How To Escape From Hustle Culture And Regain Work-Life Balance

Until 2019, LA-based correspondent and TV host Simone Boyce, 34, hit the #GirlBoss drum hard. “I was posting hustle quotes on Instagram daily.” One example? “The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.” (Need another? “Wake up, kick a**, repeat.”)

Boyce was certainly living what she was giving on IG. In what she calls her “empire-building era,” she built a green screen studio in her house de ella to shoot YouTube videos, sometimes pulling all-nighters editing them. And when she had her dream job as an on-air reporter (which she loved), she “was a burned-out zombie living on red eyes.” Making social plans was impossible; she often had to fly out “on a moment’s notice.”

After her first child was born, she juggled the demands of family life and her job. But near the end of her second maternity leave—mid-pandemic—Boyce’s employer asked her to go back on the road to cover breaking news. “As a mom to two babies, that was a full-stop moment,” she says. “I had been so singularly focused on my career, but then my focus broadened to other things that bring me meaning.”

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Namely, motherhood. Boyce, creator of “The Motherload” newsletter, hasn’t left her ambition behind; it’s just changed over time. That now includes leaning into a new season as a mom while being an entrepreneur, which brings in less money but makes her happier. “In my early 30s, I had checked off every career goal. But I realized that success wasn’t enough to fulfill me. I had to disentangle my identity so I could live a more meaningful and content life,” she says.

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Boyce may be in her self-described Girl Boss Recovery Era, but hustle culture inspiration is still going strong. The push to constantly strive comes with a whole lot of promises: Try hard enough and you can accomplish your dreams. If hustling is feeding your soul, press on. But some—many—people get hit with an “is that all there is?” feeling.

Here’s why: a phenomenon called the hedonic treadmill. You go full speed toward a goal, but when you achieve it, you continue sprinting toward the next thing, always dissatisfied with the present.

For many, that leads to all sorts of burnout. The past few years have forced people to reexamine their priorities—that’s well-documented at this point—and many find that the happiness, success, and fulfillment hustle culture promised fall short of expectations. Boyce herself knocked off her biggest goals of her, assuming each triumph would make her happier. It didn’t. That realization led her, as it has led many others, to turn in a new direction: seeking the high of contentment.

Many find that the happiness, success, and fulfillment hustle culture promised fall short of expectations.

Being content is about settling into what you appreciate and feel satisfied about in your life, says psychologist Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, host of the Love, Happiness & Success podcast. It involves prioritizing what is important to you, whether that’s relationships, helping others, or education.

Pursuing contentment, not productivity, may feel strange and even wrong, but it’s coming at a time we need it most. Nearly one-third of workers are emotionally exhausted, reports the American Psychological Association. “Many people have seen both mental and physical ramifications of overwork, including symptoms of burnout, anxiety, depression, ulcers, or migraines,” says Jen Douglas, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

But giving up on constantly hustling is easier said than done. “It sparks anxiety that if you’re ‘content,’ it means you’re accepting yourself and life as it is and you lose energy or motivation to make positive change,” says Bobby. “It feels as if you’re giving up or settling.”

That’s exactly how Boyce felt. “It’s so easy to get sucked into the habit of glorifying success,” she says. “You see fame and riches on your feed, and you feel you’re not living the kind of life you could.” That’s why contentment calls for targeted work to quiet the voice that tells you that to be worthy, you need to do more. “Contentment involves feeling happy with things as they are, as opposed to wishing things were different,” says Bobby.

The value in being content with where you are is that you will feel just as worthy, because you’re living according to what’s important to you, says Douglas. Ultimately, you’ll be more intentional in creating the life you want—not what others (parents, friends, strangers on social) say it should look like.

And contentment can coexist with growth and forward movement, says Bobby. So break free from the productivity mindset, embrace being content, and feel at peace with where you are now by doing the following exercises.…

Pretend It’s Your 80th Birthday

Imagine what it’s like at your 80th birthday party. Look out at your friends and family who love you. They stand up and give little speeches about you and what you mean to them. What would you like them to say? Surely it’s not that your inbox is at zero, you won over that client, or you sold merch based on a popular catchphrase in the 2020s. A handy reminder next time you’re assessing the importance of, well, anything.

Practice Gratitude

“Contentment is not a destination—it can be found in the moment,” says Amenah Arman, founder of Sane in the Membrane, a holistic therapy practice. First, identify a goal you’re working toward. Then ask yourself: What do I enjoy about it? Is it the learning? Meeting people? Helping others? And finally, think about parts of the journey that you can express gratitude for. This helps you focus on the joy and contentment of here and now rather than being so outcome-oriented.

Weed Your Feed

Social media reinforces that inner voice telling you you’re not good enough or not doing enough. If certain people’s posts give you a knot in your stomach or make you feel inadequate, unfollow them (if a stranger) or temporarily mute them (even if they’re a friend; catch up in ways that feel more grounded, like coffee IRL) . It’s okay to hit pause.

Take Care of Number One

You! People often are unaware that their physical sensations can lead to negative thought patterns, says Bobby. When you’re low on sleep, movement, or hydration, that ticker tape of “not good enough” is more likely to run through your head. Make sure you’re catching enough Zs, sipping water regularly, and finding time for movement.

Speak the Emotions

Hustle culture and perfectionism may result from looking to feel valued, says Douglas. As long as you get the promotion or collect more followers, you deserve your place in the world, says that mentality. But you’re valuable no matter what, period. Try repeating “I am not my productivity” or “I have value no matter what I got done today” as a daily reminder to yourself.

Arman adds that this programming may have grown from childhood (get good grades, make the varsity team, etc.). Reaching out to a trained therapist can help you identify those old stories and unpack and process the associations in a safe and healthy way.


Tell Me How You Really Feel

If contentment seems out of reach, it might be because of, in part, disparaging self-talk. Use these prompts to pinpoint what truly matters to you. (Write your answers or speak ’em out loud!)

  1. What makes me feel good?
  2. What have I accomplished in the past year?
  3. How does my life look different—in positive ways—from what I expected it would be a decade ago?
  4. “I won’t be happy until X happens.” Where did that belief come from?
  5. What do I think will happen after I achieve XYZ?
  6. Fill in the blank: If XYZ were different, then I’d be happy/feel confident/be loved and respected. Is that true?
  7. Do I often dwell on what’s “wrong” and what needs to be different or what I need to change in my life? Where does that come from?
  8. What in my life do I love/brings me satisfaction as it is?
  9. How does resting make me feel?

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