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Creative Life, Dreams, Freedom, Movement, Opportunity

Hustle: Shake it up, break free and make your dream happen in 2017

Jonas Koffler, Author

January 4, 2017

There’s something to be said for listening. Sounds and words flood our ears each and every day. And when we listen, sometimes these patterned sounds give us clues to recognizing a broader phenomenon taking shape in our lives and in our communities. Our book, HUSTLE, came about out of a strange sequence of life events. A sequence tied to a word, a word which holds great meaning and power, a word that has unsurprisingly become ubiquitous, ever-present, and used by most of us with a deep desire to do something, anything, meaningful and of our own making that propels us forward.

Listening was the divining rod, the basic anthropological tool we’d use to shape the journey of our book. And there’s no place better to do a whole lot of listening than Austin in the spring each year. If you are unfamiliar with the place or have been sleepwalking for say, the last 30 years, South By Southwest (SXSW) Film, Music and Interactive Conference is a huge global festival that takes place in, or better put, shakes up the little, wonderful yet overcrowded city of Austin, Texas every spring. Tens of thousands of artists, filmmakers, techies, musicians, journalists, and entrepreneurs—to name a few—descend on the city to talk about the current state and future of, pretty much, everything cool and worth exploring. And every year people take the usual buzzwords thrown around at the conference and beat them to death.

London at Rush Hour

Photo: SarahTZ via Flickr

The gold standards include terms like: “innovation,” “disruption,” and “convergence.” But one recent year we decided to pay attention to the other words people were using, the ones that could reveal the real, underlying zeitgeist driving this group of people. Everywhere people were talking about doing new projects, trying new experiments, getting lucky, taking chances, risking it all, and making change happen on their own terms. How did they talk about it? Over and over we heard the word “hustle.”

Tech entrepreneurs said that they needed to hustle to get their ideas or product to market before somebody else did. Attendees walked out of sessions that inspired them, saying “I really need to hustle.” The filmmaker had to “hustle” to her premiere. And the dude working at the juice and smoothie stand, facing a long line of weary, dehydrated people with low blood sugar, said “he needed to hustle’” too.

We don’t think much about the word hustle or how often we use it. It’s not a particularly new or even sexy word, and use of it in and of itself doesn’t prove we’re on the cutting edge of anything. The only time most of us really pay attention to it is if we’re describing a need to move quickly and get shit done or when we’re getting ripped off, like “I just got hustled by that Three-card Monte dealer.”

But the word hustle indeed does carry its own energy. When people talk about the need to make change that will increase the velocity of their momentum, when they’re discussing the steps they need to take, and the energy they need to commit to making something happen, they say they need to hustle. That makes it powerful. But the word means even more than that.

“Decisive movement toward a goal, however indirect, by which the motion itself manufactures luck, surfaces hidden opportunities, and charges our lives with more money, meaning, and momentum.”

What it means to hustle

Before we began writing, I was hustling in a subconscious manner, pushing forward without really thinking about hustling. I was looking for ideas, an underlying truth, an actionable path forward to goals I hadn’t fully formed. I used the opportunity of being present at a global innovation and culture-making conference to take a different and unconventional approach to understanding the significance of a shared desire to push the world forward. I was calling upon an old love—linguistics—which isn’t my main job in life but is a tremendous tool to get past the surface conversation and find the underlying meaning in communication. I didn’t know how it would pay off. I just decided to explore and ask a lot of questions.

I was aware that Patrick was equally tuned into the idea and practice of hustle as well, and that Neil was actively exhorting audiences at his talks that “hustle” was exactly what they needed to do to achieve success. None of us knew, then, or cared much that the term came from an old Middle Dutch word, hutselen, that means “to shake.” But when we began talking about the concept for our book, connecting the dots, we realized the title had found us, pulled us toward it, and that the word itself would simultaneously serve as compass for us to map our own navigational trajectories, but also was a lens we could put on the broader creative economy to better understand what people wanted and how they could achieve it in their own unique ways on their own terms. Still, the word remained misunderstood by most and overused.

