This article is a part of our Protect the Hustle series where we explore the truth behind the strategy and tactics of B2B SaaS growth to make you an outstanding operator.
Today, we're going deep on defending hustle culture, exploring how to better align what you want with the efforts you're doing, as well as how we'd be better off not judging others for the choices they make in business.
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"I Got a Girl in a Mississippi Town
Marine corps life was getting her down
She said it was either me or the corps
I wonna go back to Mississippi no more."
Above is an excerpt from a Marine Corps running cadence that my dad and I would listen to when I was a kid. While I have more good memories than bad, this missive is emblematic of my tough childhood—where dedication to mission above all else was paramount, even above empathy for the weakness of a seven year old.
We were the classic, blue-collar family, where having fun equated to unadulterated work. Yard work, car work, house work—the type of work didn't really matter as long as you kept working.
When you weren't working, your directive was to learn in order to get better at working. To this day my Dad's hobbies, even during retirement, involve welding, building, and reading old textbooks on sheet metal, HVAC, and anything he needs to know to do his trade that he no longer officially practices better.
Just to show you how far he goes, when I brought him to New York City for the first time during Fleet Week (he's also a Navy retiree), the most exiting part of the trip was the two hours he spent talking to an HVAC engineer who was on his smoke break. They discussed the water pressure of the different buildings throughout the city. When I finally got him on a bus tour, the only question he asked the tour guide, who couldn't stop talking about Bette Middler was, "How do the Tribeca water tanks impact the seven pounders per foot of water pressure compared to uptown."
The man does not stop.
He's basically Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but the Midwest edition.
While growing up with this type of dad had a lot of downsides, he instilled in me an absolute, unfettered dedication to mission and the hustle to pursue that mission.
Hustle isn't a dirty word
Yet, I'm troubled by how this hustle has been twisted into a dirty concept. Monk-like dedication to one's craft is now derided with viral New York Times articles that ask "Why are young people pretending to love work?" We publicly shame those on social media who let slip their work habits and dedication, painting them as toxic actors who spew hustle porn.
Don't get me wrong, toxic actors do exist out there, but most of us truly in the perpetual trenches don't broadcast. We love our work. We seized the opportunity that those who came before us gave us to have vocation, instead of just working to survive. We've dedicated our lives to a singular mission knowing we may fail. We only rest, work out, or take up interests to maintain the 60-80 hour work weeks, surrounding ourselves with family and friends that accept our journey.
I feel some of you pushing back and bristling at the above as problematic, so let me put this in another lens:
–Is anyone asking Lebron James if he's finding balance or taking a day off?
–How about Elon Musk? Is he spending enough time with his kids?
–How about Marissa Mayer?
Well, she's a woman so when she puts a nursery outside her office so she can run an enormous company and spend time with her children, we need to judge her as a bad mother (sarcasm very much intended, but this is how the tech media covered the move she made at Yahoo).
My point is this: I think we'd all benefit from not judging others for the lifestyle choices they make. If you're ok with a white picket fence, 9-to-5 where you rarely need to sacrifice family time, then more power to you. Yet, if your mission is to be in the top one percent or one percent in your field, then we should equally celebrate you. We shouldn't ridicule you.
The secret becomes being willing to sacrifice what's needed to get what you want, and if you're not willing to sacrifice, then accepting yourself for who you are—tradeoffs and all. Misalignment on these axes is where problems emerge both individually and in our culture.
I for one know that ProfitWell wouldn't be where it is today without pushing my health to the brink, finding friends who didn't judge me for not partying until 2am, and plenty of sleeping at the office. I'm sure someone could have done what we did without these tradeoffs. I just know I couldn't.
Problems bubble up when we don't accept these tradeoffs. We end up wanting the fast growing company, but we're not willing to put in the work to get it. We want the white picket fence and to go play pickup basketball on the weekends, but we drown ourselves in work. This is where lashing out insecurely, inwardly and outwardly, takes place. We manifest these feelings in tearing down other's efforts, questioning each other's motives, and even judgmentally infantilizing agency with, "Well you're not being a good example to others."
Fear of expectations and failure creep in, killing the mind.
