The past few years have changed our attitudes and approaches to work in dramatic and long-lasting ways. Now more than ever, many of us are stepping away from chronic workplace stress and the traditional 9 to 5 “safe job” mentality, and instead embracing the unexpected, boldly venturing down the path that many call “hustle culture,” with no considerations on the potential dangers of a hustle mindset.
Whether the choice is freelance, small business ownership, or entrepreneurship, from every corner of the globe, we hear stories of people striking out on their own. From a business coach making millions selling his online training programs; to the triumph and success of a freelance writer earning a few hundred thousand dollars a year ghostwriting books; to a new healthy food franchise making waves; or a new tech startup securing a jaw-dropping fifty million in venture capital funding – they all compel us to consider our own professional goals.
And because we see hustle culture glorified everywhere we turn, we think that’s what it takes to achieve our dreams.
Unfortunately, however, these stories of tremendous success are only a small fraction of the bigger picture. While hard work is unquestionably one of the key ingredients to success, the truth is this: Hustle without strategy, unless you’re incredibly lucky, will likely lead to failure.
Investopedia, citing statistics from the Small Business Administration, notes that a staggering 50% of businesses fail within just five years of commencing operations. Robert Kiyosaki also points out that many business owners are actually worse off, stuck in self-created jobs working long hoursfor less pay than they obtained in their previous full-time employment. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the toxicity of hustle culture.
The dark truth of the hustle-harder culture is that it can be a pathway toward self-created burnout. More often than not, the venture ends with soul-devastating failure, along with continuous stress and a serious toll on mental and physical health.
In fact, a 2021 study by the World Health Organization found that long working hours and increased stress hormone levels lead to a staggering 745,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke annually. This is no surprise, as constant stressreleases so much cortisol. Nevertheless, hustle culture persists, along with the unrealistic expectations of what it can achieve.
Is there a better path than constantly working your way to physical distress, mental exhaustion, and poor mental health before – maybe – finally succeeding? What is at the root of these failures? Is there any hope of alleviating this toxic hustle culture?
The answer is a resounding yes. There is a way to succeed without burnout. It’s a path that can change the way you think about life and work, and allow you to achieve personal satisfaction and better work-life balance at levels you never dreamed of.
So how can you deprogram a poor mental health hustle culture mindset and realize a better way? We need to start at the source.
“Hustle culture,” or “grind culture” is often described as an attitude or workplace environment built on a strong work ethic, passion and drive, and determination to achieve extreme success. It’s an unwavering mindset that pushes people to go that extra mile and do whatever it takes to succeed for a future payoff in their careers or entrepreneurial pursuits, regardless of the consequences.
And while a strong work ethic sounds admirable, approaching your business via hustle culture is much like a gambling addiction.
Think about it – what if I told you that my retirement plan was to play blackjack every waking hour?
I might get lucky here and there, but playing 16 hours straight each and every day, with no strategy and no tactical knowledge of the game, isn’t going to result in much income (not to mention mental health issues or lack of self care).
While many factors go into the ultimate success or failure of a business, I’ve found that far too many new business owners focused on hustle end up having this casino mentality to success.
They rely far too much on the idea that if they keep at it and have just a little bit of luck, everything will fall into place.
But no matter how hard you work, not much will come of it without a clear, step-by-step strategy.
Instead, if you’re willing to dedicate your hard work, time, and energy to a few vital strategic concepts, you’ll greatly stack the deck in your favor.
I’m sure you’ve heard people say something like, “Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” But no matter how committed you are, and no matter how hard you work, trust me when I say that hustle culture gets old, FAST.
Enter the Unhustle Mentality. It’s the key to getting out of hustle culture and into a thriving business you love.
The secret is combining your hard work with a strategic blueprint for personal growth and professional success.
This includes having a crystal clear vision, establishing achievable goals, and constantly reassessing and adjusting your plan as circumstances demand. In doing so, you can transform hard work and determination into tangible results, motivate employees, engage in healthy competition, and triumph above adversity.
Becoming a successful business owner, working your own hours, and earning a great income then becomes a reality, not just a dream.
For many of us, our startup journey can be traced back to a single moment and a single revelation. After years of working for someone else, focusing purely on the consistent delivery and continued refinement of our core skills, we begin to see ourselves as experts. Our functional skill has grown to an elite level and, with all the stories of success around us, we decide it’s time to break free and go out on our own.
Everyone wants a better quality of life, more free time, fewer work hours, and rich personal lives. We all want a higher annual income, and we feel we deserve it. So we make the big decision and say, as Sir Richard Branson articulated so well in his best selling book, “Screw it, let’s do it.”
