I sometimes write about my perspective on life and marketing work / culture. This is one of those. The ideas aren’t perfect, but writing helps me work through them. I’d love to hear your feedback after you read.
My first relationship with the idea of what we now call hustle culture was a coach in high school. He was incredibly talented and had taken our school’s program to heights people had never imagined. He was tough, to be sure, but a genuinely good dude that cared about every member of his team.
Early mornings at practice and late nights of work wrapped around a full day as a teacher seemed to have taken their toll, though. I remember thinking he looked way too old for his age. And then there were other random insights like the time someone mentioned casually that he apparently only slept a few hours a night.
I was inspired by what he was able to do, but I remember even at 17 years old feeling a little bit weird about these sorts of tradeoffs.
It wasn’t until many years later that I started to see similar patterns. Specifically, in entrepreneurs and CEOs and, yes, marketing directors or CMOs or VPs that “do what it takes” with early mornings and late nights and long trips and sacrifice.
But something else happened. It wasn’t just these people’s accomplishments that were being celebrated, their behavior was too.
And to a certain degree, I bought in. Maybe not so much physically – though I’ve had a few phases of my career where I’ve put in some wild hours – but definitely mentally. I began to believe that was the right way to work. Maybe the only way. And before I knew it I was judging myself based on that culture and the ideals that seemed to come with that territory.
So when I wasn’t first to arrive or last to leave? I felt a weird twinge of guilt.
Now I want to be clear, that culture works great for some people. It fits their personality, the way their brain works, and their life. They can pull it off. But, man, I just never seemed to be able to.
For a number of reasons, the last few years are the ones where I’ve finally been able to break out of that paradigm and define my own version of success. A version that is much more about doing good things – maybe not great, but solid – while also having balance and health. Doing effective work while also checking out at 5pm. Doing what it takes…while also sleeping 8-9 hours a night.
Again, there are many people that can make it all work. That can hustle and stay balanced and sane. But I was not one of those. There was a stretch of 2-3 years where I was almost constantly saying over and over in my head:
“Man, I just feel so…tired.”
My creativity suffered, my sleep suffered, my work suffered, and I just neve quite felt like myself.
If you’re like me, I just want to be sure you realize that you’re not alone in some of this and that it’s okay to pull back a little bit.
Even in the folks who can pull off the hustle, I’ve found that I really admire people who also know how to unplug. To take a step back. To leave work at the office and go on vacation, go on that no-cell-phones river trip, to make it to every dance performance or soccer game even when there’s stuff piling up on your desk. Partly, I suppose, because it shows they’re human and shows they know they have limits. And partly because it makes it easier for us who have different limits.
And we do. Just like we have different levels of endurance physically, we have different levels mentally as well. Some of can run and run and never stop. Some have to stop every mile, hands on your knees, to catch your breath. Some have trouble ever getting past a fast walk.
And if you’re the latter? My only advice would be to embrace it. To be honest about it. And don’t try to force yourself into a role that’s expecting a full-out sprint until retirement.
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