Geoff Girvitz is a writer and the director of Bang Personal Training.
Maybe only money can save you – or at least get you into a $10-million Oppidum doomsday bunker. Hustle culture comes to the rescue here, helping you sidestep our troubled economy by becoming an economy unto yourself. The path is a committed one. At its extreme, it means saying no to relationships, fitness and even adequate sleep. It demands a level of drive and efficiency that renders such base human drives trivial in comparison. You’ll get to frivolities like love later. For now, there’s money to earn.
Hustle culture is also known as burnout culture. No surprises here. The Faustian trade-off is simple: swap everything you have right now in exchange for a glorious financial future – or at least a secure one. After all, if money can’t buy everything, it can generally be exchanged for whatever can. In this vision of the future, your therapist – badly needed by now – can be helicoptered onto your private yacht while you enjoy an IV vitamin drip.
Many Canadians feel like they’re being painted into a financial corner. After-tax corporate profits are now at 20 per cent of our GDP. That’s twice what they were a decade ago – which was twice what they were a decade prior. Don’t get me started on housing. Do get me started, however, on Canada’s failure to challenge our grocery, telco and banking oligopolies. Food, phones and fees are adding up. For many, the only way out is to search for money under every nook and cranny.
We are increasingly beset by a need to monetize every waking moment. Books such as Hobby Boss and From Passion to Income describe how you can profit from whatever you once loved for free. People are turning their homes into Airbnbs and selling their skills with Excel and PowerPoint to the highest bidder. As the parent of a six-year-old, I have to personally endure multiple YouTube shows where parents play Minecraft or Thomas the Tank Engine with their kids, shouting every word to rack up anywhere from a few bucks to millions a year in monetization fees.
Even a full-time job can become a side hustle. One Toronto tech chief executive I spoke with discovered, during a recent round of exit interviews, that many of his staff were holding down additional full-time roles. They’d do the bare minimum required by their position and then quietly repeat the process for a different company – sometimes, more than one. One (now) former employee set the record with 10 different full-time salaried positions. In describing his approach, he said simply, “My job is to get jobs.” His performance in any of them? Probably not terrific. His salary last year? Seven figures.
I’m a health guy – professionally, philosophically and, most of all, practically. I understand that we are biological organisms and our time on Earth is short. You can’t dig up a corpse, stuff it with hundred-dollar bills, and expect the person to come gasping back to life – as if death were just a budgeting issue. Since a wider lens is needed, I refer frequently to Rutgers professor Dr. Peggy Swarbrick’s Eight Dimensions of Wellness as a framework. Financial and occupational health are considered here. These are often – but not always – related. Physical health feels obvious. Yet it can surprise you how it’s intertwined with environmental, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual health.
Insufficient sleep – a badge of honour among hustle-culture adherents – is associated with many of the leading causes of death, from cardiovascular disease to motor vehicle accidents. Loneliness may seem restricted to your brain but it creeps beyond markers of cognitive decline and depression and into your body via high blood pressure and lowered immune function. According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in four young Canadians feels lonely ”always or often.” We are failing young people, as a culture. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve taught them how to find happiness outside of the finite games of money and status.
My own observation, for what it is worth, is that overindexing on any particular dimension of health is futile when other areas are on fire. The good news is that you don’t have to reach world-class levels in any of these. An A grade is not required. Attaining a C+ in each dimension is enough to create a resilient human. Even better, getting from an F to a C+ is incredibly accessible. If going up a flight of stairs leaves you gasping for air, you don’t need 60-minute workouts with a personal trainer; you need to start walking up a few stairs at a time. And I say this as a guy who owns a personal training studio.
Personally speaking, I know what burnout feels like. Your capacity is reduced. You want to do more but there’s an inner resistance there – like trying to drive with the parking brake on. Part of you understands that things aren’t working. But if you knew another way forward, you wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with, would you? So you push down on the accelerator and try to ignore the fact that you smell smoke. By the time the pandemic cranked my own level of uncertainty up to 11 – circa 2021 – I knew what path not to take.
The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts is part of Buddhist cosmology. Here, beings are tormented with insatiable hunger and thirst. Even those capable of eating or drinking experience burning pain with every bite and every swallow. Their particular torment is that the thing they want the most is the very thing that hurts them. In that sense, money is incredibly valuable as it helps us bridge the gap between not enough and enough. The gap between enough and never enough, however, seems limitless. Are there happy billionaires out there? I don’t know. The only ones I’m familiar with tend to flail around as public case studies in happiness not correlating to net worth.
So, where do we go from here? More and more, I have been drawn toward the question of community. That’s social health, if you’re keeping track. To invest in community – with your time and attention – requires something that hungry ghosts seem to lack: a sense of sufficiency. Once we feel like we have enough, we earn the ability to turn our lens outward and ask ourselves how to invest whatever bandwidth we have – great or tiny – into the world outside of ourselves. Maybe this is the only way to put the doomsday bunker industry out of business.