How Hustle Can Hurt You

Today, there is a prevailing theme of “hustle” being promoted in our culture. Social media is flooded with words like “grind,” and “crushing it.” As a young drama student, I’d arrive at the theater each morning at 5:30 am. For 10 blocks I’d pound my chest with clenched fists roaring, “Come on! You either want it or you don’t!” I was convinced with my dogged determination and work ethic it would only be a matter of time before I took Broadway by storm. And though there’s no substitute for a focused commitment towards our goals, I soon learned if we’re not clear on what we’re working to achieve, all the hustle in the world won’t mean a thing.

The trouble is, the grind is alluring. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction you get from plopping down on the couch after a long day knowing you gave it everything you had. For years, nothing gave me greater joy than being the first to sign my name on the check-in sheet at Shapiro Theater. I made certain my name was written in big easy to read letters. I’d stake my claim before tiptoeing past a sleeping guard to avoid an argument, of which there were many. “Why do you need to be here so early?!” they’d ask. “I have work to do,” I’d say. But years later I overlooked the need to take personal inventory, making sure what I was working towards was still aligned with my core beliefs. I spent years bulldozing my way to a dream I once had in the hopes my old values would somehow be resuscitated back to life. I kept hustling because I was too scared to admit I no longer knew what I wanted.

A good hustle is admirable but it doesn’t always guarantee success. Like acting, entrepreneurship is such a fiercely competitive world if your vision and sense of purpose doesn’t have chest thumping clarity your grind won’t be sustainable. Over the years, I appeared on major television shows, booked commercials, performed in big regional theaters, and acted with theater gods as a Broadway casting reader. I was slowly making progress but I’d also lost a little bounce in my step. I longed for my school days and the sense of purpose I felt while training on the 16th floor of Riverside Church. And like that view of the Hudson, my dreams felt within reach but yet so far away.

By the time I’d hit my mid-30s something wasn’t sitting right. I could no longer just bury myself in the day-to-day grind and deny I’d lost my “why,” and perhaps a little of myself along the way. I was pushing really hard on a door that read, “Pull” to get into a building I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be in anymore. My goals had changed because I had. My heart somehow knew it was being duped.


In my 12-year journey as an actor I discovered there are many rewards awaiting those who hustle, but clarity of purpose is not one of them. Blindly applying brute force may move you forward, but what good is it if you don’t know where you are, or why you’re there? Your vision must precede the grind. No amount of discipline or work ethic will persist unless your “why” stirs the ”how.”

But how does one quietly follow their “why,” while navigating through the deafening culture of hustle? First, you can choose to “flow” rather than “muscle” your way to the top. Consider a stream racing through a valley and how it never flattens the boulder in its way. Instead, it moves seamlessly above, around, or below its obstacle while still reaching its destination. There is still great momentum and effort being expended but in a way that incorporates that resistance as an integral part of the journey.

Second, the act of striving should be intentional. We can be fiercely honest with ourselves having the courage to question why we do what we do. With clarity comes an awakening to our potential and our actions have a remarkable way of organizing around our defined purpose.

Finally, “the hustle” can be inclusive. Instead of looking at people as problems we can look at them as opportunities to build community. The most fulfilling part of working towards any meaningful endeavor is through the transformational relationships we forge. When we lift each other up rather than leave them behind, attainment of our goals becomes about creating impact instead of self-importance.

Solopreneur working hard

So grind away my friends. Wake up at that ungodly hour, bid happy hour farewell, and tell Frank Underwood he’ll have to wait. You’ve got work to do. Just make sure you’re pushing on a door to get into the right building.