a point to myself.

I finally realised, after another bout of tears to my fiance, that I needed to make a change. I sought help from a therapist who I now see weekly and realised I was deep in burnout.

After candid conversations with her and considering where these feelings had come from including the role of capitalism in equating hustle and work with value in society, even to the detriment of our physical and mental wellbeing, I decided to break up with hustle culture officially.

We start our own businesses as we want to create a life of freedom, satisfaction and flexibility and to give us the space to prioritise what matters to us in life – our relationships, our hobbies, our health. But instead of more time, less stress and fuller, more meaningful lives, we are left feeling anxious about where our next client is coming from, worrying about whether we can pay ourselves and spending more time working and less time doing the things we love.

Relying on scarcity and FOMO marketing and withholding the whole truth about our services seems to be the norm, especially in the online business world. Rather than transparency, openness and honesty, we are engaging in tactics that rely on scarcity rather than abundance.

Hustle culture seemed to take on a life of its own in the pandemic, encouraging us to “make the most of all our extra time we had”. Why?! To show off to someone random from school on Instagram? Not for me.

With the rise of social media and more time than ever being spent online, we seem to be pushed to grind harder and exert ourselves to our maximum to match the speed of the digital world. With a dopamine hit just one tap away when checking Instagram likes or our email inbox, it’s no wonder that we keep wanting to go, go, go. Just one example of the glamourisation of hustle culture includes the rise of the Girl Boss movement which really is just another iteration of White Feminism. This feminism lite approach reassured women that they could get to the top if they worked hard enough but rather than dismantling the oppressive structures rooted in misogyny, ableism, transphobia, homophobia and racism, we just ended up with gaslighting, gatekeeping and girl bossing, as coined by the Tumblr community.

Doing my own work and digging deeper to understand why I put so much of my self-worth on my academic and business success led me to change the way I work. My priorities now are my own personal wellbeing, both physically and mentally, and giving my clients the best service possible whilst doing what I can for social justice and liberation. I have now built three businesses that I feel 100% aligned with, and I continue to enjoy expanding and growing them whilst ensuring both my and my customer’s and clients’ needs are put first.

I still don’t have it figured out completely, there are days that I work too much, weeks where I can’t see the wood from the trees or when I lose my way. But what I turn back to is my Slow Business Framework. Next episode I am going to talk you through the framework step by step but to put it simply, it is a 3 stage framework I created based on the Slow Living movement. It brings me back to my values, makes my life and business streamlined, prioritises my wellbeing, and ensures I am challenging my biases and promoting social justice in my work whilst giving my clients the best experience.

Opting out of hustle culture doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your business. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up. It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to pay yourself for your work. It often means the opposite, you can build a business with longevity, that is sustainable even when the world is in turmoil (which it seems to have been for at least the last 3 years at this point). Building businesses that lead with compassion are always going to connect with people, authenticity and ease can be at the forefront.

Download the free Slow Business Framework here

Scroll to Top