hus•tle (ˈhʌs əl)
v. -tled, -tling,
- to proceed or work rapidly or energetically.
- to push or force one’s way; jostle or shove.
- to be aggressive, esp. in business or other financial dealings.
- Slang. to earn one’s living by illicit or unethical means.
- Slang. (of a prostitute) to solicit clients.
- to convey or cause to move, esp. to leave, roughly or hurriedly.
- to pressure or coerce (a person) to buy or do something, esp. something illicit or ultimately unprofitable.
- to urge, prod, or speed up: Hustle your work along.
- to obtain by aggressive and often illicit means: to hustle money from unsuspecting tourists.
- to sell, promote, or publicize aggressively or vigorously.
- to jostle, push, or shove roughly
[1675–85; < Dutch husselen, variant of hutselen to shake = hutsen to shake]
The Free Dictionary, Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary
For many this is the season of hustle when consumers and businesses large and small are swept up in a selling, shopping frenzy. Publishing this on the 10th anniversary of the day I registered my first handmade business and during our winter slowdown seems like perfect timing. I know the internet has little time for long form these days but my words don’t fit in convenient boxes lately so I hope you’ll make time when you are able to slow down and dig in. This is all about getting to the goodness always waiting at the centre when we stop the hustle, slow down, and really step up for each other.
It started with seeing Hustle everywhere. A quick Etsy search for ‘hustle’ results in thousands of items with the word shining in gold scripty font on everything from pencils to prints, even your baby can rep a onesie on the virtues of conning each other in the name of personal progress. Currently the word is being used to mean working hard in your business or toward your goals with everyone from would-be business gurus to lifestyle bloggers laying down the same brand of hurry up and get what you want. There is even a conference to learn how to be a better hustler. Regardless of intentions words have hidden meanings and using this one as motivation might deserve some thought about what is really being said.
“When we lift language, context crumbles” –John MacKenzie
Hustle as a word dates to 16th century Middle Dutch but the historical origins go back to 15th century heretic Jan Hus and his role in sparking the Hussite Wars. The word ‘huseln’ eventually came to mean an enthusiastic movement or recruitment for nasty purposes and over time evolved into what we know as hustle. The word in many communities still means to con, force, push, coerce and manipulate. Hustle implies the world is a place of scarcity and struggle so you are going to have to work harder and fiercer than anyone else to get anything you want. Common usage of hustle as slang came up out of inner city communities through channels like hip hop and R&B, no matter how much it gets shined up or what we want to believe, it is a word wrapped in the struggle of people trying to rise in a world that won’t let them.
For most of us the casual use of hustle diminishes the very real troubles of those who are just hustling to make it to the next day. Seeing it splashed everywhere by people who have every opportunity at the same time events are unfolding in the USA in Ferguson, our own Canadian First Nations communities, and so many places of severe inequality around the world seems perfectly emblematic of what is most damaged between us culturally, within our communities, our families, and ultimately within myself.
The problem with hustle is that it is hungry and always wants more. Another word for consumption, hustle can’t be full or content because to be still is to be complacent or left behind, I wrote about this and the Metrics of More vs. the Metrics of Enough in 2012. It isn’t just the semantics of the word Hustle that I’m caught up on but everything it represents-frenzy, panic, urgency, coercion, and ultimately oppression of each other in the crab scrabble to climb out of the bucket. To hustle is to live for the high of the future – tomorrow is going to be better so you better bust your ass today and not let anyone get in your path. Unfortunately hustle is addictive, competitive, insatiable and absolutely everywhere.
Hustle pits you against everyone else leaving no room for common goals, shared humanity, or humble giving. Instead of building the path by walking together hustle wants us all in our own individual steamrollers flattening each other in the rush to the finish line. Hustlers don’t have time for silly concepts like unity or cooperation, they are far too busy planning world domination or courting celebrity.
If you’ve loved or been an addict you know that hustle fills the void. When you are in a place of addiction to anything, whether it is the high of adrenaline or the distance of heroin, you hustle for a fix. As a culturally mashed up child of the inner city, a former addict, and someone who has held loved ones through both overdose and withdrawal I’ve seen hustle in many forms. I’m always trying to spot it in business, community, and daily decision making but this year it was especially personal.
