Story by Eddie Zhou
Illustration by Alicia Zhang
People are conditioned to believe that constant productivity is a requisite step in order for one to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. In turn, many attempt to overexert themselves in order to match perpetual productivity idealized by the media. This resulting external pressure manifests itself in hustle culture — the expectation of constant productivity, which takes hard work to a counterproductive, harmful, and unrealistic extreme.
Hustle culture is fueled by the media’s toxic environment of comparison. In particular, social media gives people a platform to broadcast inauthentic images that normalize perfection. This standard is taken even further with instances of motivational speaking, the media’s response to personal dissatisfaction brought forth by its own deception. These patronizing lectures exploit a person’s fear of unfulfillment, by advertising “fix-all” solutions to feelings of lethargy and unaccomplishment. These “solutions” trivialize mental health and ignore circumstances, creating more unsustainable expectations within hustle culture.
One’s inevitable failure to meet these goals leads to a cycle of productivity guilt — the anxious feeling of needing to have accomplished more. Consequently, relaxation and rest are portrayed as an obstacle to constant productivity, rather than an asset. This results in burnout — emotional and mental exhaustion — which inevitably leads to a diminished output, increasing the need for accelerated productivity, thus sending one back into the cycle of guilt.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the negative implications of hustle culture. As some find themselves with more free time, they have a reciprocal need to capitalize on that time. The media has increased this pressure as more people boast their hyper-productiveness during lockdown to an even higher standard of perfection. This significantly raises the level of productivity one expects from themselves, making an already impossible goal even harder to achieve.
However, this goal directly negates the stressful impacts COVID-19 has had on daily life; widespread financial instability and fear of disease have made people especially vulnerable to dismal mental health. Furthermore, limited physical interaction dismantles a person’s support system, causing feelings of isolation that worsen existing issues. Heightened hustle culture aggravates these overwhelming circumstances, and discourages people from seeking mental health support.
Quarantine has given many people excess free time, but it has come at the cost of a pandemic and economic turmoil. The expectation of constant productivity is never beneficial, and people must distance themselves from unrealistic media standards of comparison and perfection. This is the time when rest and self-care need to be prioritized, not placed on a back burner in the name of hustle culture.