Every night around 11PM a weird voice goes off in my head.
It says the same thing each night:
“I’m sorry, do you think you earned the luxury of going to bed at 11PM? Is your business where it should be? NO. NO, IT ISN’T. STEP UP YOUR GAME. WAKE TF BACK UP!! HUSTLE TIME!”
I call it phantom GaryVee. He shows up and screams at me for “not hustling hard enough.”
Turns out, this “hustle guilt” is the latest and greatest in the slew of awesome issues founders face. Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Founder Depression…all the fun things they leave out when they make it look sexy and cool (let’s not forget that I am also sexy and cool).
(Ok fine I’m not that cool.)
Hustle Guilt: What you feel when you’re not sure you’ve hustled enough that day.
The world’s most useless and self-serving emotion. Yet somehow, so effective in making you feel like crap.
I can lecture you (and I will) on mental health and success, but it doesn’t change the fact that you and I both have this question gnawing at us every night at 11PM:
Is Phantom GaryVee right?
Am I feeling guilty because I honestly didn’t do enough? Or am I measuring myself against of a glamorized version of hustle porn that doesn’t exist?
So, I moved to Bali to – just kidding, no I didn’t.
But I did get to the bottom of this question.
We’re All Confused About What It Means To Do “Enough”
About a year ago, I sat second row at an event where an extremely successful startup founder was speaking. His last company was acquired for almost $100 million by a company you are probably reading this on.
Seemed like a nice enough guy. In fact, seemed like someone I’d want to be friends with which is why I’m not going to tell you who he was (that and I’m not an @$$hole).
But the way he spoke about getting to that success made me throw up a little in my mouth.
“I had no friends left by the end.”
“We slept at our desks most nights.”
“I didn’t go on vacation for years, I didn’t even see my parents for holidays.”
[Picture me giving you that look where I tilt my head down and look up at you judgingly through my glasses with a “WTF” glare]
We all know sacrifice is required to achieve the things we want.
- You sacrifice social assimilation, like your ability to fit in at dinner parties when asked, “So…what do you do?”
- You sacrifice money by investing in a lot of things that don’t work (and a lot that do).
- You sacrifice leisure time because you’re always working on your side hustle.
You sacrifice a lot.
But not taking care of yourself and your loved ones is not sacrifice – It’s unhealthy.
I’ll get back to that unhealthy point in a second. I want to make this one clear first:
Commitment and “neglecting people I care about” are not the same thing
It’s no secret that work takes precedent when you’re building something. You have to say no to dinner parties, birthday parties, brunch, weddings…
You also say yes to things you’d rather not do, like that weekend in the Hamptons. You went because the attendees were finance people and you needed funding. Well played.
But not showing up when it matters – your friend’s going through a divorce, your Bubbie’s in the hospital, your boyfriend got let go – that’s not commitment. That’s being an @$$hole.
Now, there are arguments that you need to be an@$$hole to get ahead. And they’re not *entirely* wrong. There are a million IRL examples of@$$holes who succeed (like crowd favorite Steve Jobs). And even more examples in movies and TV (Marty Kaan, Jordan Belfort, Gordon Gekko, to name a few).
These “serious businessmen” are presented as ruthless and caring only about profit because “caring about people is weak.”
Yeah…imma call bullshit on that one.
That stereotype is leftover from this fantasy narrative that we can do things alone.
Let me pop that one real quick: You can’t. You can’t and you shouldn’t – but mostly you can’t.
We’re hard-wired for social connection.
It doesn’t feel good to not have a support system.
(Don’t look at me like that. How you feel is an indicator. Look at it like a scientist: feelings are data. Not weakness. GOOD LORD.)
I’ll say it again: We’re hard-wired for social connection.
Bragging about your lack of social connection is like bragging about how you don’t need oxygen. You know what happens when you don’t get oxygen? YOU DIE.
And you know what else kills you? Lack of social connection.
Loneliness increases your risk of early death more than eating a cheeseburger, being sedentary, having depression, and smoking. And can lead to heart disease and wreak havoc on your immune system.
