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Is the Pressure to Crush It Crushing You?

Six ways to resist hustle and grind culture to enjoy life.

Key points

  • Romanticized success can drive unhealthy behaviors that contribute to burnout.
  • Science shows we can shift behavior to protect our well-being through practices such as mindfulness and intermittent technology fasts.
Source: Peerawich Phaisitsawan/Shutterstock

Hustle and grind culture is the new religion. Bursting at the seams, to-do lists and schedules are normalized. Messages flood our feeds, proselytizing a relentless commitment to crushing it, all while crushing us.

Burnout seems a sacred rite of passage. Kids and adults alike face mounting pressure to hyper-perform. This "Cult of Overachievement," a context that worships a narrow, romanticized definition of success, has amassed infinite followers who’ve fallen for the doctrine that more is more.

The grind isn’t exactly delivering peace of mind. Perfectionism, social comparison, and social anxiety are escalating, even with high achievers, who ironically often lose their ability to savor the fruits of their hard work.

As a resilience researcher and psychotherapist, my curiosity has officially turned to concern.

We’ve got people seriously overextending themselves yet feeling significantly under-accomplished. In my most recent book, I name this pervasive issue Underperformance Dysmorphic Disorder (UDD). While I’m not claiming it should be filed as an official diagnosis, maybe there’s a case for including it as footnote in the DSM-5 under the many anxiety disorders officially recognized that depict individual symptoms without properly addressing the toll this culty context is taking.

Those who suffer from UDD cannot see an accurate reflection of themselves despite earnest intention and intensive exertion. UDD is marked by the most educated, advanced, accomplished group of citizens suffering from an obsessive focus on the perceived faulty belief that they are not doing enough; thus, they must continue to strive towards inhumane metrics of success at great cost.

People who struggle with this kind of dysmorphia tend to spend hours ruminating and compulsively comparing themselves. Sufferers are often consumed with being seen as flawless and exhibit extreme signs of mistake aversion. Perfectionistic thoughts and behaviors are frequent and unrelenting. This often impacts sleep, peace, serenity, sense of self, relationships, and quality of life.

Hard work loses its sanctity when it becomes harmful. WHO reclassified burnout as a condition of the modern workplace and emphatically warns for more attention to protecting well-being.

As acclaimed poet Adrienne Rich put it: “Until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves.” Now’s the time to un-drench.

Cults are escapable, but not with ease. We can’t let the distortions they cause drive unhealthy behaviors. Here are some ways to avoid the harmful ideology of romanticized success:

  1. Prioritize mental health. There’s no success without it. Nothing is worth getting sick over. Strive for healthy achievement instead of unhealthy overachievement.
  2. Recalibrate expectations. If the mirror you have access to distorts your sense of worth, and you can’t get a good angle on your progress and remarkable features, find other means of feedback. Social comparison and self-depreciation are unhelpful and unproductive.
  3. Take intermittent technology fasts. We can’t immerse ourselves in hustle and grind contagion without consequence. Taking breaks away from the hype can provide needed time to reflect on what’s meaningful to us and devote our time accordingly.
  4. Practice mindfulness. As Pulitzer Prize winning-writer Mary Oliver put in her instructions for living a life: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Staying in the now can help us find meaning and joy versus stewing in regret over perceived mistakes or fixating on a "better you" future without enjoying the process of working towards ambitions.
  5. Banish the L-word. Productivity isn’t Godliness. Rest is also essential. Calling ourselves “lazy” when engaging in needed rest is futile. Our brains and bodies need it. When replenished, we can form a healthier relationship with our work and purpose. Sleep, rest, and play also spark creativity, helping us have outlets and novel ways to approach what we face.
  6. Don’t glamorize glamor. Consumer culture likes to convince us that we’d be happier if we all had the wealth to afford wine fridges stocked with Dom Pérignon or to tout YSL handbags, red bottoms, and Teslas. Yet science reveals the opposite is true. It turns out that material possessions don’t equate to happiness. It’s our ability to give rather than show off that brings true value.

Resisting the hustle and grind Cult of Overachievement and the sufferings associated with Underperformance Dysmorphic Disorder can help us to redefine success and live life with greater presence and peace. As Joe Moran put it, “To call any life a failure, or a success, is to miss the infinite granularity, the inexhaustible miscellany of all lives. . . A life can’t really succeed or fail at all; it can only be lived.”


Lee, K. (2022). Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World. Boulder: Sounds True.

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