Hustlin' Hard, or Hardly Hustlin'

Jake Bonneman
January 23, 2023

Hustle, grind, and hustle some more—For the last decade or so, hustle culture has dominated social media, Forbes contributor articles, and media think-pieces.

It’s usually inspiring, but anyone who’s ever hustled knows the dark side of the grind.

With how perception on hustling has changed over the last few years, you’d think we were experiencing some completely new phenomenon.

But what we’ve got here today with hustle culture is… nothing new at all.

Don’t believe me? Let’s go back—way back.

In the early 20th century, the word hustle—to hurry, or to ask for money—started to be used as a kind of slang word for working hard in life. Having “gumption.”

The opposite of being lazy and not getting paid, basically.

Around the same time, hustle started to be used separately to refer to criminal activities—scams, sex work, stealing, and the like—but things people with no means were often doing to survive.

By blending parts of these two slang origins, it’s easy to see where the modern meaning (and feel) of the word “hustle” comes from. While illegality is generally not part of the equation today, when one is bragging about their hustle on Instagram—the “working hard to survive” aspect remains.

If you think back to the 90s and 00s, you probably remember that “hustling” became a staple in new school rap and all sorts of hip hop—celebrating what we think of as the “rise and grind” mentality. The grinding they were referring to wasn’t always glamorous—hustling was more about perseverance and using your brain to not just survive, but ultimately thrive.

So again—hustling is nothing new. People have been doing it forever—in the early 20th century, a hustle might’ve been delivering newspapers from a buggy. Today, it might mean delivering groceries from a buggy mobile app. Hope you see what I did there.

Hustling before the Internet got involved was pretty… uh, different—for an ultra white collar example of what hustling could be like in the age of calling clients from pay phones, look to Glengarry Glen Ross, and that famous meme-ified Alec Baldwin speech about coffee and closers.

The Internet has made the hustle a lot less… physical in many ways.

I mean, it definitely looks easier to be hustling from a phone at a coffee shop than how people generally hustled before smartphones—hell, Blackberries—came around.

But… is it really easier today? Overall?

Since hustling can mean so many types of jobs and side-jobs, there are lots of scattered examples one could use to poke holes in the following argument—I’ll freely admit. But in the past, it might’ve been easier for the hustler to “disconnect” from the grind.

While you might feel stressed and worried about working once you went home for the day, it was less easy for your hustle to invade every waking hour.

It’s much more difficult in some hustles than others—if you’re managing a ton of projects and different clients, you’ll have to work much harder to maintain a work life balance in your off-hours than someone who drives for Postmates. (On the other hand, when I drove for Uber, I remember it seemed like they were always sending me notifications and emails asking me to get in my car and drive—generally with no incentive of any kind other than “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to drive at 11pm and make eight bucks?”)

Don’t get me wrong, hustling in the mobile age has some benefits.

I for one am happy that as the years go on, the number of times my work requires me to drive around the city in search of a working fax machine for some reason has continued to decrease. (We’re now at less than once a year—great!)

On the other hand, I know I’m personally finding myself using various iterations of “Do Not Disturb” mode more and more to maintain some quality of life.

Hustling back then versus now both have one thing in common: They’re both hard work. What is it they say sometimes about the hustle being real? Oh yeah—the hustle is real.

Hustling may visually look easier today, but today’s hustle culture definitely has its trade-offs compared to the more physical hustling of yesteryear.

It’s always going to be hard—but things that take the most effort are often worth it.

After all, if it were easy, you wouldn’t call it hustling.

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Jake Bonneman
January 23, 2023
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