Death to “the hustle”
Culture has long worshipped “the hustle.”
You know, that faceless entity that says get your s#!% done at all costs, and make sure it’s perfect. The one that says you should be juggling multiple projects with a smile on your face. The one that says you can sleep when you’re dead.
When overworking is the standard, busyness is a badge of honor. But are more work and good work the same thing? Does an endless stream of input actually lead to more output? At what point do we sacrifice quality for efficiency?
More work, in fact, does not mean better work. Especially in the context of a creative role. We may culturally worship “the hustle”, but in the creative world, that worship can often mutate into something much more sinister. In a world that seemingly requires an endless stream of original thought and innovative ideas, creative burnout is a very real and present danger.
Creativity is sophisticated problem solving, or, as the Oracle of Innovation, Steve Jobs, verbosely put it, “Creativity is just connecting things.” It is not a special talent only a lucky few are born with. It is not a gift bestowed upon you by some external force or creative deity in exchange for your soul. There isn’t a “creative spot” in the human brain that some people have better access to than others. Creativity is the result of multiple systems in your brain continuously running and communicating. That’s science. And while this continuous interplay between different parts of your brain is highly necessary for creative problem solving to be effective, it does NOT mean that you must be endlessly working extra hours to keep the creative gears grinding. Quite the opposite.
Research has shown that, consciously or unconsciously, the creative problems you don’t solve between the hours of 9-5 are taken home with you and subconsciously processed while you complete other tasks. This subconscious processing is what often leads to those out of the blue moments you have driving or in the shower when you suddenly reach a solution to a problem and a celebratory gong resonates inside your head. This subconscious processing of creative problems is greatly facilitated by rest.
This rest need not be limited to napping. Rest can be active. For the purpose of allowing your brain the opportunity to solve with its subconscious, rest can be defined as any activity that helps your mind wander. It's the delicate balance of finding activities that allow you to day-dream and then, after the day-dreaming is done, powering down and sleeping on them. When overwhelmed with “the hustle”, it’s easy to sacrifice the time and effort needed to solve tough yet meaningful creative problems and instead put energy towards small and inconsequential tasks we feel more comfortable and capable of completing. All in the name of “productivity”. When taking a brief break from perfecting his silly walk, John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, managed to sum up this phenomenon in a lecture he gave on incorporating rest and play into the creative process, stating,”It is easier to do trivial things that seem urgent than it is to do non-trivial things that have less urgency - like thinking. It’s easier to do the little things we know we can do, rather than the big things we’re not so sure about.”
I literally just pulled a soapbox up to my computer monitor and I’m standing on it right now as I type, so here we go. Let’s reiterate that hard work and over work are different things. One is admirable, the other detrimental. One seeks to be productive, the other seeks to be busy. Resting allows your subconscious to process problems with endless iterations of new solutions until a promising one comes along and presses the lightbulb button. Rest is not the reward you get for hard work. Rest is part of the hard work. It is a creative responsibility to practice rest. When others depend on your creative gears to keep turning, it’s on you to keep the machine in order. Death to “the hustle.” Long live hard work.
I’m stepping off my soapbox now.