What is Hustle?

The word “hustle” has gotten a bad rap recently as people use it far too flippantly to justify working long hours on projects they never seem to make any progress on. I’ve seen people use it as an excuse for neglecting their responsibilities, saying things like “up until midnight working on my new project – can’t wait for you to see it! #hustle” while their family is waiting at the dinner table for mommy or daddy to come home.

It’s really important that we fully understand what the stakes are here. Hustling correctly could be the difference between you claiming your promised land or returning to Egypt to work as a slave in that job that you say you hate so much. But you can’t just say “I’m hustling” – that doesn’t count. You have to follow through and actually do it. It’s imperative therefore that we define the parameters of what we’re aiming at because before you can start hustling, you have to know how. You have to understand what hustle is before you can do it effectively.

There are some common misconceptions about hustle that I’ll like to address before we go any further:

  • Hustle is not cranking or grinding – Both of these terms have severe negative connotations associated with them as they imply doing the things over and over that your really don’t want to do (we’ll address that in a little bit). Cranking or grinding though is a prescription for burnout. Hustle will compel you to do some things that are distasteful but it’s only because you believe in a greater good that can only be achieved by pushing through some things that may be uncomfortable. As the old saying goes, “if it was easy everyone would do it.”
  • Hustle is not putting in long hours – Most people think of hustle as early morning, late nights, and always having one more thing that you need to do. This is both incorrect and foolish as you can’t consistently burn the candle at both ends without serious effects to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. While putting in long hours may be necessary for a period of time, it’s not a permanent state as hustle requires that you maintain a healthy margin in all areas of life in order to really make progress.
  • Hustle is not about doing it all yourself – People often try to do everything themselves to show how important they are, but hustle is about knowing your strengths and delegating your weaknesses. In order to really be effective, you need to do the things that will provide the biggest return on your investment.

All three of these definition are display in the character of Moses in Exodus 18:13-18. In this passage, Moses’ father-in-law sees what Moses doesn’t – that he will quickly burnout if something doesn’t change:

“The next day, Moses took his seat to hear the people’s disputes against each other. They waited before him from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.” “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.”

Hustle is just as much about what you decide not to do as what you do actually do.

So what is hustle?

Hustle is about hitting the mark. It’s about doing the most with what you’ve been given – your time, your talent, your energy, your money, etc. The Biblical term for this is “stewardship.” It’s about orderly self-management under the divine inspiration of God and the Holy Spirit so that you can achieve your full potential and have the maximum impact in leaving a lasting legacy.

One definition of hustle (and the one that I personally like best) is “force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction.” We can break this definition down into three key components:

  1. Work – This is what most people think of when they think of hustle (the force), but it’s only one part of the formula. And without the other components, you’ll never be able to hustle effectively. This is the “what” of hustle, the actual, tangible, visible things that you do (the getting up early, working late, etc.). This is what people notice, but if you start here you’ll never get anywhere.
  2. Purpose – This is the plan that you follow or the steps you have to take in order to see the completed outcome you desire from your work (“move hurriedly or unceremoniously”). This is the “how” of hustle, the organized agenda of how hustle will make sure that you end up at your goal. Notice that movement here is described as “hurriedly or unceremoniously” – this is how you know that your hustle is starting to get some traction. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees you hustling because you’re not doing it as public performance, you’re so focused on the end result.
  3. Vision – This is the “why” or the reason for your hustle. Starting with the “why” determines the plan that you make and ultimately follow through on (specified direction). The vision is what acts as your “effectiveness compass” and is the baseline that you will use for measuring whether you are doing the right things and moving in the right direction.

In order for hustle to be effective, you must have all three components. Many people just jump in and start with the work, but they don’t stick with it because they lack the motivation necessary to keep going. In order to maintain a lifestyle of hustle, you need to implement these three key components to the formula in what seems like reverse order. You have to start with the vision, which will direct your purpose, which will finally dictate the work that you do.

If you don’t start with the “why” you are destined for failure from the beginning. Your “why” must remain first and foremost in order for you to maintain the necessary motivation to follow through on your goals.

Think of it like going on a trip. Before you start planning the detail of your trip, you must first have a vision of the ultimate destination in mind. Maybe you are going on vacation and the mental picture you have is relaxing by the beach or the ocean.

Once you have the destination in mind, you can then start figuring out how you are going to get there. Maybe you need to buy plane tickets, or request time off of work. There’s usually a lot of planning that goes into a trip like this, but it probably doesn’t seem like work because you’re eagerly anticipating the outcome. You can already feel the sand between your toes and hear the waves crashing as the tide comes in while you watch a beautiful sunset. You carefully line up every detail, like the rental car you’ll need once you land in paradise and the hotel you’re going to stay at. You pack your bags in eager anticipation and you count down the days until the trip become a reality.

But all of that prep work is important. Without it, the trip never happens. You don’t just decide last second you’re going somewhere awesome – it’s only after you have your destination and the route figured out that you hop in the car and go.

Nothing is harder than hitting a moving target. The best baseball hitters in the world are successful less than one third of the time. A good plan requires intentionality and focus in order to be successful. Direction is essential for hustle to be effective. Be patient and follow the process if you want to achieve lasting results.