Hustling to Forget We Will Die
Working yourself to death is the smartest way to stay alive.
When I was seven, I often thought about what came after death while falling asleep. I would picture myself floating inside a void. Something killed me, and I didn't stop it. So I would miss every hide-and-seek game from now on. I questioned if people would remember me and cried after thinking they wouldn't. During the worst nights, a wail lured my mom into comforting me.
Every child realizes death exists at some point, although few go through an existential crisis as I did. We grow up aware that death exists, but we repress this knowledge to stay sane. No one could live a comfortable life if they thought they could die at any minute.
Those who hustle often experience negative physical and mental effects. But they also experience an invaluable benefit: hustling gives them the meaning necessary to forget they will die.
1. Realizing death exists
Psychologists argue we can't understand the concept of death before we are around six years old. So if our pet dies, we think it is somewhere else, even if our parents say Mr. Cuddles will not return. We believe it is on a vacation.
There might be another reason for not thinking of death: staying alive is easy. Cry, and your parents will fulfill your needs and desires.
But living is only easy if we rely on our parents. Letting our parents dictate what we do means not doing what they don’t want us to do, like playing Atari before bed. No kid (or adult) wants to give up their freedom. So, despite still not realizing we can pee somewhere other than our bed, we challenge our parents to maintain a sense of control.
When they try to feed us, we look the other way. The food might move like an airplane, but you don't care. You tell the Boeing 777 of broth approaching your mouth that the weather is terrible. Doing so keeps you in control.
At six years old, we have more ways to challenge our parents. We can play with items our parents hide from us or feed a dog they fear.
We usually get hurt along the way, and that's ok. The cuts and scrapes we get from exploring the world are necessary because they prove we are fragile. We may have experienced pain in the past, but we were too young to grasp the consequences of repeatedly doing what caused the pain. A baby that stumbles cries on the ground or gets up to follow the same path. But a six-year-old knows he will miss the next day's soccer practice if they hurt their ankle again.
From the age of six and forward, we understand infinite holidays don't exist, that we are fragile, depend on others, and that we will die. Yet, we hustle to repress this knowledge.
2. Hustling to forget death exists
Hustling is a way to forget that we depend on others and can die. While it seems like a North American behavior, there are people in every country who choose to work more hours than others to get what they want as soon as possible. On average, Europeans might hustle less than North Americans, but this doesn't mean hustlers don't exist. A Portuguese or Italian can take two months of vacation yearly and still have 13-hour workdays for the rest of it.
You recover the sense of control you felt during your first years by hustling. What you want is an extra sale or hour of work away. Your parents can judge what you do, but they can't stop you from doing it.
But what's wrong with feeling like you need others to survive as an adult? The issue is that admitting dependence on others causes existential anxiety. Some adults hate living with their parents because they see it as a sign that they can't navigate the world alone. Of course, some people love living with their parents as adults, and there are cultures where it's normal. But often, moving in with your parents feels like turning into a child—one who couldn't leave the cocoon and is now at the mercy of his parent's desires.
Hustling makes you feel independent and capable of avoiding death: enough money lets you fund any medical treatment and live in the safest countries. While this is not a fact, it's an ideal belief. Without it, the fear of dying would stop you from doing anything you haven't done. Paranoia would be your default state, and that's unideal, as prolonged stress makes you age quicker and get ill more often. Thinking about death would get you killed. Thus, ironically, working yourself to death is the hustler's brain's mechanism to live.