After all, it’s the next logical step, right?
However, too many entrepreneurs approach business ownership with that gambling mentality, hoping they’ll hit the jackpot if they just keep spinning the wheel. They focus on how good they are at their functional skill, commit to working hard, embrace hustle culture, and wing the rest, thinking more money will come with more time and effort.
But would you really ever sit down at a poker table and risk your money without a full understanding of the rules and strategy? Does “hustle culture” work at the casino? Sure, every now and then you’ll win, but the odds are against you.
With an unhustle mentality, you can stop relying on grind and luck and instead focus on smart planning and key strategies.
For example, one major area where business owners often rely on luck over strategy is actually one of the most important success factors – their marketing.
It kills me to see so many amazing business ideas fail, just by overlooking this absolutely vital step.
It really only takes a few hours of focus to create a marketing strategy that changes everything.
A few years ago, I spoke at the Freelance Conference, founded by my good friend Emily Leach. Emily mentioned that her attendees were getting more and more frustrated that their prospects seemed to care about only one thing – PRICE. That prospects didn’t seem to “get” why these freelancers’ services provided so much more value over their less expensive competitors. She asked me if I could do a workshop to help attendees better convey their value and show them how to get out of competing on price.
I decided to share with them the story of a language coach, Wendy, who had succeeded for years teaching Mandarin; however, due to increased local and global online competition, she now struggled to get new clients and to keep her existing ones, despite long hours and a years-long embrace of hustle culture.
I explained that she, like so many others, originally came to me for sales advice and, while that would have given her some success, it would not have solved her larger problem of fighting with competitors on price.
I then explained how success is gained from avoiding that battle altogether, and how I worked with her to uncover her points of difference.
I discovered that she was doing some amazing things for a small group of her clients – executives being relocated to China. The extras she was throwing in without even thinking about it were far outside the functional skill of teaching people Mandarin, and were critical to the executives’ success in a new workplace culture.
I then explained how we transformed her message from “Mandarin Teacher” to “The China Success Coach,” and how we created the Executive Success Initiative, which focused on educating professionals and their families on a wide variety of essential skills needed to prosper when they arrived in China – things like the wildly different process of building rapport in business, as well as the culturally specific ways to show respect.
I showed them how Wendy’s business transformed from struggling every day to get clients for $50-$80 an hour in a hugely competitive market, to charging $30,000 for a five-week course. You can see Wendy’s full story in the video below:
I then explained that competing on price is actually a symptom of their other major issue: That people don’t “get” what they do… at least not enough to pay extra for it.
How often do we go to networking events and define ourselves by our functional skill, i.e., “I’m a life coach,” “I’m a ghostwriter,” and so on?
And how do people respond? Usually in one of a few ways:
Yet, regardless of the fact that we are horribly unprepared, it doesn’t stop us hustling from networking event to networking event, hoping that if we just keep showing up, we’ll hit the jackpot, and that someone will say, “I need that, and price is no object.”
But how often does that happen?
Instead of hustling from event to event and praying for the best, wouldn’t it be easier to go to events where you know that there are, as in Wendy’s case, immigration attorneys who work with companies relocating to China, and saying you’re the China Success Coach?
Or in my case, going to small business events where there are a ton of service provider businesses, and saying that I’m the Rapid Growth Guy?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have people respond with interest, and a curiosity to know more?
Then you get to explain, with their invitation, what you do and why it is so different.
We all do things outside the scope of our functional skills for our clients, things that our unique experience and upbringing qualify us to do. The problem is, we don’t think to tell customers about them, which means we miss out on the paycheck these value-added services afford us. And the reason we don’t think to tell customers about them is that they’re the things that just come naturally.
But that’s precisely why they’re so valuable – they don’t come naturally to our clients.
At the Freelance Conference, I ran through a simple five-step exercise to help attendees create their own version of “The China Success Coach,” based on the amazing things they were already doing for their clients, and finally, to identify an ideal niche. [thrive_2step id=’12885′](You can access that five-step template for free here.)[/thrive_2step]
At the end of the session, I said, “Put your hand up if you now have a unified message that will excite and inspire people to want to know more about you, and if you have identified a niche of willing-to-buy clients, people who will be excited to pay you what you’re worth.”
Almost everyone in the room put their hands up, which sounds great until I asked my second question: “Keep your hands up if this is the most time you’ve spent on marketing since you started your business.” Sadly, 85% of the room kept their hands up.
