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I used to believe in hustle porn, and now I think it’s the antithesis of the American Dream

The pursuit of happiness shouldn’t come at the expense of one’s health and relationships, argues VisumCx founder and CEO.

I used to believe in hustle porn, and now I think it’s the antithesis of the American Dream
[Photo: Austin Distel/Unsplash]

We all want to be happy. You’ve probably watched movies about seeking it, read books on what you need to do to achieve it, and listened to songs about finding it. If you’re an American,the pursuit of it is an “unalienable right.”

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But I feel that our workaholic-crazed culture has twisted the definition of what it means to be happy. I’ll even argue that the pursuit of what we think is “happiness” is destructive to what our founding fathers dreamed of when they penned the Declaration of Independence. I’m talking about tying it to a specific definition of professional success (read: lots of money), and the idea that to get there, we have to be constantly grinding and hustling, even when it’s at the expense of our health and relationships.

Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness

Let me be clear and say that I value hard work. I’m the son of an immigrant. My father came to the U.S. in 1960 to flee the Castro regime. My grandfather bid goodbye to his 15-year-old son, and said, “They can take our cars, houses, boats, and money, but they can never take our hope, our name, and our willingness to work hard.” To this day, my father is one of the hardest workers I know.

But something has happened in recent years to our idea of a good work ethic in this country. Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, dubbed it “hustle porn.” At a November 2018 web summit in Lisbon, he said, “This idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough . . . this is one of the most toxic and dangerous things in tech right now.”

I have to agree with Ohanian and believe this mentality pervades all types of businesses, not just tech. I work with B2B marketers and salespeople and see this play out every day. They feel like they must be available and ready to work at all hours to be successful.

I used to be part of the problem. When I owned my first small business, I threw everything I had into it. I believed that if I wasn’t routinely working by 5 a.m. and constantly glued to my email, then I wouldn’t achieve those things that would bring me happiness. Never mind the fact that those things didn’t make me happy. Those closest to me can attest to the fact that this lifestyle did the exact opposite. The harder I worked and the more I achieved, the more unfulfilled, discontent, and narcissistic I became.

Why hustle porn is killing the American Dream

It’s not farfetched to say that overworking will have a direct adverse effect on anyone’s life, liberty, and happiness. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that men who worked more than 55 hours per week had increased cardiovascular problems—specifically atrial fibrillation—which increases the chances of a stroke by 500%.

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But the effects go beyond physical health risks. According to The American Psychological Association, the majority of Americans cited work as a significant source of stress. And we are not doing anything to help ourselves alleviate that pressure. Americans are notoriously bad at taking vacations. According to a 2017 study by Project Time Off, more than half of Americans (54%) are leaving paid time off on the table.

In my case, I achieved business and professional success at the cost to my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It wasn’t until I nearly lost my family that I realized I needed to make a change. My wife and four kids—the very people I was ostensibly working this hard for—had had enough.

How to restore the American Dream

What did Jefferson mean precisely by “the pursuit of happiness”? In a 2014 interview, Professor Brent Strawn of Emory University points to a 1964 essay by Arthur Schlesinger in which he describes this “pursuit” as the actual obtaining of happiness, rather than the chasing. In essence, we do not have to work tirelessly to get it.

There is nobility in hard work no matter the profession. One should take pride in a job well done. But we shouldn’t encourage a culture that is all work and no play. We shouldn’t equate liberty with exhaustion, and we shouldn’t worship at the altar of professional achievement and money.

We need corporate leaders to build cultures that embrace the values on which our country was founded. I’m talking a culture that values excellence and keeps work in its rightful place, but also encourages employees to tend to their own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. I’m talking about a culture that trusts that employees will be more productive when they take care of themselves first.

Lastly, we need to reject the idea of hustle porn for what it is—destructive. We need to stop parading the people who succumb to it as heroes. We need to stop sharing their memes, being envious of their “riches,” and stop building company cultures that mimic this unhealthy approach.

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As for me, I eventually left my business and began another one, but with a much healthier perspective. I defined boundaries on what I was willing (and not willing) to sacrifice. I still work hard, but I devote more attention to my health. I spend more time investing in (and cultivating) my relationships. This approach has made me much better in my business: I’m more creative, my work product is better, and best of all, my relationships are stronger than ever.

No matter how much money you make throughout your career, the one thing that none of us can buy back is time. Let’s build companies and businesses that enable us to make the most of each moment. Yes, it’s essential to work hard to excel at anything—but you shouldn’t do so at the expense of your relationships and health. Because when you sacrifice those things, you’re probably sacrificing your happiness too.


Carlos Hidalgo is the founder & CEO of VisumCx and the author of The UnAmerican Dream.

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