We need social connection, literally, to live.
Also, you’re not a polar bear. (Come on, I know I’m not the only one who watches Planet Earth.)
Polar Bears are loners.
You are not.
You are a human which means it’s not *just* your friends who need you to support them – you need them too.
Who are you going to call when sh*t hits the fan as it inevitably does? Or to blow-off some steam on Tuesday because (I repeat) you are human and we’re hard-wired for connection!!!!
We have to stop putting the lone-founder on a pedestal, people.
Yeah, this guy had a $100 million dollar exit. Awesome. Sexy. Newsworthy. But let’s not glorify him as committed. Let’s call it what it was: neglect.
Call your mother. Answer the phone. (Have boundaries, obviously.)
You’re welcome to be an @$$hole and neglect the people that matter to you, but let’s not sit here and pretend that’s a good thing.
Depravity for the sake of depravity is stupid, not sacrifice
If Ramen is really all you can afford, then disregard the next few paragraphs. I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to those of you who are using depravity the way celebrities use a designer purse – for show.
“We were working 17-hour days for 10 years.”
No, you weren’t.
You worked 17-hour days for 10 weeks while you were in Y Combinator working towards Demo Day. And even then, you weren’t always working 17-hour days. You know how I know that? You’re a human being and you cannot function without sleep!!
“But Margo, [so-and-so famous person] only gets 4 hours a sleep per night.”
Back when I worked in a mental health clinic if you were functioning properly on 4 hours a night you were in what’s called a “manic episode.”
It wasn’t a good thing.
The other option was you were sleeping 4 hours because your anxiety was keeping you awake (and not because you’re actually getting work done).
For those of us who aren’t superhuman machines (which is…all of us), you need more than four hours.
Today we view lack of sleep, eating crap food, and living in a shit apartment as symbols of sacrifice. Commitment to our goals. There’s a prestige attached to depriving yourself of basic necessities.
Let me be really clear:
There is nothing noble about getting sick (mental health included)
We need to lay this myth to rest that, “If you go to the gym or prioritize getting a good night’s sleep, you don’t care enough about your work. You’re not ‘serious.’” It’s not true.
Might I suggest a reframe?
If you’re taking care of yourself, you care a lot about your work.
Science agrees with me here. You think more clearly and remember more. You come up with better ideas. You’re a better manager. You’re more productive. And – bonus – you don’t die as early!
There’s a ton of data to support the value of play, doing nothing, and social connection (we covered that last one already) when it comes to success and quality of life.
I’ll admit, even as I write all this, I’m having trouble believing it.
I am envisioning you all emailing me with tales about great nights’ sleep and your businesses being broke. That’s how deep this misconception goes. I’m writing about it and having trouble believing it’s possible.
Fortunately, I don’t need to believe because I have evidence. Take Basecamp’s Founder Jason Fried who limits himself and his company to 40-hour weeks.
Or the humble multi-millionaire real estate developer I know who-wouldn’t-be-named for this, but never misses any of his kids’ soccer games and works out 5 days a week.
There are many roads that lead to Rome. You don’t have to forego your health to get there.
We have to stop putting the wrong values on a pedestal
Depravity is a function of need, not guilt.
If you’re staying up all night it should be occasional or because you’re swept up in a state of flow like I am right now.
If you’re staying up all thanks to hustle guilt and anxiety, feeling hopelessness or apathy because of depression, getting fat and sick because you “don’t have time” to take care of your physical body – those are not signs of commitment.
Those are signs something is wrong.
Maybe the truth is you’re not cut out for this? That might be the actual truth.
(That’s also not a bad thing. I’m not cut out to be a pro football player, singer, or runway model. Better to know that now, than after spending years pursuing those paths.)
Another thing that might be is the truth: There are other versions of success besides the ones you see in magazines and on YouTube. Go look for them.
I don’t want to own the Jets. And I need sleep. I’m human.
All the time we’re spending feeling guilty about being human isn’t helping our families, our goals, or us. The only thing worth feeling guilty about is wasting time living up to someone else’s version of success.
I think GaryVee would agree with me on this one.