It was a typical Las Vegas August evening. The desert was still awash in sunlight, but the temperatures had begun to fall from an afternoon high of 110 degrees Fahrenheit to just above 90.
In one of the nicer neighborhoods in suburban Henderson, the kind where the homes manage to have lush front lawns instead of rock gardens, a man in his mid-fifties and his new, late-twenties son-in-law stood over the open hood of a well-traveled Honda Accord.
The father-in-law was lecturing the younger man on the virtues of changing your own oil.
“Paying for an oil change is a waste of money. I can change my own oil in a couple of hours. Since I have more time than money, that seems like a no-brainer.” The father-in-law said.
When my friend told me this story, I couldn’t contain myself. I burst out, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Almost twenty years later, it’s still is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
I believe in being frugal. I believe that hard work is not only critical for any kind of meaningful success, but that hard work is also its own reward.
But, I also believe in enjoying life while it happens.
Many people preach what I call the gospel of hustle and grind. They come in many forms, from the aging, middle-class suburbanite to the young tech bros to the gung-ho freelancer. They have millions of disciples and a huge influence in the blogosphere and the world of productivity podcasts.
But, that Kool-Aid isn’t for me. I don’t believe in engaging in the hustle and grind until you get rich or die.
Three Biggest Problems Hustle and Grind
There are three major problems with the typical hustle and grind mindset.
One, it conflates effort with consequences. In general, the harder you work, the more you put yourself out there, the better chance you have of making something happen with your career and business.
But, the hustle and grind cultists forget about the notion of chance. Hustle doesn’t guarantee success. Shitty things happen in life. But, many of these people see those who are struggling and suffering and believe they just didn’t want to succeed bad enough.
Devotees of this philosophy are often miserable inside because, for all their hustle, they still aren’t achieving their goals. They don’t take the time to reflect on if they are chasing the right goal or if their methods are actually aligned with their goal.
Two, life isn’t about optimization. I’m fanatically protective of my time. But, our time in this life isn’t about squeezing every last ounce of work out of it. We owe it to our families and friends to play as hard as we work. I ‘m suspicious of almost every productivity hack. Because more and more of us are knowledge workers, we shortchange ourselves when we measure productivity by how much shit we get done.
I got the idea for this post in the shower. I wrote the first paragraph in my head while driving my kids to school.
Was that time in the shower and that time in the car productive? Not in the way we normally measure productivity. But, it was productive to me. The rest of the time I was in the car that morning I was listening to music and talking to my daughters about if Dumbledore is a hero, anti-hero, or villain. Was that part of the drive productive?
I don’t care. It was the best part of my day.
If all you do is hustle and grind you aren’t living.
Three, the hustle and grind mindset has a narrow view of what success means. Success for most of the hustle and grind acolytes is about getting rich. They want a six-figure income. Ironically, most of them want a completely passive six-figure passive income. They are killing themselves because they believe some guru who sold them some system. They know that if they just put in enough hours the money will come pouring into their lives.
Walking the path of the hustle and grind worshiper is remarkably similar to the path of the magical thinking student.
I know there is another path. I’m not selling a system. I don’t have a six-figure income. But, I’m mostly happy. I have a great family. I love my work, and I have enough money to pay my bills.
I’m a work-from-home father of four. My writing career has given my wife the freedom to pursue her dream of going back to school and completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. That means I don’t work on my business 40 hours a week.
I have to fit all of my writing into very few hours because I have kids to drive to school, lessons, concerts, and recitals. I also have to go grocery shopping, get the dog groomed, help with homework, and make sure we all have clean clothes to wear and clean dishes to eat off of.
Sometimes it’s stressful, and I want to claw my eyes out. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I get to be there for my children and my wife. I am always available for them.
I don’t have to fit my life around my work. My work is a small part of my life. I earn a full-time income in part-time hours. Less than 5% of my income could be considered passive.
I’m a working writer, and I couldn’t be more delighted. Life isn’t perfect. But, I’m privileged enough to spend quality time with my family every day. I’m not working like a maniac, so that I can enjoy life someday.
I enjoy my life every day.
I still struggle with work-life balance, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But, if you’re interested in feeling better about your life and are ready to be a heretic from the hustle and grind gospel, I’m happy to share what has worked for me.
First, set limits. Work will always expand to fill the time you make available for it. Here are some limits I set:
· I don’t work for clients on weekends
· I don’t answer emails from clients after 7:00 pm or before 9:30 am
· I don’t accept calls from clients unless we have an appointment
· I charge double for rush work
· I spend 3–5 hours each day on client work
Often these limits mean that I’m not a good match for many clients. Could I make more money if I had fewer limits? Absolutely! But, I’ve learned that the more money means more stress and anxiety. It means less time with my family. It’s not worth it for me. You may need a different balance.
One reason my limits work is that I’m expensive. I have a lot of experience, and I’m good at what I do. I expect to be paid professional rates. For example, I charge $125 for a 500-word blog post. I actually think this is still too low, but I’m comfortable with my workload, and I love the types of clients that are comfortable paying this rate. Some writers, who are much better writers than me, charge $50 or $25 for the same work.
They have to work two-and-a-half to five times harder than me. I don’t want to hustle that hard.
I do work on weekends sometimes, but it’s always on my own projects. I don’t usually write on weekends. If I do write, I work on posts for Medium, my Weirdo Poetry projects, or other work that makes me smile.
If my family has an event or I feel like one of my children really needs some extra attention, I set my fun work aside tobe with them.
This has consequences. It means those side projects take forever to finish. It means that my passive income grows very slowly. But, every year my children are a little closer to growing up. I’d rather cherish time with them than build extra income streams.
You should have non-work-related hobbies. You should take time off and go off the grid. You should spend time doing things that bring you joy with people who love you. Taking time away from work makes you more focused. It also has a strange way of making your work better.
No matter what your job or business is, spending time with real people doing real things will improve your creativity and problem-solving abilities.
I have also found that getting a good night’s sleep and drinking hot chocolate regularly make me happier. Your mileage may vary.
My perspective on work is informed by my relationship with my wife and children. I am confident that in 20 years none of us will look back and wish that I had worked more. Instead, we will be grateful for all the time we spent together.
My children won’t tell their kids about how I worked so hard that they never saw me. But, they will have stories about getting pulled out of school to watch a movie and going away random weekends to the coast.
I can always make more money. I can’t make more time. I live my life between these two truths. I don’t work 80-hour weeks, and I don’t change my own oil.
My time is the best gift I can give my children.
That’s why I won’t hustle and grind until I get rich or die.
I’m already rich.