Behind the Grind

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Words: Zola Rowlatt (she/her)

The desire to thrive is a good thing. But the narrative that the secret to success lies in relentless hustle poses a threat. Hustle culture is fuelled by the belief that there is always more money to make, a bigger promotion out there, or a higher ceiling to smash. 

This culture was sparked in response to the tech boom of the late 20th century, when the Valley of Heart’s Delight (its name owing to the fruitful orchards of the once agricultural region) was transformed into Silicon Valley (named after the fruitful properties of one of our most useful elements). The transformation can be credited in part to the OG hustler, Frederick Terman. Through soliciting contracts to fund academic research and leasing university land to high-tech firms, Terman worked tirelessly to foster connections between academia and industry at Stanford University. In 1951, he founded the Stanford Industrial Park where high-tech firms catalysed the region’s growth. 

Around the same time, the integrated circuit (IC) was revolutionising electronics, propelling the growth of the Valley forward. Basically, ICs condensed multiple components onto a single chip which allowed for the creation of more complex electronic systems like the personal computer. But well in advance of chips and computers, Silicon Valley was defined by a culture of innovation. 

And who comes biting at the heels of industrial growth? The hounds of finance. The boom of tech titans whetted the appetite of venture-capitalists, leading to the emergence of dangerously influential companies like Google and Facebook. Notorious for fostering a culture of relentless, all-consuming work, these industries cemented Silicon Valley as the global hub of entrepreneurship. Within decades, the growth of Silicon Valley transformed from a localised state of grind to a global state of mind. 

Not unlike the integrated circuit, technology has allowed for multiple components to be condensed onto a single human conductor. The rate at which we complete tasks has increased tenfold, and with the dawn of AI this efficiency is reaching uncharted realms. We have become chips, plugged in, charged up, and able to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Thus, the side hustle is born. 

The skill of the side hustle is sharpened through the university experience. In our parents’ generation, students would go to university to get a degree. That was impressive enough. Nowadays, a degree has entered the commonplace, resulting in a need to reach further. 4% of UK students went to university after school in the 1960s; today, that number surpasses 40%. An increase in students does not correlate to this qualification becoming any easier to obtain. Therefore, the “reaching further”, the pursuit to distinguish ourselves, to adorn our CVs in glistening robes of productivity, must take place on the sidelines. Prosperity has been inflated and students, suspended in the limbo between dependence and independence, are grappling to keep up. 

How to Side Hustle:

  1. Hold each of your ten fingers out in front of you. 
  2. Assess the pies that lie before you and determine which contain sufficient “graduate attributes”, “careers hub opportunities”, “employability service”, or any other phrases tossed in our direction by the university.
  3. Place each finger firmly into a different pie, ensuring none are left pie-less.

The second culprit behind the swelling of prosperity is neoliberalism aka. the belief that all human relations are based upon competition aka. capitalism under the guise of liberalism. It sees citizens as consumers, applauding productivity and penalising inefficiency. The rich turn a blind eye towards the systemic advantages afforded to them by class, education, and inheritance, persuading themselves that they earned their millions by merit. And the poor internalise their failures as inherent, ignoring the barriers that prevent them from social, thus financial, mobility. 

Hustle culture needs to evolve, not evaporate. It can be twisted to undermine the capitalist ideology that fuels it. Side hustles do not have to be a source of individual financial gain. Instead of placing our fingers in pies of economic investment, why don’t we place a few in the pies of hobbies? How about a charitable pie? A side hustle is simply a source of personal development, the honing of the individual skill, the nudging-ahead of the self. And it is precisely the exploration of our potential that makes growing up so thrilling. Making use of what the university has to offer is simply getting our money’s worth. 

University teaches us about money (through economic uncertainty) and people (through inequality). Let’s apply our understanding of these realities to the culture of hustle to revolutionise our philosophy of work. As we become citizens of the world, it is perfectly okay not to be a fully-fledged entrepreneur with a CV soaked in extracurricular activities. If we hustle to nurture individual talent that we then apply to collective development, we can walk into the world of adulthood with our heads held high.

https://www.britannica.com/place/Silicon-Valley-region-California

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/24/has-university-life-changed-student-experience-past-present-parents-vox-pops#:~:text=In%20the%20early%201960s%2C%20only,it%20comes%20at%20a%20cost.

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Lucy
Lucy
21 days ago

Beautifully written piece