To keep it simple, hustle, in our book, is about shaking up your life. Shaking up your life to set yourself free. It’s about, as Ben Franklin, Nikola Tesla, David Bowie, Steve Jobs, Madonna, Elon Musk and countless other remarkable innovators have put it, “letting go of the old to begin anew or simply getting out of our own way to enable ourselves to find our own way. We do this by not simply following the herd or aping conventions imposed on us. In the Jungian sense, we call this moving from who you are to who you are to become.” it’s ultimately about individuation and agency. And that might be in the form of any array of pursuits we undertake, both big and small, and the experimentation, invention, discovery, and risk-taking to move your work from mediocre to magnificent, your art or music from irritating to irresistible. When we set our minds on creating the next legendary technology product, closing a seed round to finance a big project or embark on building an exceptional company that everyone aspires to work for, that takes guts. But our hustle need not be so demanding, either. It might simply involve making a small rather than a seismic shift in how you work every day, and your creative process. It means allowing for less mastery and inviting lots of failing. And above all, it means taking action to do something that moves you every day.

Our redefinition of “hustle” is:
“Decisive movement toward a goal, however indirect, by which the motion itself manufactures luck, surfaces hidden opportunities, and charges our lives with more money, meaning, and momentum.”

In life, most of us have been given rules for how to live to reach success. Some recent ones include:

Each idea looks reasonable on the surface, yet is completely out of touch with the reality of life. And each carries its own flaws. Life is messy and colorful. It’s more about the chaos and trial and error we experience than simplicity and certainty. Unless you’re a monk meditating on the side of the mountain, it just doesn’t work in that way of predictability. And frankly, it’d be boring if it did.

Many of us believed these bulleted prescriptions, and the ones that came before them were the recipe for happiness and success. And yet, upwards 90 percent of people today according to Gallup data (where I once worked) would say they are neither happy nor successful in their work. That’s a crappy, no good, rotten truth. No matter how faithfully they followed the rules, they were devoting themselves to rented dreams, dreams put forth by someone else as the ultimate life, along with a recipe for how to achieve them. The result is a sense of powerlessness as we lean in on the road to nowhere in particular. The journey sucks and the destination’s not so hot either.

Hustle is about jumping off the conveyor belt. Hammering your hamster wheel. Collapsing the cubicle and punishing the printer. Not just listening for the surface conversation, but taking a different approach—our own approach—to finding the answers we’re looking for. The recipes and platitudes completely ignore the reality that each of us is born as an amazing combination of factors that make us individuals, complicated by our upbringing, unique experiences, and our desires. Our talents, strengths, and our flaws all play a role in finding and empowering our very individual dreams—the ones that move us to action. The path is almost never straight, always requires movement, risk, work, trial and error, and a measure of stress or pain that we have to embrace on the road to really living our lives. That’s hustle. Shake it up. Make something happen. Get some bruises if you have to but do so in the service of your dream.

“The Street railway journal” (1884)

Creative Commons Flickr




Three tips to unleash your hustle

We’ve spent a couple of years on this book, not just drawing from our own experiences, but really researching what it takes to kick your own momentum, meaning, and money into gear. We came up with The Three Unseen Laws of Hustle, a simple framework for applying Hustle in your own life:

Hustle in Your Heart: Do Something That Moves You. Movement, physical activity, action — these imbue you with energy, enthusiasm and excitement. Don’t worry about perfection or wait for the ephemeral passion or inspiration to spark you into action, just set the wheels of possibility in motion and get going.

Hustle in Your Head: Keep Your Head Up and Your Eyes Open. As you´re now moving, it´s time to embrace small doses of everyday risk and look for hidden opportunity. When you do this, you´ll be surprised at the various ways you can begin manufacturing luck in your life. A little luck goes a long way toward fueling your dream and your ability to generate new and exciting opportunities. The ones that get away when we´re unfocused.

Hustle in Your Habits: Seal the Deal and Make it Real. Turn an opportunity into a valuable exchange. You´re a vast reservoir of hidden value. It´s time to starve your starving artist and feed your hungry hustler within by turning your talents, skills and relationships into a river of sustenance. It´s time to show yourself the money. Concrete transactions generate growth, upside optionality and proof. Success is required for you to own your dreams. So keep moving as you sell a piece of your art, or close a new deal for your business or get that raise.

Getting unstuck in life means choosing to create a personal opportunity portfolio and doing the everyday things no one else but you can or will do for yourself. What we offer isn’t just another recipe, but instead some fundamental principles around movement, risk, and creativity that you can use to move your life forward, backward, sideways or whatever direction you have to go to get where you want to be. It’s not a straight line. And never will be. It’s not a formal process either. It’s life. So it’s a lot messier, more adventurous, and more fun. What can you do today to find a different path? How can you start to hustle toward the next great version of yourself? By shaking up the old you and letting the new you begin to flourish.

Stay tuned for more ideas, tools and more to set yourself — and your company — free this year.




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