The Hustle


One cool Georgia evening while sitting on a porch with a deamy view, a dear friend challenged all of my deepest fears. “Lindsey, I want you to give up the hustle.” My bold friend’s statement came on the coat tails of me listing all the ways I was planning to contribute to my husband’s and my income deficit due to job loss (my husband is a superhero and is working multiple part time jobs). I would pick up more clients, become a certified dog walker, and pick up a few shifts at a local resale boutique. As I said these things, I could feel the pride and panic well up from my gut into my chest. Pride, because I have always valued my own resourcefulness and won’t-be-defeatedness. Panic, because I realized I was doing what I swore I wouldn’t do ever again. I was hustling.

I’ve always been a hustler. Some people call it grit or resolve or cleverness. My grandmother calls me “so smart” when I manage to cook a full meal, which always angers me because that sets the bar for intelligence so low and I’m capable of so much MORE. But I know the truth. I’m a hustler. Never satisfied with the unanswered questions of what sits before me, I hustle to get what I “need”, or to be more honest, what I want.

I recently started reading “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Nequist and was immediately confronted by my Hustling Comeback. I have avoided this book for a long time because so many people were reading it. In my ever confrontational “Eightness” (Enneagram reference), I don’t like to read what everyone else is reading because I want to challenge the status quo. I don’t read Oprah’s book list and I don’t check the New York Times for bestsellers because I like to form my own opinions and find my own must-reads. Do you see a pattern here?

I’m stubborn as crap. Even as I read the book’s foreword by Brene Brown (one of my heroes), I thought “Oh good! Someone finally wrote a book for all those preoccupied prideful perfectionists in my hometown who don’t know what vulnerability even means because they are so obsessed with perfection.”

I will now accept the Life Time Achievement Award for Hypocrisy.

Neiquist had me at the opening Mary Oliver poem. My heart soared and sank into my butt all at the same time. I was about to be called to the carpet and I was excited and terrified.

I so closely related to each of the following words that I questioned whether Niequist had been reading my journal: “I learned a long time ago that if I hustle fast enough, the emptiness will never catch up with me. First I outran it by traveling and dancing and drinking two-for-one whiskey sours at Calypso on State Street in Santa Barbara. Then I outran it by lining up writing deadlines like train tracks and clicking over them one by one. Then I outran it by running laps around my living room, picking up toys and folding blankets, as recently as yesterday.”

Hustling is running. I can’t physically run quickly to save my own life, but I can sprint marathons away from my own feelings in order to achieve a moment of relief. I’m a hustler and I need to change my game.

A few years ago, when I was working in jail, a fellow team member told me his story and shared some incredible life wisdom. After telling me about his years as a drug dealer and his own stints in jail, he shared the one thing he tells men who are about to be released back into the community after incarceration: Keep your hustle; change your game.

What most people don’t realize is that drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes are incredibly intelligent. They have to start and manage a business, market themselves, handle large quantities of cash, decipher who is trustworthy, and maintain a certain lifestyle all while avoiding the law. They are shrewd, cunning, and charming. They are the ultimate entrepreneurs. They have mastered the art of the hustle and continue their hustle behind iron doors. If Darwin was right and the world will only be survived by the fittest, I promise you these hustlers will be the last ones standing.

This is where I relate to my friends in jail and prison. The only difference between my hustle and theirs is that mine is legal. It looks cleaner. I fit in with the rest of the middle and upper class hustlers who are trading relationships and life for the perfect lifestyle. It’s gross, really. Most days I would choose to have a spotless kitchen over napping on the sofa with my husband, not  because I want to but because I feel like I truly can’t read unless the dishwasher is empty. How messed up is that???

The Hustle has become my drug because I use it to avoid reality. Just like any other drug, I find comfort and relief in my ability to disconnect from the world around when I’m tired of feeling. Niequist says it far better than I am able to do so:

“You can make a drug—a way to anesthetize yourself—out of anything: working out, binge-watching TV, working, having sex, shopping, volunteering, cleaning, dieting. Any of those things can keep you from feeling pain for a while—that’s what drugs do. And, used like a drug, over time, shopping or TV or work or whatever will make you less and less able to connect to the things that matter, like your own heart and the people you love. That’s another thing drugs do: they isolate you.”

I have become so talented at drugging myself with the mundane that I can completely avoid the people and beauty of life around me. At least in my twenties I used actual drugs – booze, weed, sex, pills. Now I drug myself with toilet scrubbing and side jobs and reading about another natural remedy that will surely cure my autoimmune disease. Now I just make my drug use look better because the habits are more “acceptable”.

So what do I do with my hustle? How do I keep my cleverness and resourcefulness but use them to change my game?

Again I will borrow some wisdom from my drug dealer and prostitute friends. I can work hard, be smart and live passionately for a better cause. I can get creative about actually opening an office to provide mental health therapy to people who can’t afford it. I can be passionate about my quiet time with my Creator each morning in hopes of better knowing Him as well as myself. I can be fiercely dedicated to spending quality time with my husband and leave the kitchen a mess of the laundry undone or say NO to that $20 side gig. I can have that friend over and make a cheap taco dinner in an unvacuumed apartment just so we may have some quality time talking and praying for each other.

I can fight to be present in my own story. That’s my new hustle.


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