‘It’s about drive, it’s about power, we stay hungry we devour’ - but do you really? In the first of our 'OK Boomer' series, we take a look at the generational gap around hustle culture.
1996; the year that Princess Diana and Prince Charles got divorced and the first Nintendo 64 was released. It’s also the year that Millennial stops and Gen-Z begins— the year I was born. That’s probably the reason why I’ve always found myself caught between the two generations. It’s not a sappy, self-victimising ‘I don’t belong anywhere’ sort of sentiment, it’s more so that I find myself able to relate and assimilate entirely with the both of them. I’m a bridge, and the same can probably be said for all the other cusp babies born in the Year of the Rat. Herein lies the premise on which I’m starting this bi-weekly column. I’m doing as a bridge should— filling a gap.
How different could the two generations be? It’s not like we’re talking about Gen X, born between ’65 and ’76, in comparison to 2010 babies. It’s more or less true that we aren’t that different, despite our heated divisions over skinny jeans and side-bangs. But there are a few topics that are heavier, that have more bearing on what we consider to be our code of values. Take for example this big fish: hustle culture.
Obsessed with striving, toxically positive, devoid of humour, and reliant on black coffee to a concerning point. Be it office posters with ’Rise & Grind’ or ‘Hustle Harder’ slapped on them or Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s now-infamous lyric ‘It’s about drive, it’s about power, we stay hungry we devour’— the unending inspo is impossible to avoid. And if my Gen-Z traits may play devil’s advocate for a moment, it’s kind of pathetic.
I do consider myself a relatively ambitious person, and I think the same can be said for a lot of Gen-Z kids. Despite that, I’ve never once in my life looked forward to the start of the workweek. It’s just not a thing. Does that make me a traitor to Millenial(ism)?
Before all the Gary Vee fans get their panties in a knot, just entertain me for one moment— I promise I’ll switch over to a Millennial perspective in just a second. First, let’s dissect what hustle culture really means. By today’s standards, it can be defined as the state of overworking to where it becomes a lifestyle. Carpe diem all day, everyday.
More and more, Gen-Z is watching their older Millennial peers hustle for the sake of hustling and getting nowhere, spurring a widespread discontent for the hyper-productive mentality.
There are two reasons why we dislike hustle culture. The first is its insinuation that one’s worth is intrinsically tied not to their net worth (which is already terrible), but to their productivity. That’s arguably even worse. “You have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyonce” is a clever way to rebrand “surviving the rat race.” In capitalist work culture, liking your job is not enough. You need to love what you do, then go promote that love on social media, eventually fusing your identity into that of your employers. Why else would LinkedIn launch a story feature? Myths about overworking persist because they justify the extreme wealth gap that serves a painfully small group. More work does not equal more money— but that’s a story for another day.
The second reason Gen Z detests hustle culture is the delusion of it all. Within this kind of thinking lies a presumption that the more you work, the prouder you will be of yourself, and you will be all the happier for it. STFU. Yes it’s true we want to be proud of ourselves, but if we take on more work, what does that really mean? If we drop dead tomorrow, all our achievements are in the bin, and the hiring post would go out before our obituary.
Even Millennials themselves are starting to step away from hustle culture. The very same generation that drove forward the need to cultivate grit is now deviating from that sentiment. We’re in the midst of a phenomenon called ‘The Great Resignation’. Harvard Business Review found that employees between the ages of 30 and 45 in mid level positions have seen the highest increase in resignation rates. Millennial managers are more likely, at 42 percent, to say they're burned out than other generations, according to a MetLife study. #BeastMode is just not gratifying anymore.
In her book, ‘Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation’, author Anne Helen Petersen puts it like this: "Burnout occurs when all that devotion becomes untenable — but also when faith in doing what you love as the path to fulfilment, financial and otherwise, begins to falter." Evidently, working unnecessarily hard is not a one-way ticket to happiness. Don’t get me wrong, Gen-Z understands the value of working to get to where you want to be, but it’s the insistence that one’s career is the end all and be all of their lives is what proves to be problematic.
Now on the flip side, to someone working 80 to 100 hours a week to actualize their dreams, this snowflakey concept of ‘rest’ seems a bit rich. What do these kids know about what it takes to carve out a name for yourself? Maybe you won’t be happy all the time, maybe you’ll even cry on the office floor twice a week and have an unending paranoia that whispers ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ in your ear every morning— but that’s just life. It’s not hard to see why Gen-Z opinions can come off as entitled or even spoiled to those who have devoted their lives to the grind.
The issue I have with this kind of thinking is firstly its disregard for burnout. Yes, burnout is a real thing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as "a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." Burnout causes employees to have a pessimistic approach to work. Why would you want to do something that makes you feel like crap? Or even worse, for people who make you feel like crap?
If you work in a stressful environment, regardless of your industry, your employer will likely claim that it's a fast-paced workplace. There is always some emergency that summons you during odd hours. If employees are led to believe that every single task is of high priority, the company culture will eventually become toxic.
So what of it then? The grind (whatever that means) will not stop, and neither will the bills we need to pay magically disappear into thin air. If we are doomed to toil away until we die, we may as well figure out a way to make it more bearable, and find a way to make more room for life.
As cliche as it sounds, the answer could very well be establishing boundaries and practising self-care— not the bubble baths and bottomless brunch kind of self-care, but the kind that in-and-of itself feels like hard work. But more on that later, in our next column of OK Boomer. Until then, I’d like to end with a question: is ambition best practised as a means towards a career goal, or as a holistic desire for a contented, balanced life?