Somewhere along the way, we started glorifying “hustle.” We started praising people who would “tell it like it is,” namely in regard to getting off your a** and working harder.
I see it in memes, in videos, and in real life. Maybe it’s generational. Maybe it’s the ease of gaining a platform that social media grants us all.
Start a “side hustle.” Pay off all of your debt and deny yourself the enjoyment of life until you do. Quit b**ching and start creating a sales funnel. Teach classes about teaching classes about sales funnels online. Get a second job or a third job. Pursue success uber alles. Cancel your cable and read one leadership book per day. For some people, a swift metaphorical kick in the a** is an outstanding (and free) prescription for what ails them. You’re poor and that makes you sad? Well, here’s an idea, cupcake: go get a second job, get yourself out of debt, and take control of your own life. Sacrifice your free time to solve your own problem.
Makes total sense. I’ve been there. I’ve worked jobs for which I was way overqualified (nothing is beneath anyone, for the record) because I have developed an absurd three-times-a-day eating habit that can get kind of expensive. I sat around and felt sorry for myself at first, then realized that the solution to my problem was absolutely within my own grasp. The only question was, what consequences am I willing to accept in order to solve this problem?
So, back to metaphorical kicks in metaphorical a**es. If you’re not happy, you can change your situation if you’re willing to accept the consequences. Or you can stay the same, if you’re willing to accept the consequences. Some people need an external jumpstart to remind them that there are options on the table to change the narrative. For those people, social media has granted you free, simple advice that has the power to transform who you are. Congrats.
While it works for some people, I have a few real problems with this new “bootstraps” narrative that seems to be taking over.
It’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t afford boots.
First, the bootstrappers assume that everyone has boots.
There are levels and types of poverty. Someone can be “American poor”(not enough money to get the things they want and some of the things they need, but rarely if ever skipping a meal) or rest-of-the-world poor (intermittent or insufficient access to food, water, medicine, shelter).
Or someone can live in a 4-bedroom house in the ‘burbs, drive a car, watch Netflix, eat every day, but feel poor because they don’t have the ability to buy the latest widget on the market or go on the vacations they want.
Let’s be honest. Bootstrap hustle rhetoric is built for the impoverished 4-bedroom house person.
It’s aimed at those for whom “poor” is a synonym for “envious.”
If you are envious of your neighbors new Tahoe or you wish you could go on the vacation that the Miller’s down the street are going on, go after it. If you’re not working 2 jobs and shutting off your DirecTV and cell phone, then shut your pie hole. You don’t have a right to be envious, says the bootstrapper. Grab life by the horns and make sh*t happen. You can’t deposit excuses, bro.
That’s great, bro, but what if you’re truly below the poverty line with no end in sight?
What if you find yourself with three kids, two of which have special needs, and a partner who bounced when the going got tough? What if you shelled out your last dime on classes at a for-profit college, only to find out that the job market in that industry is on the decline? What if you break your ankle, have no insurance, and work in a physical profession such that your broken ankle eliminates your job altogether?
Class mobility is next to dead in the U.S., despite the rhetoric we’ve been spoon-fed for multiple generations. The Atlantic recently published an article that, among other things, told of the reality for most of those born into poverty: you need about 16-20 years of, first, your parents deciding to put you on the right path, and then having absolutely nothing go wrong in order to jump up to the middle class.
Painting the picture that “success” is yours if you just give up enjoyment of life and put your nose to the grindstone is (a) patently misleading and false, (b) has been used for generations to bait the working class into giving the wealthy minority preferential treatment, and (c) saddles people who are actually poor with stigma, shame, and bad self-talk.
To put it more bluntly, it’s super-douchey to be a rich guy telling poor people that poverty is universally solvable via hard work.
We buy stuff we can’t afford to impress people we don’t like.
Second, the bootstrappers reinforce a major flaw in the American way of life: consumerism and “want” are our norm.
We are sold to every waking minute of our life, because advertisers are not stupid. We spend every extra penny we have on the next new thing. We run on envy, on FOMO, and on the thrill of unboxing the latest, newest thing. Our economy depends on discretionary spending to a scary degree.
Ayn Rand would say that because humans operate totally from a point of self-interest, the bootstrappers are actually doing the right thing for society. They are tapping into our envious, competitive, stuff-driven, self-satisfying psyches. They are pitching us on a solution to our perceived problem – we’re feeling “poor” because we don’t have every little thing we want, and they’re telling us “you’re poor because you don’t work hard enough, someone’s out there outworking you. So hop to it, you lazy sack of sh*t.”
Ayn Rand would probably be more diplomatic, but she’d still think you’re a lazy sack of sh*t.