For the past 11 months my mom and I have been on a healing + hustle busting journey together. Ten years ago when my oldest daughter was born my mom was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of severe trauma after trauma throughout her life. Back then I was 21 and struggled to understand fully what the diagnosis meant or how to support her. Last January after a year of depression, poverty, and overt racism in her apartment complex my mom sunk into a black place of near constant anxiety and ended up in the ICU on life support when her body shut down. Sitting beside all the machines breathing for her something shattered in us but we didn’t break like it seemed at first, we were broken open.
“I met a woman once when I was a teenager. I knew she had gone through a lot but she was so strong, so compassionate. I asked her how she could be the way she was, and you know what she told me? You can be broken, or broken open. That choice is yours.”
Since then I’ve spent a lot of time learning about PTSD and how to step up into a new role with my mom as a caregiver and support system so she can weave the broken bits into a new whole. I had to learn how to stop the hustle in myself first so I could slow down and step up. My job became being a master of spotting where I participate and fuel frantic thought and how I have the ability to guide both my mom and myself into a place of calm and safety.
What helped make the connection between Hustle and PTSD is learning more about what is known as the Fight or Flight response and how it affects our sympathetic nervous system. Hustle and PTSD (as well as anxiety, addiction and stress) stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and produce stress hormones. Adrenaline causes blood to move to the action centers of the brain telling it to increase heart rate and blood flow and we get a sudden surge of energy as hormones flood the body. The trouble with this?
The sympathetic system’s activity breaks down the body when stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol run unchecked. When this system dominates, energy is diverted from healing, building tissues, and eliminating waste. The energy for this system comes from demands placed on your glands (as opposed to the kind of energy that comes from eating food). And while it feels good or great at first, it is often followed by fatigue or even a crash. Over time, too much sympathetic nervous system activity breaks the body.
High stress situations like struggling for survival or dealing with constant trauma cause the body to exist in a constant state of hustle, hustle, hustle, then collapse. Collapse happens when the body can no longer deal with the elevated levels of stress and the immune system begins shutting down. Stress impacts our creativity, our problem solving, and our ability to collaborate effectively. Coping with PTSD or a panic disorder is like being kept in that place against your will all the time and not being able to find the escape hatch. The choice most of us have to slow down is harder to recognize when you can barely remember to breathe. So if the stress of hustle isn’t healthy why do we choose to buy into the idea that ‘working like a boss’ is something to covet or make decisions from a competitive place instead of a collaborative one? Even when the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Burden of Disease Survey states current predictions indicate by 2030 depression (and other stress related illnesses) will be the leading cause of disease burden globally?
Scarcity. Consumption. Expectation. The Metrics of More. Hunger.
“All sins are attempts to fill voids.” ― Simone Weil
Have you ever been truly hungry for something? It is a terrible desperate need, much like the emptiness of hustle since the two are all wrapped up in each other. When we are hungry for anything be it food, love, power, travel, recognition, friends or success the hustle often creeps over us. It makes us narrow our focus to that thing we don’t have and unable to recognize all options we already have access to. We start to think that the only way to get to our dreams IS the hustle. Changing the pattern from scarcity to abundance is really the simplest, hardest work. It involves the willingness to slow down, fill up, and pay attention, every single day regardless of how chaotic the world around you is. This isn’t some sit on a pillow and ohm three times kind of meditation, a practice of cultivating positive thoughts, or a course you need to pay for- it is much easier then any of that and requires nothing but what many of us are blessed enough to have access to. Our bodies were made for it after all.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” and inside us we contain the opposing force to our own Fight or Flight response called the Rest and Digest response or the parasympathetic nervous system. This response is the one associated with healing, digestion, building immunity, and cleaning our bodies of toxins. Since it is the biological opposite of Fight or Flight we physically can’t enter that state while we’re stressed or riding adrenaline, so what will get us there?
Unlike the quick high of Fight or Flight that gives us a surface leap of energy and action, getting our bodies and minds into a state of Rest and Digest takes more time, and doesn’t have a fancy tagline. Simple whole food, a place to feel safe, the comfort of connection and community, and what may matter most-creative, sustainable work to unite and quiet our heads, hearts, and hands. Crafting anything with time and intention whether it is a garden plot, a friendship, or a well rooted business, grounds and connects us to a deep well of resiliency and an internal strength that refuses to be hustled.
