Rise. Grind. Hussle. Thrive.
These aren’t mere words. Rather, it’s the mantra for our generation.
There is a distinct societal expectation that we can only succeed if we exert our utmost in the pursuit of professional success. Our obsession with toxic productivity and workaholism is boundless and all encompassing, commonly known as hustle culture or the ‘rat race’ mindset.
Hustle culture encourages us to eat on the go, sleep on the go, communicate on the go and always be ON the go.
اَلأَنَاةُ مِنَ اللهِ وَ الْعُجْلَةُ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ
The Prophet ﷺ had said that ‘ Calmness is from Allah and haste is Shaytaan’ [Sunan al-Kubrā]
In light of this, we are observing detrimental repercussions, especially to one’s sense of self and purpose with the advocating of a hasty attitude towards life.
Much like how smoking had been glorified as a form of self-expression before we knew its harm, the ‘hustler’ exhausts themselves and sacrifices every aspect of their life in order to meet personal goals (whether it be physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally) and is idealised for doing so. The hustler is the unequivocal, glamorised image of a hardworking, dedicated and successful individual.
This pervasive phenomenon is glaringly apparent in our modern technological epoch. Social media has given users a platform to broadcast the optimal versions of themselves. Countless motivational pages, posts and videos boast about the #hustle and how #the grind never stops. People post a romanticised version of their lives and their successes on social media for the world to witness, championing performative workaholism. This inexplicably breeds self-doubt and conjures up a sense of inadequacy, reducing success to a fallacious flaunting of material acquirements.
This mindset affects not only those in the workforce, but university students as well. Compared to Baby Boomers, twice as many teenagers strongly agree that personal achievement, whether educational and professional (43%), or hobbies and pastimes (42%) are the things most important to their sense of self. This contrasts greatly with older adults who predominantly associate their sense of self to their family background or religion. [Barna report]
By no means does this imply that effort and handwork should disregarded altogether. Rather, this article intends to highlight how we can be vulnerable to this unhealthy, purely career oriented mindset. Thinking back, I realize that I too had fallen victim to this of mindset of building my resume rather than my life- with an overarching sense of urgency. I would coin this as a pursuit for job stability in an era of rapid change, a time where technological advancements replacing countless jobs is a daunting yet near reality.
How does Islam come into the picture?
During a time when faith is so needed to ground us in purpose and truth, we may unintentionally search for meaning — or something disguised as such — in productivity; leaving us feeling stressed, anxious and void. These depressive emotions stem from the lack of purposeful drive. This is usually also reflected in our Iman. Our personal connection to Allah weakens because of our chase towards a socially constructed definition of success.
The hustle culture focuses on feeding the self and one’s ego, Islamically labelled as the ‘nafs’. However, if life only revolves around feeding our ego, we realise that we only feel momentary bursts of enjoyment but struggle to reach a sense of contentment. This is because the culture itself encompasses the idea of never being satisfied, never settling and accepting our current reality because we can always go further.
Success in the Quran challenges society’s conception of material success. For example, one of the most captivating and magnificent homes that was ever built was the castle of the Pharaoh (Fir’aun) yet he was one of the most unsuccessful individuals in the eyes of Allah. On the other hand, the Prophet Ibrahim A.S was banished from his society and left homeless and abandoned, yet he is described as the khaleel (best friend) of Allah, a status exclusive for him.
So here, the Quran is illustrating an extraordinarily wealthy Fir’aun as a failure but a homeless and abandoned Ibrahim a.s as an incredible success. This teaches us that success has nothing to do with wealth and failure has nothing to do with poverty. Rather, if we truly submit to Allah and be content with his blessings, then Allah will provide us from His bounties and we will be truly successful in both this world and the next.
كُنْ فِي الدُّنْيَا كَأَنَّكَ غَرِيبٌ أَوْ عَابِرُ سَبِيلٍ
Prophet ﷺ said, “Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path.” (Sahih Bukhari)
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الْآخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُ فِي حَرْثِهِ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ الدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِن نَّصِيبٍ
“Whoever seeks the harvest of the Hereafter, We shall increase for him his harvest, and whoever seeks the harvest of this world, We shall give him thereof; but he will have no share in the Hereafter.” (Quran 42:20)
With regards to the above hadith and Quranic ayah, we are reminded that we should never become too attached to the travesties of this world. We should stand firm against internalising societal norms that may falter and destroy our faith and realise that this life is just a means to an everlasting Hereafter. As such, Islam guides us in instilling a long-term vision that extends past worldly desires and demands us to look beyond the short-term, ‘YOLO’ attitude that is insinuated by the rat race.
How can we tackle this?
We need to take a step back and have an honest assessment of our direction in life; whether we genuinely have a personal connection with Allah and appreciation of our deen. Worldly distractions can cause us to forget the transience of this life and our ultimate purpose in it to find and worship Allah. This is the stage where we need to really tune in with ourselves through a lens of introspective spirituality in order to:
- Understand our why
- Realign our values and priorities
- Redefine success
It is crucial that we make even small but conscious efforts to engage with our faith, in order to build our personal connection with Allah and not be trapped by hustle culture.
This can be in the form of
- Listening to podcasts, tafsir or discussions
- Asking questions to other fellow Muslims
- Reading Sirah or Islamic books as source of information
- Getting involved in communities and events that encourage us to reconnect with our faith
As we get closer to Allah, we become emancipated from the prevailing ethos of accumulation and dissatisfaction in our current society. Speaking from personal experience, when we actively endeavour down the path of getting closer to Allah SWT by observing this world and understanding His words through the Quran and the Messengers, the sheer amazement that we experience is beyond words. It is a raw and exhilarating sense of peace that comes in the form of embracing the entirety of the saying, “Allah is enough for me”.
The holistic nature of Islam yields an ultimate purpose for our lives which transcends the spiritual depravity and materialistic essence of hustle culture. Knowing that Allah is the controller of all our affairs and that He is our final destination brings comfort and meaning to our daily lives, seeking the tilth of this world for His countenance alone.
يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ … مَنْ أَتَانِي يَمْشِي أَتَيْتُهُ هَرْوَلَةً
Our Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah Almighty says … Whoever comes to me (Allah) walking, I will come to him running.” (Sahih Muslim)