• Jim Denning

#Hustle: A Recipe for Self Destruction

It's important to stay hydrated when you're burned out

When I was young, the guiding virtue for hard work was a simple mantra “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” According to a recent New York Times article, this is no longer enough…you have to hustle! What does hustle mean? Well according to a carved cucumber in a large container of water it means “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you are DONE!”

How virtuous this sounds. Work until the job is done. There is one problem is, “done” never comes. For twenty years I was an email engineer. So if we apply this logic to my job, then "done" would be when all the email is done flowing. That never happens, obviously. People need email 24/7 and I was expected to keep email running 24/7. The common saying in the IT world was “you are never done; you just find a stopping point.” I assume this is the same for many professions. When is a marketing executive done? What is enough sales? I worked with attorneys for years…they are never “done.”

Hustle is a great mantra in a football game, or basketball because those end. Even a marathon has a finish line. This is why it is so important to understand how our brains operate. Dopamine provides us the motivation to achieve which is a good thing. However, dopamine is also the reward neurotransmitter. In the culture of #hustle, there is no end so there is no reward. In my book Make it to Midnight I wrote about Sisyphus from Greek mythology. His eternal punishment was to push a bolder uphill every day just to have it roll down at night. That was the most severe punishment Zeus could think of. In today’s corporate environment that punishment is seen as virtue. It is not.

Lost days of work due to mental health concerns are by far the largest health expenditure businesses have. Yet they keep pushing employees to do more with less, which is causing the mental health issues. It is like they metaphorically shoot themselves in the foot each day and every night they reload the gun. Even the title “Human Resources” makes me shudder a little bit. In my head it depersonalizes people which you’d think would be hard to do. The one thing it should be impossible to depersonalize is a person.

For years I lived the #hustle lifestyle. I was unaware of it at the time as a fish is unaware it is in water. I was expected to be available and able to work 24 hours a day. When the stress became too much I assumed I had a mental health problem. I sought professional help and received medications to help me cope with the stress and depression of working so much. Then when those medications no longer helped I was given higher doses. When the higher doses became ineffective the medication was changed.

The pivotal moment when I realized I was really in trouble with my burnout was when I went to fill one of my prescriptions for four depression medications. By this time, I had developed a good relationship with my pharmacist, sadly because I had been there so often. He told me “Jim, if I wanted you to kill yourself I would prescribe you these pills. They all have the side effect of “may cause suicidal thoughts or actions.””

I realized I had to return to the mindset of “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” I left the #hustle lifestyle behind and took care of me. I realized the job will never be “done” so I stop when I find a stopping point I choose. Now the only time I see my friend the pharmacist is if I bump into him at the grocery store.