Americans are a hard-working people. We’re taught to value hard work from a young age. With all due respect to Ms. Rand and the bootstrappers, if generations of hard work hasn’t resulted in everyone getting what they want…do you honestly think MORE hard work is the solution?
Buddha happens to disagree with Ayn. I spoke to him. Sure, he was inanimate and at a Chinese restaurant, but it counts.
Buddha says that the key to getting everything you want out of life doesn’t lie in being a harder worker or having a winning attitude.
Rather, getting what you want out of life is best achieved by wanting a lot less. In fact, it’s best achieved by completely separating yourself from want and existing in a state of gratitude and acceptance of the world as it comes your way.
Ask just about any American in November and December what they think about consumerism. They’ll put down their Auntie Anne’s pretzel, shift their 14 bags of stuff to their other hand, and point their index finger right in your face.
“I tell you wut…dad gum people in this country need to learn to be happy with what they have. We didn’t expect or get half as many presents when we were kids and we were happy. We also didn’t wear seatbelts or wear helmets and we snorted asbestos. But those were simpler times.”
And then they’ll go buy more stuff. On credit.
You want everything, and the memes and videos all tell you to get a side hustle, sacrifice today for tomorrow, and just work harder. I can predict your future if you do that: you’ll work harder, get more things, want more things, work harder, get more things, want more things, and this will repeat ad nauseam.
You’ll wonder why following Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice to stop making excuses and just work harder didn’t make you happy. But he appreciates your clicks and purchasing tickets to his speaking tour, nonetheless.
I’ll offer an alternative prescription: do what makes you happy. Focus on being happy first. Find ways to decrease your desire for things. Live in the moment. Live in gratitude. Hustle if you want, but do it because it makes you happy, not for what you’ll get down the road if you do. You might get rich, you might not, but you’re more likely to arrive at “happy” if you set a course for happy.
I’m rich because I worked hard, so you’re poor because you don’t.
Lastly, the inverse of telling people that hard work and sacrifice will give you success and happiness is that successful and happy people are successful and happy BECAUSE they worked hard and sacrificed.
Heard of the “prosperity gospel?” Same idea. God wants you to be rich and happy on this planet. Pray harder. Show your faith through your acts (and your tithe and beyond). What’s that? You’re not rich and happy yet? Hmmm….well, I pray and study the Bible and tithe, and I’m doing great. Seems like you need to pray harder, give more money, and have more faith.
It’s utter bullsh*t, friends. It’s antithetic to the teachings of Jesus, it’s disingenuous, and it’s destructive. Some people are born into wealth. Some are born into poverty. Some drive drunk daily and never get pulled over, and when they do, they shell out $10k and get the charge reduced to reckless driving. Some get pulled over, blow a 0.09, go to jail, lose their scholarship, and never fulfill their dreams.
Sh*t happens, independently of your faith. Faith might help you deal with it, but you can’t pray away your mortality or others’ free will.
And that’s not to mention the millions of wealthy Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and atheists who had zero faith in Jesus but found worldly treasure.
Faith in Jesus and financial wealth simply do NOT have a causal connection, and if you need someone to tell you that, I’d suggest you re-read the New Testament sometime soon.
And while hard work certainly helps create “luck,” I can show you a few million people who work their a**es off for decades and never become rich. If hustle made you rich, there would be a sh*t ton of wealthy Latino line cooks out there, I assure you.
But if you buy into the bootstrappers philosophy, you’re poor because you don’t work hard enough. You’re struggling because, unlike the bootstrappers, you don’t have a side hustle. You aren’t writing a book that you’re self-publishing on making money by writing books about self-publishing. There’s your problem.
Do you even have a sales funnel, bro?
The bootstrappers Instagram themselves standing in front of exotic cars, swimming with models, and eating shrimp and drinking white wine until they get gout, specifically because they’re working 10x harder than you are. They’re networking while you’re playing video games. They’re reading a book a day while you’re what, listening to music?! Ha, amateur. No wonder you’re poor. It’s your own fault.
The fact is, for every truly self-made rich person out there, there are another 100 rich people who inherited their money, who exited college with zero debt, who got a small loan of $1 million, who went directly into the business their grandfather started, and the like.
Does that mean you can’t hustle and improve your life? Absolutely not! You can if you want to…and I’d even argue that it’s rare to become and stay successful without a lot of hard work. But don’t think for a second that it’s as easy as “insert hard work, receive riches.” There’s a huge luck component, both pre-birth and post-birth.
So that’s it. Work your a** off if you want to. Sacrifice if it works for you. But don’t be ashamed if you haven’t achieved wealth yet, and don’t feel bad if getting rich doesn’t motivate you. Stop wanting so much stuff. Fill your world with experiences and people and places that can’t be bought or sold.
Be rich by having more than you need or want, not by having more than someone else.
Previously published here and republished by permission from the author.
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