Toxic hustle culture has been a growing topic within the startup community. The commitment and hours that it takes to build a business can result in some unfavourable consequences. Throughout this episode, we discuss how toxic hustle culture impacts our lives and those around us.
But as you’ll read, you’ll see that it’s not just Steph, Britt and Ali in this episode, we’re also joined by our friend Ria Riaz, the Head of Marketing at MESH/Diversity. MESH/Diversity is a startup that deals with diversity, inclusion, and belonging. They focus on how to create inclusive cultures instead of just measuring diversity metrics like how many women or people of colour you hire.
Anyways, let’s get reading.
Steph: I think we've all been there before where we're working really hard and you kind of forget about the things that actually matter in your life like your physical and mental health.
Ria: I mean, I just spent the night in an emergency room because I couldn't feel my face. So yeah, I do agree that you need to take care of your health and I think part of the detrimental side of hustle culture is that we're almost told that we’ll sleep when we’re dead. And a few years ago in the startup world, that was a thing where people were like... sleep when you're dead, hustle until you can't breathe.
But your body responds in really negative ways when you're not taking care of it. And it becomes more apparent as you age. But it doesn't matter if you're an older person or a younger person if you keep putting stress on something over and over again, like if you hit a wall with a hammer over and over again, what's going to happen over time? It’s going to crack. And I think that's the same with our bodies.
Britt: For me, there's always a time where I don't even use my laptop anymore at night because that's my time to relax. I'm seeing the result of people being under high stress and watching them slowly deteriorate. And I’m like... what happened to you? How can you create your company and this thing that you're so passionate about when your body's slowly deteriorating?
Ali: A lot of people will keep going until they've hit that breaking point. And then you can't really go back from there. All you can do is look back and be like, oh, shit, I should’ve spent more time on me. Now, whatever effect it is, you kind of have to live with that and recover and then move on. But a lot of the time people we’ll just keep doing it again. You’ll get back to where you’re feeling on top, forget to take care of yourself, get overwhelmed with work, and then it happens again. It's a toxic cycle.
Ria: I feel like it's not just us. Yeah, success is addictive, but I think social media plays a part too. We see all these people doing so well on social media, and you question what’s wrong with you. And as much as you say that you don't compare yourself to anyone, it's unconscious.
I have friends whose lives seem magical and they work very hard but when you're having conversations with them behind the scenes, they feel really burnt out and really tired. But then if you share that on social, it just perpetuates this image of you that you're not strong enough.
Ria: This hustle thing also puts a lot of pressure on your relationships. I would say that my marriage ended because I had a partner who was building a startup and it requires a lot of time, but where do you draw the line? And I'm not the only case, there are so many other people around us whose relationships just fall apart.
I was listening to a podcast yesterday with this woman who's had a lot of success for herself. But what she said was that in the morning, she takes half an hour to herself for self care. But self care is more than half an hour. It's more than just a bubble bath, it's more than just diffusing essential oils. And then the rest of the day is just go go go. And it's crazy. A lot of us perceive success to be like, oh, if I journaled for half an hour, or I filled in my gratitude book, then I'm going to be super rested and cared for. Even if we look at people who've had burnout - they share that story, then they go on world stages to talk about that burnout, and then it's a speaking circuit. So even the burnout itself then becomes a little bit glamorized.
Ali: Ria, you said at the beginning of the episode that you spent the night in the emergency room having tests done due to an issue that might be correlated to stress. Has that made you rethink a bit of how much you've been working lately?
Ria: So essentially, what happened is that my face was numb and I thought… oh my god, am I dying? But as I was sitting there, it sounds so cliche but I thought, what's really important to me? And work was not top of that list. Like it was my partner, my kid, my family and my friends. But I think I've already pulled back a lot. If you had met me at 24, I drank the Kool Aid. I worked at a startup and it was doing well so I thought, this is great, I have arrived and now I'm gonna hustle the hell out of this.
Ali: But do you look back at it and think, yes, obviously it wasn't healthy, but it built you up to this point or do you look back and think that it wasn't worth it.
Ria: It did build me up to this point. And there’s the problem!
I was in Beta Kits Top 30 Women to Follow list and that doesn't happen without putting in the work. But the thing here that I'm trying to get at is, hustle is not a bad thing. Mindless hustle is a bad thing. You have to align yourself with what it is that you're going for. There were a lot of points in my career, especially in the first few years where I was trying to hustle in every single direction. There are a lot of projects from that time that I could’ve easily dropped. I just dipped my toes in so many things because I didn't know what kind of direction I wanted my life to go in.
Britt: I think that's the mindset that a lot of young people in university and post grad have because they have this panic where they think, if I don't do this, this and this, I can't get up to this level.
Steph: There's a lot of pressure on young people today to pick a direction simply because you're not really sure if there's going to be a place for you at the end of the road.
Ali: When you think of mindful hustle, it's like okay, still put in those hours, put in that work. But don't waste your time on extra work with these useless things that aren't actually going to impact and grow you or whatever your initiative is.
Britt: The number one thing is priorities. List all the things that you're doing right now, and put how many hours you’re allotting to each and then decide if it’s really important. And be blunt, if you don’t need it anymore then take it out of your life.
Steph: I know that I'm bad for being in that toxic hustle space and I get really addicted to it. But I would say that one thing that has helped me is, every Sunday, I do a weekly mantra. And it's something that you can focus on when things get crazy.
Ria: One thing that I've learned over time is that if you're happy in other parts of your life, you thrive at work. Personally, I’m trying to focus more on my health, focus more on my family, my partner, and my kid, and I do feel a change. You don't have to follow anyone else's pace. You don't have to be a TEDx speaker to be successful in life. You don't need to be Gary Vee to be successful in life. You don't need to hustle like that. And I think we need to destroy the idea of this mindless hustle.
Work is busy and as our personal lives and work lives continue to merge into one, it’s getting even harder to take that time for yourself. But here’s another reminder to please do. Find some tactics that work for you to step out of that work headspace and take care of your mental and physical wellbeing.
A huge thank you to Ria for joining us on the podcast today! You can find her on LinkedIn at Ria Riaz or on Twitter and Instagram as @roastedkeyboard (if you tweet at her she’ll tell you why that’s her handle).
Make sure to subscribe and tune into more episodes of Hustle Harder whether you’re reading them here or listening to them on Apple, Spotify or wherever you normally get your podcasts.
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