Hard Work vs. Hustle

All hustle is hard work, but not all hard work is hustle.

“Hustle” is increasingly seen as not only an act, a thing you do – but as a quality. “That kid has hustle,” we’d say, and nod approvingly. At least, I would. It’s a tremendous quality, one we should all endeavor to cultivate in ourselves.

I’m sorry to say I learned to hustle much later in life than I should have. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, and working on a more precise and accurate definition.

A young person works for a landscaping company, for example. They’re the first one on the job every morning. They work harder than everyone else, and they’re the last one to go home. The work up a sweat every day and they never complain – they always have a smile on their face. This person is a hard worker, but I wouldn’t call them a hustler.

So what is “Hustle?”

Here are my 5 definitions of Hustle (as opposed to just hard work):

  1. Hustle cares about results, and is willing to change methods. Hard workers work harder when they’re not succeeding, but hustlers actually change their methods.
  2. Hard Work is something to get done; Hustle is a lifestyle. Hard Work might work overtime, but Hustle never sleeps.
  3. Hustle doesn’t care about what others think of how they get there. Hustle would rather be a financially secure janitor with a side-gig selling refurbished couches than a broke, indebted corporate lawyer.
  4. Hard Work wants others to recognize and reward them for their efforts; Hustle doesn’t want any other hands in their pie.
  5. Hard Work doesn’t especially like change. They like to get good at something and then have that thing remain relevant. Hustle recognizes that everything is temporary and is always looking for the next thing.

Hard work is an essential component of success, and you’ll never avoid it. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. If your goal in life is just to make it to the end, hard work (plus a little luck) might get you there. But real success takes Hustle. Hustle is an external vision; it’s caring about the world around you and how it moves, and figuring out how you can help it move a little smoother. Hard Work can fell a hundred trees with an axe, but Hustle invents the chainsaw. Hustle isn’t “work smarter, not harder” – it’s “work harder AND smarter.”

Hard Work can sometimes have the negative side effect of building up a sense of entitlement. “I worked hard, so I deserve this.” Or, “I worked hard, so the world owes me this.” It can create the mentality that the only requirements for success are (or should be) not doing anything wrong, “keeping your nose clean” and “paying your dues.” Grind away for forty years and you get the gold watch.

Hustle knows if you want that watch, you have to buy it.

3 thoughts on “Hard Work vs. Hustle

  1. I’ve always had this question at the back of my mind. Hard work was the most common term while growing up but found that Hustling is more beneficial to me when building startup businesses. Thanks for the clarification!


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