With our mantra of ‘work smarter not harder’ this month, I wanted to look at hustle culture and its impact on creatives. Living a creative life is non-traditional whether you earn money from your creativity or not. It is brave to live creatively. The narratives surrounding creativity are side jobs, hustle, the starving artist story; over glorifying burnout and exhaustion in the name of creativity, but today we are going to look at the detrimental impacts this narrative can have on creatives.
The narrative of hustle tells us to burn out, we need a side hustle, our art is only valuable if we make money, but not too much money. All of these stories are made to keep creatives small and afraid, too exhausted to grow and manifest our creativity in the world at our pace and in our own way. The concept of hustle is to work yourself ragged. There is a huge difference between increasing productivity and hustle. Hustle is burning the candle at both ends. Hustle undermines the value of the side job, of creativity, and strives to keep it in the shadows, just something silly we do to keep ourselves busy. Or worse, it convinces us that we must sacrifice to engage with our art, that it is only valuable if we are barely holding it together and making pennies as proof of concept, as proof that people want what we make but not for a price that mirrors our value as creatives. Either we shouldn’t be making it in the first place, or just grateful that someone wants it without asking for anything in return. Either way, we hustle until we can’t continue, until our creative well dries up from exhaustion and overuse.
Hustle culture also denies us the right to rest and replenish our creativity. It dictates that to be successful, to be worthy of creating we need to be exhausted, we need to push every second that we can to validate our creativity. With society’s concern for self care, albeit often misguided, the fact that we all still buy into hustle culture, a culture that denies us rest is absurd. Hustle is a fancy word for burnout. By denying ourselves rest in the name of creativity we actually pull away from all of the ways we find inspiration. We can only give to our creativity what we have, and when the well runs dry and we don’t stop to replenish it with rest, we lose the ability to draw inspiration from it.
Get it, it's a kitty hustling me at pool!
Burnout is a surefire way to keep creatives from taking up space in the world by keeping them in a perpetual state of exhaustion. There are so many demands placed on us as human beings that by adding a layer of hustle to the one thing we enjoy and love and cherish, we are denied the sanctity and peace of creating. If we only create for ourselves, as means of pleasure and delight we are told it’s not meaningful, not valuable. If we ask for compensation we are over valuing our skills, capitalizing on art that should just be available to anyone for nothing. But then we are laughed at for not making money, for not having the side job, for investing time and energy and focus, into something that is ‘generating nothing’ by the terms set out in this capitalistic society.
Hustle culture and the narratives and stories surrounding it do not serve us or our creativity. They do not build community confidence or care. All hustle culture does is tear us down, stifle our creativity and make us feel like we are not enough, our work is unworthy of being shared and we are fools for thinking that creativity could be a commodity, or fools for holding it as sacred and not to be used as a commodity at all. Creativity is in the world, is in you, to serve you and enrich life. It is abundant, and you deserve, we all deserve, an abundance of beauty and joy and play and grace and delight in our lives, no strings attached.
Though creativity is often lumped into the hustle culture narrative as explored above, it is actually the perfect antidote to it. Creativity is freedom, expression, delight. It laughs in the face of hustle because it takes its time and does what it pleases as it pleases. Creativity is anit-hustle so stop trying to fit it into a broken system of oppression and start using it to break those walls built by hustle and start planting flowers in the wreckage.