By Carlos Hidalgo

Has today’s hustle culture destroyed the American Dream?

The first mention of the American Dream came from John Truslow Adams in 1931, who coined the term in his book, The Epic of America. Adams gives life to the meaning of this dream when he wrote the following:

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

This was quite a vision that Adams had. Since then it has become a common phrase that is used to describe professional achievements, something all Americans are either living or aspire to live. It is one of the main reasons immigrants come to America and in this great land it is certainly something that we can all achieve.

As a son of an immigrant, I am a big believer in the dream that Adams painted; however, given what we are seeing today in our corporate culture, we must ask, what is the cost? Or at the very least ask if we have perverted the very meaning of the dream that was penned in 1931?

In today’s corporate  culture, many experience the pressure to stay connected, and falsely believe they must grind and hustle their way to the next step on the ladder. As entrepreneurs, we are told by the likes of Kevin O’Leary, Grant Cardone, Gary V. and Jack Ma that unless we are willing to give the greater part of our waking hours (if sleep is an option) to our business pursuits, then we can forget about ever being successful.

So when do we say enough?  When do we call timeout and rather than follow this unhealthy and toxic culture down to road to unhealthiness, we hit pause and reassess what dreams we are actually chasing?  Given that according to the APA, almost two-thirds of Americans state they are stressed by work, I would say that time is now!

The problem with work-life balance

An April 2019 study published by LinkedIn found that nearly half of those surveyed (49%) state they are stressed about their work. Of those that reported this stress, 70% stated the biggest cause of stress was “work-life balance/workload.”  This aligns with a 2015 study by the American Sociological Review that shows the same percentage of people struggling to attain work-life balance.

Despite the great attention many have given to achieving this balance and the number of professionals who claim work-life balance supersedes pay when looking for a job, it is clear that it is a small minority who have found it.

I’d argue we need to do away with work-life balance all together. 

To achieve continual balance, in any regard, is no easy task. In order to accomplish balance, everything has to be in sync and aligned perfectly.  The mental picture I am drawn to is my daughter, who for more than a decade was a gymnast. She spent countless hours in the gym practicing and working through her routines, yet the occasional misstep still threw her balance off, resulting in a points deduction during her meets.

This is not so different than the majority of working professionals who, despite their best attempts, still struggle to find their footing on that perfect balance between work and personal commitments where it does not take much to throw them of course.

There was a time in my career where I was so off balance that I paraded it like a badge of honor, even writing a LinkedIn post on the subject.  While there were those who gave me the thumbs up to indicate their endorsement of this warped thinking, it is something I look back on now and shake my head with regret  Rather than correct course by trying to find that elusive balance again, I have forsaken that approach and rather subscribe to the idea of work-life boundaries.

When I think of a boundary, I think of something that is more permanent, a line of demarcation that takes effort to move. Boundaries are more secure and lasting. I think of a boundary as something that truly separates one thing from another, in this case work and life. 

I have spent the last two-plus years implementing this boundary-led approach and have found it to be incredibly beneficial both professionally and personally.  When I am working, I am working.  This is my boundary. I am not giving myself to multiple things, I am focused, mindful and deliberate about the work I am doing during the time I am living within my work boundary.

At the same time, when I am focused on my relationships, my hobbies and the things outside of work that bring me joy, I am wholly and completely vested without any work distractions. Living this way has enabled me to be more purposeful in all aspects of life and has improved both my work product and my personal relationships.

The importance of setting boundaries

So how does one go about setting these boundaries and living within them on a day-to-day basis?  Here are a few things to consider:

1.Define What You Value Most

What are the things in both your personal and professional life that you value the most? Write them down. For me on the personal side, it is time with my wife and kids and tending to my personal health. In business, I have defined tasks that deliver the best results for my clients and for long-term sustainability. 

Now that these have been established, I have been able to create boundaries around them to protect the time I spend with my family. For instance, there are specific times I will not work, such as nights and weekends.  Additionally, in order to deliver what is best for my clients, I structure my weeks to have specific time to work on deliverables, research, etc. 

With these boundaries established I am able to then look at anything that can potentially interfere and determine, if in that specific case, I can or should move that boundary. More often than not, the answer is no.

2. Create Your Boundaries in Community

Establishing your boundaries is a team sport. Rarely is it just one person that is impacted by a life lived off-balance. Asking for help from a few trusted confidantes ensures an outside perspective and a level of accountability to stay within the guardrails you’ve set.

I created boundaries with the help of my wife and a few close friends. We discuss them regularly as it is too easy to veer off course and make exceptions if done in isolation.

3. Set The Right Expectation

Whether you work for yourself or a company, it will be key to set the right expectations with clients, partners, your manager and co-workers. Be clear on when you will be available and connected.  This may seem daunting, but I have seen it done, have done it myself and each time it has been well received and respected.

With so many struggling to achieve balance, it is time we think of a more permanent approach.  One that safeguards what we value and puts us in the best frame of mind in our personal and professional lives and therefore reduces our stress.

America was founded on a vision. Ever since then it has been a land for dreamers and seekers who are told they can accomplish anything their hearts desire.  However that dream was never intended to be one of exhaustion, of grinding your fingers to the bone or being a hustler in the hopes that you outwork others in hopes to achieve. It’s time for entrepreneurs to recalibrate our priorities and take back The American Dream.

Carlos Hidalgo is an entrepreneur, speaker and author. More info about his latest book, The UnAmerican Dream, can be found at theunamericandream.com. He is on Twitter @cahidalgo.

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