The One Work Myth That Will Hold You Back From The Success You Deserve

Whether you're working from home every day or leaving the office after the sun goes down, it can be tough to set work and home-life boundaries that will benefit both you and your career in the long run. While we're beginning to critique toxic hustle culture, we're wondering if the key to success truly is that we should be chronically overworked and under rested. 

Capitalism itself already has us wrapped around its finger — but does it require us to suffer enthusiastically for our cause? The entire structure surrounding unpaid internships rested on the idea that putting in countless hours toward a good recommendation was worth no compensation, which has rightly exploded in lawsuits in recent years. And investing our hope in the "pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps" ideology isn't anything other than a distraction from the inequity surrounding the workforce and its systematic issues, as well as disparities in privilege, opportunity, and the means to pursue success in our chosen field. 

So, what can we unlearn about success that we haven't already grappled with during a pandemic that forced frontline workers into overtime and blurred the lines between work and home? It's best to start with one major myth and see just how we got here.

We must suffer for success

With the idealization of hustle culture has come an unexpected result — busyness can be perceived as a status symbol, according to a 2016 study. Our cultural lore surrounding hard work and success discounts the value of leisure time in our lives. 

Success can look different to different people — being able to retire eventually after 40 years of hard work may be one person's goal, while another may prioritize rest during the main act of their career. Nicole Cammack, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and the CEO of Black Mental Wellness, suggested to Good Housekeeping that we ask ourselves, "What does success look like for you in your career, family life, and in other areas of your life?"

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is credited with believing suffering strengthens us — he wrote in "Beyond Good and Evil," "The discipline of suffering, of great suffering [has] created all enhancements of man so far." However, a 2018 study found that there was no greater correlation between personal growth and negative life events than positive life events, meaning that we can also grow stronger when we experience good things.

Still, after so long trusting the myth that we must suffer in the name of success, forgoing that belief can be uncomfortable. Psychologist Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, told Women's Health, "It sparks anxiety that if you're 'content,' it means you're accepting yourself and life as it is and you lose energy or motivation to make positive change. It feels as if you're giving up or settling." 

Greater suffering means greater success

If we experience imposter syndrome when we do succeed — meaning we doubt whether we deserve what we've achieved, per The Harvard Business Review — then we might also experience imposter syndrome connected to our level of suffering. Comparing our negative experiences to others' may be a part of normalizing, and thereby minimizing, our own suffering. So, ultimately, looking toward others' behavior and achievements as a measure of our own success is unhelpful at best, and destructive at worst.

"It's a form of entrepreneurial FOMO," Eric Mitchell of LifeFlip Media told Rolling Stone about comparing our work ethic and sacrifices to others'. "I used to believe in hustle culture, and now I think it's the antithesis of the 'American dream.'" And there are real physical consequences of adhering to the laws of hustle culture. As mental health specialist Fatmata Kamara told Stylist, "Following the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, many of us have felt the pressure to stay busy and make up for lost time." She added, "Burnout, stress, and fatigue are all signs you're suffering from hustle culture."

Maybe quiet thriving is the way to go when it comes to achieving job satisfaction. Refraining from comparing ourselves to the people around us — or apparent superstars in our field — can keep us invested in our own progress. As Marla Matime, of The MAR.M Agency, told Rolling Stone, "Discipline and consistency in what you desire will alleviate the need to always be on the grind."