When the Hustle Can't Make You Whole

by Andrea Kolber


"More love, less hustle." -Shauna Niequist 

I remember feeling the pressure in my head and my chest—it was the absolute certainty, that unless I proved myself I would be left in the dust of other students. I wanted badly to show I was smart and capable but as I sat in the tiny, stuffy room taking my LSATs—I had never felt more unworthy. Later I found my score was nowhere near my goal and the shame only mounted. It took years before I could understand the prison I was living in.

I took the LSATs in another lifetime when I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but in a way it’s a microcosm of my whole story. I wanted the prestige of law because I thought it would prove I knew how to hustle, how to be enough. Now, 11 years later, I see the truth with striking clarity: I was willing to sacrifice my identity and career path for the rickety belief that I could prove my value through actions.

Still, after years of growth and therapy and mentorship, there are tiny reminders of this way of thinking which creep into my life.

It’s the feeling of responsibility for a problem not mine to solve.

It’s the belief that no matter how much money, status, or security I acquire, it will never be enough.

It’s the constant temptation to use my anxiety to do more, be more, or want more.

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So when I say hustle, I don’t mean it like back in my basketball days when hustle simply meant I brought every piece of my available self on a particular day and left what I had on the floor.

No, what I mean here is the constant, never ending, mind numbing, cycle of busyness. It’s our over scheduled, over stimulated, achievement-based lifestyles we simultaneously love and hate.

This, my dear reader, this is the hustle. And you could use different words for it. You could call it the rat race or striving or scarcity. But—don’t miss this— no matter what we call it, this way of life leaves us feeling dry, empty, and unfulfilled. Even worse, the perceived value we gain from these endeavors fades quickly. 

So what’s the difference you might say? What’s the difference between working hard and hustling? Isn’t it Biblical to be a hard worker?

First, yes, living our lives excellently is absolutely a delight to our creator when it comes from a place of authentic worship (Colossians 3:23). But there is a difference between living well and desperation to be enough.

I would submit to you the difference between work and hustle comes from our perspective of ourselves and God. A right view of both will lead us to a right view of work.

And what is this right view? It’s grounded in the belief that we are the workmanship of the God of the universe (Ephesians 2:10), his very image walking around (Genesis 1:27)— known and chosen even before we were formed in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). We can't earn this identity, dear ones. It's given to us. 

Further, our work and efforts do not generate our value. Instead, we produce and take risks and love and live because it's what we are created for; there's no need to prove anything. When we are so secure in how God made us—we go into this world living it out and usually in that process we fail but we also make beautiful, good, meaningful things too. 

Our identity as God’s beloved is where our value and worthiness come from; the nuts and bolts of it you might say. And so if we are struggling to own our worthiness, rather than spending our efforts to show we are worthy, what would it look like to use our efforts to press into the one who makes us worthy?

This sometimes can be done individually but often it’s done with mentors, counselors, and healthy community. Sometimes we desperately want to know how to grab hold of this identity but we need others along side us, slowly and gently loving us before we can love ourselves. This is where we begin to internalize the truth of who we are. 

The hustle will always leave us wanting if it’s what we’re asking to make us whole. So let’s call it what it is, shall we? Let’s name our wounded-ness and our longing to be called known first, and see where he leads.

It might be a windy road but I promise if you’re following the creator of your soul—it’ll be worth it.