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Work hard, play hard and rest harder

How hustle culture impacts college students and why it’s worth resisting

Students at the University are notoriously ambitious and busy — they fill up their schedules with schoolwork, clubs, societies, volunteering, internships and more.
Students at the University are notoriously ambitious and busy — they fill up their schedules with schoolwork, clubs, societies, volunteering, internships and more.

Last spring, one of my professors conducted a quick sleep survey during lecture in LPPL 2100: The Resilient Student. 

“Raise your hand if you slept last night,” he said. 

Practically all hands went up.

“Keep your hands up if you slept more than five hours.” 

About a third of the class lowered their hands. 

“Keep your hands up if you slept more than six hours.” 

More than half of the class had now lowered their hands. 

“Keep your hands up if you slept more than seven hours.” 

Maybe ten percent of us still had our hands up. 

This exercise spelled out something that I had suspected — so many students do not get adequate sleep. At a school where the work-hard-play-hard streak runs deep, it didn’t take much effort to imagine why no one seemed to be catching enough sleep.

Not long before then, I would’ve been right there with my classmates. Before coming to college, I was obsessed with filling up my schedule and acing my classes, to the point where I often neglected sleep. But the exhaustion caught up with me. I was fatigued, groggy and upset. I realized that my priorities were out of order. These days, I’m working on changing that — I’ve made it a goal to resist the hustle culture. 

For the unfamiliar, hustle culture refers to a set of beliefs that prize productivity and devotion to work. The ways in which hustle culture dominates the corporate world are well-reported — think saturated LinkedIn newsfeeds and slogans like “rise and grind.” However, the ripples of hustle culture are felt far and wide by students. 

At the University, hustle culture manifests itself in a variety of ways, most notably in the “work hard, play hard” ethos. Students at the University are notoriously ambitious and busy. They fill up their schedules with schoolwork, clubs, societies, volunteering, internships and more. Over the weekend, parties and social events abound, but also has the possibility to negatively affect the amount of quality sleep students get. None of those things are inherently bad — but the idea that busier is better can be disastrous. 

It’s hard not to get caught up in the hustle culture mentality, though. When I hear that my roommate is applying for 18 internships or that my friends just became president of a club, it’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough. 

Surrounded by hustle culture, it can often feel like time spent “unproductively” is time wasted — I used to feel a pang of guilt when I would sleep in or pursue hobbies that weren’t on my resumé. I’ve had to practice affirming myself when I do something that I know is good but “unproductive”. With time, I’ve grown more happy with these decisions, increasingly confident that they’re in line with what I value. 

Even as someone opposed to hustle culture, I must admit that I still get caught up in it from time to time. There are weeks where I’ve blocked out nearly every single minute of my free time — I’ve found myself staying longer at work, burning the midnight oil to finish a paper  and making plans that take up most of my weekend. 

Those weeks always end the same. I’m exhausted, unhappy and all-around drained. The truth that I’ve been learning is this — a routine built around productivity for its own sake will inevitably lead to burnout. Hustle culture, with all its emphasis on productivity, makes no room for rest. It demands constant busyness at the expense of balance. 

Ironically enough, this lack of room for rest makes hustle culture self-defeating in the long run. If I’m constantly filling up my hours with productivity, I’ll grow burnt out and unable to continue to be truly productive. All those nighters I always hear people go on about? I don’t envy them. If I’ve been up for more than a normal day’s worth, chances are I’m barely functioning. 

To stay on top of everything, I’m embracing the lessons I’ve learned during my years at the University, which means having to make trade-offs and learn my limitations. I’ve tried different course loads, switched jobs, and joined and left clubs, but through it all, I’ve figured out what I actually have time for and what I find brings me joy. 

Recently, however, I’ve tried to do more than just manage my time. I’m taking steps to resist the hustle culture. A huge part of that work has been a change in mindset. I remind myself that what I believe gives my time value is not necessarily productivity. A change in mindset precedes a change in practice. Things like a consistent bedtime and a schedule that prioritizes time for recreation are staples of my day-to-day life. 

Resisting the hustle culture isn’t easy, though. It often means making extremely difficult choices about how you use your time — but carefully and humbly deliberating is in itself a form of resistance against a culture that asks you to do everything all the time. I’ve found that simply slowing down and admitting when I’m too busy is the crucial first step in changing my routines. 

All of that isn’t to say that staying busy is a bad thing. I personally have a lot on my plate — I have a full course load, a part-time job  and a handful of other regular commitments. I think that resisting the hustle culture is a matter of reframing priorities. I won’t give up on productivity entirely, but I won’t let it get in the way of my well-being. To put it simply, my end goal is work-life balance, and not just work