A Cynic’s Thoughts on the Working World and Hustle Culture
I’m sitting at my desk pondering the world around me and asking myself “Why is it like this and how did it get to this point?” I often find myself asking these questions to myself because I find myself lacking any sort of outlet to vent my frustrations. The thought festers in my mind and begins to take a mental tax on me which, more often than not, leads to a depressive episode that can last anywhere from days to weeks. Because of this, and because of a recommendation, I have decided to put my inner dialogue into writing as a way to organize my thoughts. I graduated college during the Covid-19 pandemic and, because of this, had a hard time finding a job with which I could utilize my degree or even my strengths and ended up in retail as many people do. There is nothing inherently wrong with working in retail. In fact, I firmly believe that no one should ever feel superior or inferior to someone else based on their job. The places we shop wouldn’t be clean without janitors just like our phones and houses wouldn’t be useful without the engineers that work on them. Every job is important with no job being more important than another. With that preface out of the way, I would like continue with my thoughts. Since I began working in retail, I have begun to notice a shift in my outlook on the world. That isn’t to say that I haven’t always been cynical. I think of myself as possibly the most cynical person I know next to my father of whom I believe I gained most of my cynicism from. Maybe not so much a cynic as a realist as I don’t like when things are sugar-coated and can often see through things that others may have trouble seeing both sides of.
My outlook has entirely shifted from seeing the world around me as one where everything works together to seeing it as something of an amalgam of different liquids all of a different viscosity, shaken up and haphazardly mixed together while never truly melding together only to be constantly and ever so slowly separating. We have this hierarchy of people that consists of working class people telling other working class people what to do who are all under the corporate and political elite. I speak of the CEOs, the politicians, etc. There is something inherently wrong with the way our world works and I believe it stems from those at the top of the metaphorical food-chain; the billionaires and multi-millionaires who have more money than they know what to do with in a hundred lifetimes. These people and those before them have perpetuated the thought that anyone can work hard and succeed just like they have and realistically, yes, that could happen, but only very rarely. For every Jeff Bezos, there are 20 million others living paycheck to paycheck. Those 20 million people may not have done anything to be in the position they’re in, but the harsh reality of all of it is you can do everything correctly, from the broadest terms to the smallest details, and still fail. Yet, here I am as one of seemingly few people who have accepted the fact that I will never “make it.” I don’t have aspirations of having a lot money, friends, or things but I know a lot of people do, and I’m not here to tell people to change their dreams or stray from their aspirations. As I said, I’m only using this as a way to organize my thoughts. But thinking about these people is disheartening because, although these desires are not unreasonable, they are often unattainable not to the fault of those desiring them,but rather to the fault of those who came before them and before myself. Those people who allowed the dehumanizing and exploitative practices of companies to slide because it was “just the way things were.” The people who allowed themselves and those working class people around them to be taken advantage of because “It had always been like that.” The dream of becoming a “somebody” ended up dooming those who came after them to become and remain “nobodies.” They allowed the exploitation to begin and did very little to curb it because they believed they would be the wealthy one in the future. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, a cycle that is fed to people as soon as they are born until the day that they die. “If you work hard, you will be successful” is one of the biggest lies we have ever been told and it seems very few people have realized it yet. Along those lines, the phrase “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” has recently come back into modern vocabulary, mostly from those who are mainly right-leaning politically. Unfortunately, the people who say this often fail to understand this idiomatic expression. The act of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps is a physically impossible task and a literal use for this phrase would have someone asking someone else to do something that is completely farcical. This is just another way the exploitation of working class people is perpetuated by those who are above them.
I frequently think about things such as the minimum wage and child labor laws, both of which were enacted the same year in 1938. I think about it because I’ve come to the realization that, if we didn’t have those laws setting minimum wages or explicitly prohibiting the use of child labor, the people who run these companies would pay people less than they already do and would go so far as to use children if it meant that their bottom line would benefit even a fraction of a percent. And you may be sitting there saying to your screen, “A company wouldn’t do that because the people working for and running the company aren’t morally abhorrent.”, and you could be right, but companies right now, at this very moment are using humans in different countries to get around the laws we have set in this country because they don’t apply to labor in another. The exploitation of human-beings is never ending in this degree and the saddest part about it? Most people don’t even care. They will continue to consume and consume and consume and, of course, I’m not blaming them. Ignorance is bliss after all, right? No, as I said, I’m blaming those who came before and those at the top who perpetuated the idea this was something that was normal. It’s not normal. It’s the farthest thing from normal. Fundamentally, we are animals living in a world just like any other. We adapt and change what we can to better suit us in an effort to make our lives better. Easier. But, throughout our efforts of building a world that is better for humans, there were the few who were never satisfied with what they had and continued to take from our planet and our people hiding behind the guise of innovation and progress. It seems like that guise is finally beginning to falter and some people who are tired and beaten have finally seen that these millionaires and billionaires are not these self-made paragons of men. No, they’re finally seeing them as what they truly are; the antithesis of the human spirit. Men and women who actively harm those beneath them by continuing to work only with a goal of improving their bottom-line by whatever means necessary.
All of this has led to your average every day people being overworked and underpaid which is the direct proponent of what we call “hustle culture.” People nowadays think of hustle culture as something that should be glorified because the people who advocate for it seem to live lives that are full and prosperous when realistically, it’s most likely the exact opposite. Hustle culture has led to people taking their hobbies, things they did for enjoyment and entertainment, and has morphed them into something used as just another form of income. Things that made people smile and look forward to finishing work for the day has changed into just another form of work that takes place during what is supposed to be free time. Why? Because the creative minds of these people have been conditioned to think that they need to monetize every bit of their time lest it is seen as “not useful.” The phrase “Time is money” is an aphorism signifying that wasted time is wasted money. But, who owns that time? The money? I’ll tell you right now that it isn’t the person who is advertising their hustle; it’s the people who are expecting them to do more so they can live a comfortable life. They put the burden on these people because they can’t be bothered to pay them a wage that allows them to live a comfortable life. So, the next time you find yourself hustling for the bag, ask yourself, “Why am I hustling while the people above me don’t have to?” You may just find the answer to be “because the position they are in allows them put the burden onto me.”
In closing, I have been sitting here looking at this for two days now trying to figure out how to arrange my thoughts in a way that is at least somewhat digestible. This isn’t a written piece that I intended to be used as me attempting to persuade anyone to see these things my way, although after rereading some parts, my original goal or idea may have shifted in that direction. Regardless, this has been a good exercise for me to help myself clear my head and organize my thoughts. The world is fucked up. There is no sugarcoating it or downplaying it. Billions of people are exploited on a daily basis for a few hundred others who couldn’t care less if they lived or died because they believe us to be irrelevant. Pawns in their game of chess. A means to an end. What that end is, who is to say? At this point, I don’t even think the people who run the world know, they’re just continuing in a direction because they can only read North on a compass. There are rays of light that shine through the clouds, however. The hobbies we have, the people around us who we can share our frustrations with, the thought that one day, it’ll all be over. So, knit because you like to knit. Paint if you like to paint. Play a video game if you like playing video games. Don’t do it “for the bag”, do it for you. Because time you enjoy wasting, isn’t time wasted. You aren’t alone in this world and I’m slowly beginning to understand that, myself. People are beginning to see how bad the world really is but we have the power to fix it. It may take a long time and we may not even be around by the time it gets fixed, but in the words of Nelson Henderson, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
Thank you for reading.