The Argument for Hustling That Entrepreneurs Always Win (But Should Lose)
Convincing ourselves that non-stop hustle and 24/7 grinding is the path to success could be the biggest roadblock we face.
8 min read
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Entrepreneurs have been burning the midnight oil since they were first handed a lamp. I can work on my business plan at night now too? Excellent! Alas, in today’s modern world we fall prey to eighteen-hour plus workdays, energy drinks and multi-tasking while on the toilet. We believe that non-stop hustle par for the course if you want to be successful or simply get your business off the ground. Everyone knows you’ve got to grind and slog your way to the top. For some, the work effort is a point of competition. Being able to say, “I haven’t taken a day off in over a year. Heck, I was closing a deal Christmas morning!” brings perverse pride. Booyah for you.
What most entrepreneurs don’t realize is that working longer and hustling harder is an argument you’re winning, but should be losing. Armed with a long list of reasons, you justify and persuade yourself that the only logical and sensible “right” action to take is to put in more hours. You convince yourself that just one more email, one more draft or one more post will be the miracle you need to sleep peacefully, knowing tomorrow you’ll wake up and find yourself on the cover of a magazine. Then, it will all be worth it. But will it?
The cost of the hustle
There’s a high cost of winning the argument for staring at the screen for another hour. Sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, addiction and burnout, to name a few. “But I’m trying to save the world!” you lament, holding your neck from the strain. Or maybe you’re the one defending your compulsive obsession with, “I’ve got to make a million in sales this year or I’ll never get the PE firms to take me seriously.” Or maybe, the root of your argument goes deeper. “I have to prove to myself that I can be successful. I have to prove to others that I can do this.” You then return to figuring out how to force the world to “like” your page.
These rationales for putting in the extra blood, sweat and tears are so tempting. They lure you into believing that this argument must be won at all costs. The reality is that you can’t afford to win this argument. As a sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated and financially pressured entrepreneur (Is there any other kind?!, you ask) you make decisions from a place of fear, urgency and desperation. You revise webpages, tweak your tweets and finesse your funnels at lightning speed. The vexing f-word in your life is now fun because you certainly can’t have any of that. If you do decide in an “irrational” moment to take a mini-break, you’re often distracted with worry about falling further behind or losing control. Thus, your fun break just became your fun-house of mirrors, distorting how you define and see your life’s success.
To make matters worse, the mantra “fake it till you make it” was so permanently tattooed into your DNA at the beginning of your startup journey that you can’t begin to express your current self-doubt and real-world worries, lest people think you’re not quite as amazing as your Instagram posts suggest. Gasping for air and feeling like a fraud, your identity so enmeshed with your business, you sincerely believe if the business fails, then you’re a failure too. And with this lovely driving thought, you turn back to the screen, more determined than ever to prove your worth and down that second cocktail.
Learn to walk away
Winning this argument of putting in another hour and crossing another task off your list may literally be killing you: emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. The best way to regain your equilibrium (and your right to a better life as an entrepreneur) is to lose this argument. Rationalizing one more hour seems logical…until it’s not. When you start changing the conversation in your head you’ll be able to take a much-needed break without experiencing guilt or shame for doing so. You’ll also be amazed at the success you create without the ridiculous tension and negative unintended consequences. Everything from sleep deprivation to anxiety and depression are documented as barriers to living a truly successful life as a kick-ass entrepreneur. You might be thinking, “But how can I be a kick-ass entrepreneur without eighteen hours of sheer grind?!”
Change the story in your head by proving to yourself that “losing” this argument means winning overall. When you switch the conversation from “I can only be successful if I hustle eighteen-hour a day” to “I can be even more wildly successful if I stop forcing it and start allowing it to unfold” you may be mightily surprised at what does unfold. When you replace the thought in your head from “I can’t say no to this assignment, I must do this task” to “I’m saying no to this task so I can say yes to more exercise, more sleep, more family time, more…”, you might be amazed by how a shift in your story, words and actions leads to even greater success and well-being. Which, in turn, leads to a better entrepreneurial life.
For those who want substantiated proof that working less can lead to more, research from Stanford shows that extra hours don’t necessarily convert to extra outcomes and an increased ROI. Avoiding burnout by pulling in the reigns on your office hours to refuel and rest actually optimizes the hours you do put forth. It’s important to set boundaries, find a stopping time you can commit to and practice self-care.
It’s also imperative to check your thought patterns. What you focus on multiplies. If you are operating from backward-focused thinking fueled by desperate yearning, your stress and anxiety levels have no place to go but up. If you truly believe that the only way to reach your goals is through sheer force then you’ll seek to prove yourself right. You might even be flabbergasted, if not downright pissed off, when a fellow entrepreneur who seems to be having a lot more fun than you, reaches her goals faster. Getting caught up in the “I can’t let go, I can’t stop” mentality shuts down your ability to ideate, problem-solve and ironically, is a detriment to the success you seek. Shifting to a more optimistic place of possibility and reframing your thoughts with a “We’ll figure this out tomorrow” or “I’ll think about this on the golf course” will give your brain and body a well-deserved break and some needed time to play smarter.
3 brilliant questions to help you step away and refuel
- If I say no to another hour of screen time, what am I saying yes to? More time with family or friends? Time to exercise? Time to chill?
- When might I set a consistent time boundary to put myself in “time-out?”
- Are my thoughts driven by fear, a sense of lack, judgment and comparison or do they stem from faith in myself that I can and will make a positive impact?
The next time you think burning the midnight oil is the answer, surrender your need to control everything and lighten up on yourself. When you let go, even if it’s just for a bit, and look up long enough to make genuine eye contact with your family and friends, don’t be surprised to see their big smiles. You made it to the dinner table. You made it to the game. Reflexively, you’ll smile back. Genuinely. You’re happier. You’re enjoying this moment. You’re present for your life. Well, that’s an awesome reward for losing to your screen.