I get it. We all have these moments when we look in the mirror and have to face who and where we are in our journey. Rarely is the person staring back at us who we want to be in the end. So we hide; and when we hear or see someone being more disciplined than us or doing that which we should be doing for our own journey, it's easier to claim they're doing it wrong and hide our own insecurities further down.
Another path exists though—accepting yourself and the effort you're willing to put in for what you want.
What do you want out of life?
You need to know what you want out of life. I get it's hard and I wish someone would have asked me this growing up. It would have made life a lot easier with less pain. Yet, this is the only way to move forward and it ultimately needs to come from within.
Go down an emotional rabbit hole and figure out: What's important to you? What are your non-negotiables? If your'e on your death bed and you hadn't done X, would you be ok? If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, are you satisfied with your journey and what you've done?
Your life's mission will evolve over time. It's ok to change. Yet, each time your goal crystallizes your job is to stop hiding and apologizing for doing everything you feel needs to be done in order to optimize for that outcome. This includes surrounding yourself with not only business partners and a team that supports that mission, but with friends and family who accept your mission—tradeoffs and all.
For some of you reading these words, this means you need to reset and maybe even find a new career. You want something slower pace with less hours so you never miss a single activity with your kids or that hobby that you love. To some of the founders in this vein it may mean running your business as a "lifestyle business" for profit versus trying to go public. These are phenomenal options. Don't beat yourself up and keep the resentment brewing if that's what you want. Just do it.
Others of you reading this need to stop lying to yourself and those around you. You're going to keep missing those dinners or giving up that extra date night. Accept it and communicate your mission to those around you, so they can work within your mission. Some of the hardest-working executives I've met here in Utah are extremely family focused and are always home for dinner and don't work Sundays. They're at the office at 5am though, and workout in the middle of the day.
Their life aligns to the mission, because there isn't a soul on Earth who reached the pinnacle of their field without great sacrifice. You're not likely to be different, and you still might fail, but you need to try if it's your mission.
How we protect the hustle
Beyond doing the introspective work to understand how you can be unapologetic to yourself and those around you, here are a couple of things we've done at ProfitWell to help with these concepts internally:
9-to-5 roles vs. hustle roles
We have plenty of people who want to be the best in their field working at ProfitWell, as well as plenty of people who want the 9-to-5 route. It's rare you'll have a company that has all of one or all of the other, especially as you grow. We do a lot of coaching in helping folks, especially younger talent, determine what they want and then push them into roles that fulfill those aims. This also includes making sure coaching and expectation setting are aligned to the team member's mission.
As a side note, while a lot of roles can be filled by either type of person, there are some roles that require an "all-in" mindset. We're really up front with this in the hiring process.
Being all-in doesn't mean driving towards burnout
If you're all-in with a hustle-type role, this doesn't mean you drive until you hit a brick wall of burnout. Instead, you need to be conscious of your pacing and always keeping in mind that the journey is long. Vacations, getting rest, eating well, etc., all ensure you can keep the pace without burnout. I've personally found aligning these pieces around the missing ones keeps me motivated. For instance, I metalwork and woodwork because I learned doing something with my hands helps me reset my mind for deeper thought work. I also have been working on losing the 100 pounds gained in the early years, because I know the next phase is predicated on higher-energy work instead of just sheer, unadulterated will.
Know your resentment triggers (and that of your team)
When folks report to me I always have a conversation around, "What would the company push you to do that you'd then resent me or ProfitWell for?" Typically these are things like missing family dinner, working on Sundays (especially in our Utah office), not being able to workout each day, and the list goes on. Regardless of the person being more 9-to-5 or hustle focused, knowing these triggers helps keep a good working relationship between the person and the company. You'll also find hustle folks have less of these than 9-to-5 (which is perfectly ok).
You have agency
In closing, this all comes down to knowing yourself, which isn't easy. Yet, it's your job given that, if you're reading this you're definitely someone who has a choice. Do the introspection to know what you want and what you're driving towards. If you're ok with it, fantastic. If you're not ok with it, then change your expectation or your circumstance. You have agency.
In that vein, I'll leave you with an excerpt from my favorite Teddy Roosevelt speech—not "Man in the Arena", which I think is the weaker of these two speeches. Instead, it's from his speech, "The Strenuous Life":
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph."
This is a ProfitWell Recur production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space.
By Patrick Campbell
Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.