The Millennial Pilgrim: The Hustle Paradox...Good things happen to those who hustle; here's how to do it right!

Long-term success is not a product of hard work or natural talents. Taking breaks is part of hustling or sustainable career growth. Here’s a lowdown on how to bring some method to this madness called hustling

Somi DasUpdated: Sunday, February 20, 2022, 11:50 AM IST
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A still from The Pursuit of Happyness |

Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book, ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’, writes that people who put in 10,000 hours of hard work to perfect a skill become highly successful. He follows the life of several successful people and groups like Bill Gates and The Beatles and concludes that it's because they practised their craft rigorously since a very young age that they became successful.

However, not all of us are aspiring for Bill Gates’ level of success. Neither our talents are so well-defined. Hardly are people born with divine vocal cords of Lata Mangeshkar, who in an interview attributed 70 per cent of her success to natural talent and only 30 per cent to riyaz. But we all aspire to be successful and need better guidance in life about how to go about achieving it. ‘Platitudes’, like you are either born with it or not, or work hard if you want success, are not working for this generation of professionals who live in a far more complex world and do far more complicated jobs.

When we enter the workplace after completing school or college or our professional diplomas, we find out early in our careers that hard work is not enough. We have been witness to instances of not-so-hardworking people getting promotions and walking away with underserved praise. Also, this theory about hard work is often misused by business leaders to create toxic work cultures. Business magnate Elon Musk sparked a debate in November 2018 with his tweet: “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” People rightly called him out for promoting a toxic work culture that wore people out with excessive work.

Long-term success = Ability to stay relevant 

A close relative of mine, who had been in the retail sector for the last 10 years worked extremely hard, almost 70 hours a week (Mr Musk might have an opening for him) to walk up the hierarchy to a managerial position from a sales boy. He was made to quit his job. Not because he couldn't meet targets. He was always among the 10 best-performing franchisees of this international apparels brand. He was one of the few managers who was retained during the pandemic in his company. So, why did he get the boot, eventually? Apparently, his team had issues with him pressuring them too much and there were recurring complaints against him about how he communicated with them. In his defence, he had learned the tricks of the industry while on the job from his seniors. That target and customer happiness are sacrosanct.

Unfortunately, no one told him that HR policies are far more robust today, and given it is an international brand he works with, managers are expected to not just perform on the target end, but also foster a healthy work culture. It’s different from the time when team leaders or shift managers could get away with saying just about anything. My relative’s work ethics were at least a decade old. There was a time when managers were pushed to extract maximum work output from their employees, today they are expected to keep the team motivated by constantly helping the members align their goals and value system with that of the company. He failed to remain relevant, not because he was slacking at work, but because he simply didn’t pay attention to changing trends around him.

Diametrically opposite to this story is the success journey of another of my acquaintances. With a major in astrophysics, this young lady saw that there were a lot of job vacancies in data science. She quickly turned her attention to the field. With her background in physics, the orthodox route for her would have been entering academia. But she did not want to delay participating in the labour market any further’ wait for another five years to get a PhD or work a low-paying contract job in teaching. She quickly decided to turn her attention to data science—a field in which jobs are plentiful and is now employed with a German company at a very senior position. At a young age, she had the general awareness to spot where her skills and the job market aligned.

Know when to zoom in and zoom out; know when to quit and when to strive

Long-term success in your career requires you to watch out for emerging trends in your field and other related fields. If you are working for more than 40 hours a week, chances are you will miss the big trends in the job sector. You will also fail to notice your skill gaps and that your cognitive frameworks related to work and leadership may require renovation or a complete overhaul. Sometimes, you may need to put all your focus on a specific project. But after a period of intense work, do not forget to catch up on where the world is headed. Don’t miss the woods for the trees.

Similarly, you must cultivate the self-awareness to understand when you must quit a job, a project, or take a break, and when you must double down on your career goals and strive for gold. You need to be able to make a clear distinction between fatigue or burnout due to work; and an existential crisis, disillusionment or failure to derive meaning out of your work. Sometimes, burnouts can drive us to experience that sense of meaninglessness. Check whether you have been working long hours without a break. This sense of meaninglessness could easily be your overworked brain asking you to hit the pause button. In that scenario, you need to take a small break. Even the UN has recognised burnout as a legit condition to seek holidays. So don’t quit your job in a jiffy mistaking a burnout for a need for change.

In another instance, it is also possible that not quitting a job might be impeding your career growth. A study break, some time off work to focus on your hobbies, to upgrade your skills are sometimes necessary for you to feel intellectually alive and ready to contribute in a positive way to a workplace or your venture. But how do you know you are in the wrong career and need to quit? Organisational psychologist Adam Grant puts it lucidly:

“An easy way to pick the wrong career is to put your image above your interests and identity. A motivating job isn't the one that makes you look important. It's the one that makes you feel alive. Meaningful work isn't about impressing others. It's about expressing your values.” 

(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found as @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter.)

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