The hustle is a lonely hunter
“The Heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of another’s fire…driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of a neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there’s no sign of love in sight!”
-Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Desperate hunger for the hustle is not something I thought I’d be experiencing. One thing I’m learning about myself in the pandemic is how to be a hustler without a job. I didn’t know how much I needed it until I couldn’t have it.
“To hustle” usually has a positive connotation. In gym class in school, the teacher was always imploring you to hurry up, to show your “hustle.” Our entire system of learning is based on doing well from one class to the next, one grade to the next, to graduate, to go to college or get a good job, to keep hustling till you’ve captured the next flag.
I was a faithful soldier of the hustle. For most of my life, I’ve had more than one job. Sometimes four. I consider “scrappy” one of my positive descriptors. But in a pandemic, with little control over work and the economy and my position in it now, where does that leave me?
A former partner of mine had a very successful side business selling hand-made coffee pour-overs on Etsy. I was shocked to discover that after a year, he had brought in almost ten grand. The venture was successful by all accounts. But after a year or so, he stopped short. He said it started to feel like a chore. He resented it. His interest in woodworking had turned into a side hustle and had burned him out. When your hobby becomes your job, does it provide the same joy? Does it change your feelings for it?
Do you know what I’ve realized? That loving the hustle is a lot like unrequited love.
We have romanticized working our butts off for a partner that does not return our devotion.
Can you blame us? A quality of feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life? Hell, even before the pandemic, that sounds like something I want. But this excitement of constantly moving, working, being busy has gotten out of hand. Back in 2014, Omid Safi wrote about The Disease of Being Busy. At a point in history when we have the most opportunity for leisure than ever before, our time is filled to the brim and we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and constantly in motion.
Other business owners are writing about their attempts at slowing down, their refusal to be in love with the hustle, like in The Power of RESToration. Geek Chic Clothing writes:
“I have been conditioned by both society and the remnants of colonialism still present in my blood that rest is lazy and weak. But you know what? I am worthy regardless of how much I achieve.”
Breaking up with hustle
I personally am struggling to find the balance between mindless busyness (or hustling for hustle sake) and being a couch lump. Recently I asked a friend how home schooling her son was going. “He’s a teenager,” she said. “He’d rather be playing video games and watching YouTube.” And reader, apparently, I’ve become a teenager in quarantine. Without my trusty hustle to dote on, this previously straight-A earning, overachiever has swung wildly in the other direction.
The answer, for overuse, usually, lies in moderation. Like we’re told with most things we should monitor for excess (food, alcohol, exercise, sex), moderation is key. It seems many are finding enlightenment in re-examining their hustle, in stopping to smell the roses.
But those repeated mantras to “just slow down” from every foreseeable news outlet and well-meaning Facebook post feel like the equivalent of millionaires telling millennials to just stop spending $4 on daily lattes and they too could buy a house and magically break centuries of economic policies structured to feed the wage and wealth gap.
5 steps to get over the unrequited love of the hustle
1- Rejection hurts. Not just in your head and heart, but also in the body. You will experience withdrawal symptoms, physically and psychologically. Acknowledge your need to grieve and let your whole self feel it. Slowing down may feel unnatural at first.
2- Remember, you’re not alone. Unlike with your one romance, the entire world is with you right now in also dealing with the heartbreak of the pandemic. All around are examples of people learning how to break free from the hustle. Borrow from them, test a few out, talk to others.
3- Notice the pattern. Do you use busyness as an excuse? I watch several of my friends dealing/not dealing by working all the time. Some I rarely saw even before this because of their work schedules. Now it’s even less, even though things have supposedly slowed down. Look carefully to see if you’re escaping having to deal with the feelings by filling them in with hustle.
4- Release the need for closure. We have no idea when this all will end. So you have plenty of time to release your attachment to the hustle and start creating an environment that gives you more of what you want.
5- Better to have loved and lost than never have hustled at all. You may look back on your hustle life and feel badly for it or wonder why you couldn’t see it before. Don’t get stuck in a feeling of shame. Many of us were there too, bewitched by the hustle. Look at it fondly and use it to remind you not to return to that place.
Let’s get to more realistic love and move away from the unrequited. To borrow from Omid Safi’s 2014 essay, what if we all walked around with more of this:
“Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”
Holly Gordon is trying to figure out how to blow up her life. She misses singing in her community chorus, appreciates her feminist book club, and is always distracted by shiny things.