The Problem with Hustle Culture


Sophia Elizondo-Bean (she/her), Staff Writer

Hustle culture or rise-and-grind culture is a societal pressure and belief that encourages working hard for long hours at the expense of mental health. It finds its way into many facets of our lives from academics to athletics. Rise-and-grind culture is seen in real life when employees are rewarded for staying in the office for extra hours without pay or even on perfect attendance certificates. 

While hustle culture may often be portrayed as something that only happens in the corporate offices of billion-dollar companies, it works its way into our lives as early as elementary school in the form of attendance awards. Perfect attendance certificates may not seem problematic on the surface, but the pressures they create are driven deep and difficult to eradicate. These certificates teach students to avoid taking a sick day at all costs, a policy that became increasingly dangerous during the pandemic. When children are rewarded for still showing up at their worst they feel guilt for taking time off to rest and heal, and no one should ever feel negatively about doing self-care. 

These pressures start during childhood and quickly combine with social expectations during the teen years. “There’s this ‘it-girl’ pressure online right now that is compounded with getting these productive things done but also looking a certain way while you do it. Like having a good outfit, doing all your skincare, and drinking a green smoothie while you cross off your to-do list,” said Ania Leonardo, a junior at Ida B. Wells.  

Hustle culture pushes an all-or-nothing mindset. ‘If you’re not writing aesthetic notes, why take them at all? If you can’t finish everything on your to-do list, why complete anything on it?’ 

High schoolers are expected to take a challenging number of AP courses while maintaining satisfactory grades, perfect attendance, a leadership position or job, regular involvement in extracurricular activities, a social life that is “worth documenting”, and a “put-together” appearance. Not only are those expectations exhausting, but they’re not realistic. 

“Not everything can get done all the time. It just can’t. There is literally not enough time in the day,” said Joy Root, an AP Lit and Italian teacher at Ida B. Wells. As an AP teacher, GSA club advisor, and union building representative who’s starting an Italian program Root has a multitude of positions to fill, but it’s just as essential for staff to prioritize their mental health as it is for students.

The pressure to complete mile-long to-do lists creates an overload of stress and decreases time spent taking care of yourself. Self-care comes in many forms that involve connecting to your mind and body like running or reflecting in a journal. But many opt for disconnecting from their stressors by watching the latest Netflix series or taking a bubble bath. 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that the average American spends 15 minutes on self-care each day. Fitting in at least ten minutes for yourself daily is good practice for people of all ages but many find they neglect it all together or spend that time filled with guilt. 

Hustle culture is especially prevalent in junior and senior years when students begin applying to colleges, and finding internships and jobs. “I thought if I ever had free time it was because I wasn’t busy enough or doing enough. And if I didn’t get into the college I wanted to, it would be because I could’ve been doing more,” said Hannah Lo, an Ida B. Wells senior. 

Students have a lot on their plates and mental health often gets overlooked when it comes to their needs in school. “The word health is part of that phrase (mental health). I think separating it from our overall health is harmful,” said Root. Pew Research Center reported that 1 in 5 teenage girls in the United States experienced a depressive episode in 2019. And the mental health of students has only decreased since the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2021, 42% of U.S. high school students felt persistently hopeless, and 1 in 10 had attempted suicide.

Thankfully as of 2019, PPS has designated mental health days as excused absences, allowing students to prioritize themselves when struggling with grief, mental illness, or feeling overwhelmed. Unfortunately, hustle culture still works its way into the lives of students when they experience guilt for taking time off or staff doesn’t allow accommodations for those who need to re-do assignments. “Sometimes that makeup stress can almost be worse than not having the one hour you got to stay in and rest,” said Leonardo. 

The school district’s acknowledgment of mental health days is a step in the right direction but it takes time to unlearn the effects of hustle culture and enjoy that time without guilt. “I fall into this trap of subconsciously trying to find something to do that makes me feel productive and then at the end of my mental health day I’m still drained because I spent the whole day trying to feel fulfilled by productivity instead of rest,” said Mackenzie Deveroux, a junior at Ida B. Wells. 

Hustle culture may encourage productivity but its extremity makes it a danger to the mental health of both staff and students alike. No task or assignment is more important than your mental well-being and it’s important to block out messages that say otherwise. Life is short but it’s a lot better when you take bubble baths.