“Work hard, play hard,” they said, and so many of us took the “work hard” and ran so far with it we forgot there was even a portion of this iconic saying that reminded us to play. In a nutshell, that’s hustle culture: the endless grind to push for success; the “I’ll just send one more email” and pressing send again and again; the working from bed on your phone until your eyes are tired and your head hurts.
That’s the hustle many of us believe we need to have to be a successful entrepreneur—the hustle portrayed in the glamorous Instagram posts featuring snippets of the lives we’re after. We see these images and think: if you too work, work, and work, you can afford a lavish lifestyle of travel, designer clothes and beautiful cars. But all that hustle isn’t leading us toward those dreams. If anything, this mentality is taking us further from lasting success and leading us down the road straight to stress, anxiety and dangerous levels of burnout.
Take it from me—in my case, my big influencer-entrepreneur dreams and hustle culture landed me in the hospital.
Like so many entrepreneurs before me, I quit my day job with big dreams of success. I’ll admit, I looked at entrepreneurship through rose-colored, or maybe Instagram-filtered, glasses. I saw the exotic trips, the financial freedom, the fancy clothes and cars. I thought they were milestone markers of self-employed success. I wanted to do whatever it took to reach them.
Of course, the posts I saw on social media sharing images of material achievement also touted the hustle it took to get there. Photos of boss women sitting in their Porsches in designer sunglasses with captions like, “keep hustling ?,” flashed across my feed and stuck in my mind like toxic glue. So I started to hustle. And I hustled some more, and more and more.
I worked 18-hour days for some clients, pushing myself to my limits with those social media posts as my inspiration and guiding light. I ignored the warning signs—the exhaustion, the extra cups of coffee it took to make it through the day, and the scramble to keep up with everything I had in motion at any given time. One morning in 2016, I woke up and looked in the mirror— I was so worn down it looked like I had been punched in the face. I ignored it because I was doing what I needed to do—right? I was hustling.
In August of 2017, I hit a wall of burnout so hard it broke me down. That was what shook me out of my hustle-obsessed cycles. I had been pushing through for so long, I hadn’t realized there would be a breaking point. I found myself rushed to the hospital at 29 years old and told I was exhibiting all the signs of a stroke. My world turned upside down in an instant.
The culprit? Severe burnout from the non-stop lifestyle I’d been keeping up for the sake of hustling. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen this side of entrepreneurship. I thought I was supposed to keep pushing through the struggles until I got to where I wanted to be. That was what I’d always seen on social media; that was what hustle culture had taught me. But here I was: hospitalized before I was thirty.
The reality is, what you see in the glamorous online world of social media entrepreneurship is only one side of the story. And, like with anything else shared on social media, the posts are curated to show audiences the best parts of the story. You won’t often see burnout, the importance of rest, the need for delegation, etc., on someone’s Instagram grid.
The most successful entrepreneurs know that endless hustle won’t get you where you want to be.
It took a trip to the hospital for me to learn that hustle alone isn’t what leads to entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurial success comes from many places, and taking care of yourself throughout the process of achieving your goals is of chief importance in growth. You can’t take care of your clients and meet deadlines to the best of your abilities if you’re fighting burnout and fatigue.
So, take it from me, don’t push through the warning signs of burnout just because it’s what hustle culture on social media tells you you need to do.
Sustainable success comes from knowing your limits, setting appropriate boundaries, learning from your mistakes, and focusing on your priorities—and one major priority should always be your health and wellness. Take care of yourself and focus on your goals; success will follow.
Sunny Lenarduzzi is a social media consultant and business growth coach who has helped thousands of entrepreneurs and institutions elevate their brands using video marketing. Sunny’s expertise has been featured in outlets including Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. She has also spoken at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Social Media Marketing World, Traffic and Conversion Summit, Creative Live and more. Connect with her on Instagram @sunnylenarduzzi.