Don’t Call It A “Hustle”

Written by Mike Shapiro | | January 11, 2018

More and more often, I’m hearing people refer to their work as a “hustle.” I guess they think it proves they’re capable of integrating edgy expressions into daily conversation. But, unlike some other words that have found their way into the mainstream, this one has a different kind of potential for damage — to the listener and the person saying it.

Merriam Webster doesn’t even show a definition for it as a noun. offers several alternative meanings:

17. energetic activity, as in work.

18. discourteous shoving, pushing, or jostling.

19. Slang. An inducing by fraud, pressure, or deception, especially of inexperienced or uninformed persons, to buy something, to participate in an illicit scheme, dishonest gambling game, etc. b. such a product, scheme, gambling game, etc.

20. Informal. A competitive struggle: the hustle to earn a living.

At first blush, it appears to be simply the evolution of a word from connoting nasty activities — fraud and deception — to one that simply means working hard — even heroically. Fair enough. Over time, a number of cross-over words have made the turn from having a bad connotation to having a good one, and vice versa.

But take a look at the Urban Dictionary definition. Focus on the words I’ve put in italics:

To have the courage, confidence, self belief, and self-determination to go out there and work it out until you find the opportunities you want in life.

In this definition that reflects current usage, it’s all about me — the person behind the hustle. There’s no victim here, but no beneficiary either.

Work is supposed to be about serving customers. This new definition of “hustle” may have been expanded beyond “working a game” on someone to encompassing more legitimate work, but in the process it’s lost any consideration of the intended beneficiaries of the work!

This is reflective of a more general trend — a disturbing shift in thinking and attitudes about work. Scan a few articles. They’re loaded with references to “self-stuff” like the requirement that work meet some vague standard of “meaning” and “purpose” (as if serving the needs of customers isn’t meaning and purpose enough), surrounding yourself with only the smartest, most talented people (and jettisoning those you don’t think you can learn from or who can’t lead you where you think you want to go), getting away from a “Bad Boss” and so on. There’s very little talk about paying attention to how your work affects customers — the very people you’re in business to serve.

You can pepper your conversations with cross-over words like “sick” and “bad-a**”and do no more harm than earn yourself some smirks, eye-rolls and cringes from others. But hold up when you’re tempted to call your work a “hustle.” It may seem like a small thing. It’s just a word, after all. But it’s your work you’re talking about here — something you spend a lot of your time and your life doing.

Don’t give yourself — or your co-workers and customers — bad messages about the work you do and its real intended purpose and meaning.


USE IT NOW:  What commonly used words have crept into your vocabulary that are actually selling you and your work short with the people you’re working with and for?