As I packed lunches for my children, began preparing dinner for tomorrow evening, and ironed my clothes for work, I began reflecting on the concept of hustle. The idea is frequently referenced in hip-hop music and popular culture. Many people proclaim that one must, “stay on their grind,” and “constantly hustle,” in order to attain success. This notion made me think back upon my teenage years, when I was hungry for my first job. I remember the tenacity I put into my job search, pounding the pavement, going from business to business to inquire about potential employment opportunities. I fast forward to when I decided to return to college to complete my undergraduate degree in 2011, and later my graduate studies in 2016. I think about the many nights when I got 3 to 4 hours of sleep, as result of staying up to complete assignments and write papers. As a black person in the United States, we have always had to possess a high degree of hustle in order to simply attain access to the same opportunities as our white counterparts.
All of this made me wonder, is hustle something that is innate or can it be taught? As I go about my day interfacing with young people in my work, I notice many seem to lack this sense of urgency—a hunger for opportunity. When I got my first paid work opportunity as a dishwasher and delivery person at my Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I was elated to simply have an opportunity to make money. The summer after graduating high school, I worked as a custodian for my school district, and later as a deli clerk at a local supermarket. Earning my own money, and having financial independence has always been a motivating factor for me. In my job as a workforce developer, I encounter many young people who turn down work opportunities if they do not align with their interests. These same individuals will come back a week or two later, and complain to me about how they cannot meet their financial obligations. Some people may call this behavior entitled or privileged; however, I believe it correlates to lacking a sense of hunger, urgency—i.e. hustle.
While I do not believe hustle can be taught, I do think it can be demonstrated and emulated. Growing up, I watched both of my parents hustle every day. They got up each morning, got me and my sister ready for school, and went off to their jobs. This act alone demonstrated the importance of consistency. My mother is the type of person who is always in motion, whether she is heading to work, preparing dinner, or cleaning the house—she is never idle. Hustle demands active intention; nothing changes for those who sit idly and wait for their opportunity. When I was young, my father played in bands. He also worked a full-time job at the electric company. I recall on numerous occasions, going into our basement to find him practicing on his piano. This taught me two important things: first, it showed me the importance of having a disciplined practice. To this very day, my father wakes up at 3 or 4 in the morning to perform piano drills. Developing and maintaining a disciplined practice, is essential to any endeavor in which one aspires to be successful at. The second thing I learned was the importance of managing responsibilities, and staying committed to one’s craft. Many of my father’s band mates only played music, whereas he maintained a full-time job to support our family, and concentrated on his music after work and on weekends. Maintaining this balance between responsibility and passion was an important lesson. It showed me the necessity of handling one’s responsibilities, while never abandoning one’s passion.
As I move into this new chapter of my life, newly divorced, single dad, professional writer—I hope to model the importance of hustle for my children. To show them, that despite what life may throw at them, it is possible to adapt, overcome, and most importantly—keep moving forward, keep grinding—keep hustling towards your dreams.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave questions or comments.
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing