In Defense of Hustle



The word “hustle” is a bit misunderstood. In startup culture, it’s generally celebrated as a lifestyle of little sleep, little time off, little self-care, a winner-takes-all mentality, and endlessly…well…hustling.

Because this lifestyle is crazy-making in the short-run and unsustainable in the long-run there’s been a backlash against celebrating the word (and lifestyle), including a very entertaining and insightful video by coworking pioneer Tara Hunt of Truly Social, who offers a reminder that the word “hustle” has been taken over by #hustlebros and didn’t have a great history to begin with.

The word originated in the late 17th century from the Middle Dutch word, hutselen, which means to shake or toss. But, as Hunt points out, it’s morphed into something else. Here are some of the modern definitions of “hustle.”

1. To force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction

2. To push roughly; jostle

3. To hurry; bustle

4. To obtain by forceful action or persuasion

5. To coerce or pressure someone into doing or choosing something

6. To sell aggressively

7. To obtain by illicit action; swindle; cheat

8. To engage in prostitution.

9. Busy movement and activity

10. A fraud or swindle.

11. To move or act quickly.

The notion of hustling being a good thing is not particularly strengthened by these definitions. But, take a look at numbers 3, 9 and 11. These definitions are the ones worth defending. And I’m going to use a sports analogy, so hold onto your hat, or beer koozy, or giant styrofoam finger.

In basketball, which I played from the time I was old enough to dribble a ball into college, hustle is a really good thing—it’s the thing that shows heart and wins games.

Hustle means diving for loose balls, staying with a play after everyone else has given up on it, being the only one to get back on defense to break up a fast break, outworking everyone to get a rebound, and making sure the 50-50 balls, which could go either way, go your team’s way.

One of the highest compliments you can pay a player is to say, “Nice hustle.”

When I think of hustling, I don’t think of scamming someone, or forcing them to do something, or spending sleepless nights in front of a computer.

I think of putting in extra effort on a project, of going out of your way to make meaningful connections, of designing a day and life that challenges your capabilities and comfort zone, of putting yourself out there when you’re not sure of the outcome, of staying focused on your goals and vision when you’d rather lay around and watch Seinfeld reruns.

If the sports analogy isn’t working for you, check out the following chart that @MegDraws made, clarifying the difference between the good hustle and the bad hustle.

Meg nails the difference between the two. I particularly like her tip that, if you don’t know how to do a thing, figure it out.

What do you think about hustling? Which side of the fence do you fall on?

For those who don’t care either way, and just want to get old school with your hustle, there’s always this:

Want to help new members of your coworking space feel at home more quickly? Download the free six-page guide, 15 Must-Do’s Your First Month in a Coworking Space

Top photo: FromSandToGlass (CC-BY)

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