Does Hustle Have to be a 6-Letter-Word?

Hustle. Not exactly a word that carries a lot of weight in the business world. Perhaps it does in the sports arena, but even then it’s just a nice way of saying you’re not that talented but you try really hard.

Hustler. Even worse. The word itself brings horrifying visions of shams, card-sharks, drug dealers, and gigolos. That extra little “r” takes you all the way across the respectability line and plants you firmly into “oh, you don’t want to deal with him, he’s a hustler” territory.

It’s time to redefine the word.

The world’s political and economic landscape is changing every day. There’s no longer one concrete and well defined path to attaining and maintaining success. You can go to the right school, get the right job and live in the right town, but trust me you can still end up divorced, unemployed, 40 and living in your mom’s basement. And even then, what passes for success in our society (e.g. money, cars, fame, prestige) doesn’t carry with it the promise of longevity and stability that did in decades past. You must have flexibility. You must be dynamic in your thinking and in your goals. You must know how to hustle.

For a long time those in the creative community have lived by one motto: You hustle or you die (or end up being a professional waiter which is the equivalent of death to an artist).

The act of hustling isn’t a dirty thing to actors, artists and musicians; it’s a survival tool, a way of life. Now, you might be saying to yourself “I am a proper, highly trained business person, why would I lower myself to the level of a common hustler?” The answer: It’s too late, the hustle has come to you.

The skill set that allows a painter to paint, pay his rent and keep his loved one’s happy, turns out to be the same skill set you need if you’re an investment banker, who gets laid off, is underwater on his mortgage, and has to find a way to keep Timmy and Tommy in private school. It’s the same skill set that will keep your business afloat during a market nose dive. You gotta hustle or you die. The higher-end folks who don’t survive, either never thought they needed to learn how to hustle or just don’t want to admit they have to.

Perhaps your curiosity is peaked and your level of disdain has receded enough to ask, “So what exactly is this hustle you speak of?”

It’s not stealing, it’s not lying, it’s not cheating. It’s not Bernie Madoff, Pablo Escobar or Heidi Fleiss. It’s the common sense of knowing how to survive well within the collective ethics, but just beyond the accepted style. It’s learning how to lead a life, a family or a company through difficult times by bobbing and weaving without losing your moral compass.

So the next time you pass one of those wacky creative types on the street and you’re tempted to feel sorry for them or even dismiss them completely, remember, they just might have something to teach you about success, survival and happiness. Because odds are, they know how to hustle.

Photo Credit: Queensland Australia

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