Toxic Hustle Culture: Why the Youth Are Living on the Edge of Burnout

We live in an age where courting burnout has become the norm. We wear our exhaustion like a badge of honor, filling up our schedules to the brim just to be productive and guzzling down venti-sized coffees as a substitute for sleep. On paper, it doesn’t seem ideal at all, and yet many of us still crave this type of lifestyle because we feel like it’s the only measure of success. There’s a fine line between being a workaholic and being obsessed with hustle culture, and I feel like the youth today are constantly somersaulting over that line. It leads some people to ask why we’re doing this to ourselves. We’re still young after all, so why are we acting like we’re running out of time? Personally, I don’t have an answer to that question, but all I know is that hustle culture has become so widespread in our society, that it’s starting to feel like a noose that tightens around our necks every time we slack off. However, I don’t believe this is simply a new trend that we’re collectively trying out because we’ve been conditioned to “hustle” all our lives.


It started when we were young.

I mentioned in another article that the word “summer break” is arbitrary for Chinoy kids because they spend more time being shuttled from one activity to another instead of truly taking a break. I understand why that is, because our parents are trying to help us develop skills that could potentially be useful in the future, but having so many summertime activities might have hard-wired our brains into thinking that productivity should never stop. It would be fine if the activities didn’t feel like work, but there were times when we were required to enroll in Kumon or advanced classes, which gave us the impression that all the free time we have should be dedicated to acquiring more knowledge or improving our skills. 


It gets worse during high school and college.

Photo from Optimal Living Daily

I think summer breaks are the origin stories for toxic hustle culture, but high school and college added more fuel to the fire. High school is where we are encouraged to be a Jack of all trades. We are expected to get good grades, attend classes from 8am to 4pm, and stay after school to join as many extracurricular activities as possible. It’s the basic definition of a good student, and if you’re lacking in one area, then you get accused of being bad at time management or not wanting to succeed. It’s pretty much the same thing for college, except “org culture” is even more prevalent. There’s an underlying expectation for college students to join multiple organizations, and even though it’s not a requirement, we still do it anyway because we’re constantly thinking about how good our resumes would look if we were a part of an x number of organizations. 


We try to beef up our resumes for a highly competitive job market. 

Photo from Getty Images

It seems like everything we do in college is with the intent of having more things to add to our resumes. It doesn’t matter if you barely had enough sleep during the week, you’re still going to attend that leadership seminar just to get a certificate of participation. It doesn’t matter if you want to relax after an exhausting school year, you’re still going to spend your summer break doing an unpaid internship just to gain experience. It doesn’t matter if all you want to do is watch Netflix or take a nap, you have to focus all your time and energy into acquiring new skills that are appealing to the job market. It might seem like the youth are masochistic, but the sad reality is that we live in a society where employers would look at your resume and still demand more, and there are people who will do more, so you have no other choice but to go with the flow to avoid falling behind.


Social media makes hustling even more competitive.

Photo from The Irish Times

Nowadays, majority of our lives are being broadcasted on social media, but even if we’re not the type to post about our achievements, we’re constantly being exposed to the success of other people. There’s no such thing as doing things at your own pace in the age of social media because every time you see people sharing screenshots of their busy schedules or updating their statuses to say that they started a new job, got a promotion, or opened their own business,  it just fills you with manic energy because you think you’re not doing enough. In this case, other people’s achievements become a basis for your own success, and even if you don’t want the same things, you feel that you have to keep hustling until you arrive at their level or manage to out-do them.


We keep getting brainwashed by success stories.

There are a lot of successful businessmen who are staunch advocates of hustle culture. They share how they are the first ones in the office and the last ones to leave, how they wake up at 5am everyday to maximize their time, and how they make their weekends valuable by doing productive things. It might be interesting to learn about their routines, but we tend to forget that these are routines and not blueprints for success. You don’t even have to look to billionaires as an example. There are plenty of famous personalities who write self-help books or make YouTube videos about how they maximize their time. We become so obsessed with trying to recreate other people’s success stories, that we tend to feel guilty when we take it easy and do things our way. 


The bottom line

If you came here for advice, I don’t think I’m the most qualified person to give it because I’m still a college student who’s also caught up in hustle culture. However, some experts say that hustle culture is more toxic than beneficial. It might cultivate a sense of discipline and give you a greater chance of success, but it comes with the cost of your mental health and well-being. It sets your body into overdrive and constantly pushes you towards the edge of burnout, so what even is the point of success when you’re always too exhausted to revel in it? In addition, the recent pandemic proved how unsustainable hustle culture is. Now that people have more time to reflect on their lives, they realize they don’t need to keep overworking themselves in order to get what they want. They’re redefining success, as some may call it, by using  their own happiness  as a measure rather than the amount of time they spend working. 


So it is possible for us to snap out of the manic productivity haze, but if you’re anything like me and you still have a long way to go, all I can say is…we should evaluate some of our life choices based on the present rather than the future. Try not to look at the bigger picture once in a while and ask yourself: Do you really need to spend every hour of the day doing something productive? Is your whole life going to fall apart if you binge watch Netflix all day? Or will sleeping in during weekends create a domino effect on your career? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

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