Welcome to hustle culture. It is obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor and, once you notice it, impossible to escape. “Rise and Grind” is both the theme of a Nike ad campaign and the title of a book by a “Shark Tank” shark. New media upstarts like the Hustle, which produces a popular business newsletter and conference series, and One37pm, a content company created by the patron saint of hustling, Gary Vaynerchuk, glorify ambition not as a means to an end but as a lifestyle….
Perhaps we’ve all gotten a little hungry for meaning. Participation in organized religion is falling, especially among U.S. millennials. In San Francisco, where I live, I’ve noticed that the concept of productivity has taken on an almost spiritual dimension. Techies here have internalized the idea — rooted in the Protestant work ethic — that work is not something you do to get what you want; the work itself is all. Therefore any life hack or company perk that optimizes their day, allowing them to fit in even more work, is not just desirable but inherently good.
The pandemic has intensified a pressure to internalize the demand for constant work, with people striving to use their time in marketable ways, even if no boss is telling them to do so. Anderson sees the question about quarantine “passion projects” as a symptom of “the universalization of the concept of management altogether, whereby everyone is encouraged to think of themselves as ‘CEO of Myself.’” Indeed, much pandemic productivity discourse has centered not on getting things done because your employer makes you, but on getting things done because you make you.
In a viral tweet last April, for example, marketing CEO Jeremy Haynes argued that if you didn’t use lockdown to learn new skills or start a business, “you didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline.”
The implication was that people should use the supposed extra time provided by quarantine to squeeze additional labor out of themselves, doing the work of capitalism without even being asked to do so. We’re so used to treating our time — our very selves — as a resource for the market that we do so even during a global crisis. And when a boss isn’t buying our time — when it’s allegedly “free” — we’re supposed to figure out a way to sell it on our own.
“I’ve been working with young people on the cusp of adulthood for the past two years, and the problems they’ve brought my way have all tended to revolve around perceived failures to be their own CEO,” Anderson said.
See also: Alexa Hazel on Self-Taylorizing.