The session was 45 minutes long. You can see the full workshop in the video below:
Too often, people fall in love with the idea of having their own business, but they don’t understand how to market themselves or separate themselves from their competitors.
A business without a unified message and a niche is closer to a gambling addiction than it is to a dream of independence and wealth.
Most people who start a business know that they’re going to have to put in some work. The problem is, they’re not sure what to do. So they try everything, kind of like taking a crack at every game in the casino.
I see business owners trying to implement tactics like PR, podcasting, Facebook ads, paying to speak, SEO, LinkedIn messaging, funnels, going to 100 networking events in 100 days…anything that promises a potential win.
I’m all for getting wins like this, and I’m all for staying on top of trending growth opportunities – but not as the foundation of success.
These tactics are best implemented as an addition to a thriving business strategy, within a greater marketing and sales system.
You see, while these tactics can provide major results when performed in isolation, they typically fail. Yes, you might get a win here and there, but unless you employ these tactics as part of a total marketing and sales system, those wins will be small.
And if you’re paying for SEO strategists, PR firms, or ads, they’re also expensive. It’s like getting a minor payout at the slot machine after already losing thousands of dollars – and of course, being left unsure when you’ll win again.
These small wins may feel good at the moment, but they’ll never get you out of the hamster wheel of hustle culture.
I suggest you employ the shiny-object tactics listed above only after you’ve done all of the following:
If you do just this, you’ll double your sales in the next 60 days.
It’s true that you need to put in some time to create your foundations, of course.
But how would you feel if, every time you went to a networking event, people were excited about what you do? If all you needed to do was offer some free content and know that the exact right people will end up hiring you? Wouldn’t you enjoy your business a lot more if every client that you speak to has booked a call with you and waited patiently while consuming your content? What if everyone you spoke to immediately wanted to hire you, and just hoped they could afford it?
Think about how much time you currently spend chasing clients the wrong way, writing proposals, and following up… only for them to ghost you or nitpick on price.
Do you see how having a strategy means not having to rely on pure chance? It’s a real, well-structured business, not one that counts on endless hustling and the occasional free spin just to survive.
You wouldn’t start rolling the dice at the craps table without understanding how the game works. So don’t roll the dice on your business without a real strategy for success!
One thing I’ve learned is that I can create a rapid-growth business around any product or service. But there is nothing worse than a rapid growth business with customers you don’t love in a business you can’t stand.
Trust me, I know. In 2004 I won a prestigious award in my home city of Melbourne, for founding Australia’s largest business-to-business cell phone brokerage.
You’d think that night I would have gone home, looked out the window of my 47th floor 270-degree city apartment, equipped with every luxury you could imagine, as well as three cars down in the car park, and been one of the happiest people alive.
The sad thing is, it was actually the complete opposite. I was miserable.
While I was making amazing money and had everything I could have ever wanted, I hated what I did.
I learned first-hand that having a successful business is not like winning the lottery, because more often than not… you have to work on it, almost every day.
Since then I’ve been responsible for five multi-million-dollar success stories, each moving me closer to what I do and LOVE doing today.
If someone had told me I could have made a choice as to what business I could have started and to really think it through… I could have been doing what I do now, for ten full years longer.
We all want to hit the business lottery, but we can’t let that desire cloud our decision-making. Too often, I see people jump into a business and make one of the below mistakes:
Even for those who succeed, it’s usually only a short while before they start to exhibit self-destructive behaviors, such as spending money on things they don’t need, in order to fill a hole in their soul. Or they quickly lose what energy they did have, when the business still very much needs their attention.
Any new business is a risk. But if it’s a chance you’re going to take, make sure you stack the deck in your favor!
One of the exercises I give my clients is called “Forget about goals, WHY is the key to success.” You’ll find it incredibly helpful to uncover goals that actually mean something to you, that align with your true passion and not just the ones that everyone has told you that you “should” have.
No matter how strong your product is, you must still support it with a strong sales and marketing plan.
You might be amazing at your functional skill, but what good does that do you if you can’t make prospects understand that too?
It’s the difference between mindlessly pulling the slot machine handle, burning through your cash, and knowing all that will save you is an unlikely burst of luck… or sitting down at the poker table as a seasoned pro, calling upon your expertise, knowledge, and strategy.
I want you to rely on yourself and your systems, not on blind luck.
In truth, I’m actually not much of a gambler – at the poker table or in business – and you shouldn’t be, either.
If you want to have a successful business doing what you love, while enjoying a thriving personal life and physical and mental well being, then it’s time to say goodbye to toxic hustle culture once and for all.
Let’s get to work on creating a real strategy for long-term success.