This year when my mom was discharged from the hospital without a home I hustled to keep her from homelessness and give her the stability she deserved in order to heal. But it was only when I slowed down enough to pay attention that the crisis found a resolution and the real work began. Many times since then mom and I have navigated Fight or Flight and the panic that comes over her through talking on the phone. With love, safety, and the kindness of strangers + friends her blood pressure has lowered without medication, increasingly she turns her thoughts and body to a place of rest, and has applied to school and been accepted with the dream of getting her masters degree. By my taking the time to really pay attention to her she was able to start giving herself that same attention and learn to spot the internal hustle before it takes over. This isn’t easy work-she lives on $220 a month yet she is planning a future and for the first time in years spends more time counting her blessings than tallying her losses.
As for me, when I stopped my hustle I was able to think clearly and without even looking found the work that mattered most. I became more aware of the ways we hustle each other online/offline and how I don’t want to participate. I found it harder and harder to engage with an internet that acts more like a full blown panic attack than the friendly cooperative neighbourhood it once was so things slowed as I figured a new way forward. That slowness made space for unbelievable opportunities to really learn about myself and why handmade/making matters including learning how to weave myself into the whole and gathering to begin making real community. I travelled from one end of Canada to the other from Prince Edward Island to Cortes Island, talking to thousands of creative people, finding and sharing with the dearest friends and comrades. While I worry for our communities and the world seems like a never-ending newsreel of trauma, in each moment I am pretty much happy all the time. Instead of leaning in or leaning out I choose the middle path of abundance – to plant firm roots and invite you to share the harvest.
Hustle is human and a reminder we are not long from our caveman origins when Fight or Flight really was essential to our survival, it just isn’t serving us well anymore. If we want to start healing so we can act on the very real suffering in our own hearts and communities we might want to stop relying on adrenaline and start relying on our ability to pay attention, choosing rest over fight and digest instead of flight.
What is the opposite of hustle? What can fill the void? I believe part of the answer is and always has been keeping handmade at the heart of our communities. Simone Weil also had part of the answer for us in her eloquent writings on Attention to the Real and the union of Thought and Work. To her the art and act of paying attention and using our head, heart, and hands was both prayer and an invitation to grace. She believed that truly paying attention to another person or a cause was not only an act of compassion but ultimately rebellion. We have always had the power to be creative citizens who manufacture our own collective success instead of passive consumers of hustle.
No matter how lost I have been this year or in my life I come home to handmade, to what makes me not only human but humane is where there is healing and abundance. Making something with care and thought whether it is a meal, a letter, email or blog post, a work of art or design, a relationship, a safe home, a community, or even a slow social movement is the ultimate act of paying attention. In times of mass distraction where the biggest, newest, bestest thing is always one click away paying attention to what is in front of us and then making more from those resources is revolutionary.
“We can blossom and grow in contentment.” -Genevieve Olejnick
This year the internet seemed more sure than ever of the answers to life, the universe and everything, how to manufacture success, gather clubs of sameness, and streamline our hustle so the bright ‘new economy’ looks suspiciously like the old one while crisis after crisis set fire to social media. The more we shout statements the more questions I have…
If we all stopped hustling online + offline and started paying more attention to each other, would we realize we already have enough and start sharing instead of scrambling for more? Would we spend more time connecting and less time consuming? Reach out to our neighbours? Cultivate more compassion and engagement with everyone? Imagine if we gathered in our local communities just once a month to cook and make a meal then share our skills/gifts with each other? If we stopped to make as a real community, would we fight less and value contentment more?
Maybe then we could all stop the hustle for what we think we don’t have, slow down enough to step up for each other and ourselves, and really start sharing the abundance all around us.
Because the thing hustlers forget about is that no one gets anywhere in isolation. There are no ‘self made’ people. In every success story there are small gifts and helping hands, people who were willing to share their time, knowledge, and resources. There will always be those of us who refuse to join the crabs in the bucket and instead choose to stand on the rim and lift our siblings out.
Ours is the movement of abundance. There is no limit to our gifts, our associations, and our hospitality.
We have a calling. We are the people who know what we need. What we need surrounds us. What we need is each other. And when, we act together, we will find Our Way. The citizen’s way. The community way. The democratic way.
We are called to nothing less. And it is not so wild a dream.
All these thoughts (and more) are informing the plan I’m crafting for my future. I started my journey to a handmade life before Facebook, Twitter, or Etsy even existed and I’ll be here making my own way while lending a helping hand to others for decades still to come. The river can go on rushing and hustling on it’s way without me, I know in the end it always ends up at the ocean. The big, real, powerful things don’t have to rush for anyone, they are timeless enough to wait for us to come home.