The Hustle Paradox has caused me to worry about work-life balance

I stand by the basic code of hustle culture, but I feel I have begun to fear living outside of it’s code.

Sports Editor Daniel Kehn poses with a clock Nov. 1 in the photojournalism studio. Amber Pietz, DN
Sports Editor Daniel Kehn poses with a clock Nov. 1 in the photojournalism studio. Amber Pietz, DN

Daniel Kehn is a second-year journalism and media major and writes “A Kehn Perspective” for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

Welcome to 2 a.m. on my Monday morning.

There are articles to edit, a budget to reorganize, stories to set up for the sports section, stories to write, my duties as a resident assistant (RA) and podcast episodes to prep for, all before I even glance at my academic work. 

I’ll get it done though; just maybe a few less hours of sleep this week. 

It will be okay. I’ll be okay.

Here’s what perplexes me sometimes, though: I would rather this be my everyday routine than not have anything to do for the week. I mean, sure, that is a great feeling for the moment, but then what happens? If I take the night off, lounge around my room and get too comfortable, I’ll start to lose pace; it’s a spiral I’ve met before and have been running from ever since.

After reading my colleague Olivia Ground’s opinion piece on Hustle Culture when it was first published, I was a little taken aback.

Everything they said made sense, but in my mind, it all felt a little too simple. Yes, it’s important not to pack your schedule, to make time for yourself and to join clubs for enjoyment rather than a resume bullet point, but it has never clicked like that in my head.

As the youngest of six kids, I grew up in a busy household and followed suit with my siblings. I was heavily involved in Boy Scouts, soccer and student government just to name a few. There was not a day when I would leave school and go straight home; those were few and far between. 

I loved my childhood, and I am extremely glad that my parents pushed me to do a lot; it allowed me to learn how to juggle a schedule. The lifestyle also taught me the importance of experience, as I now look for new opportunities to jump on whenever I can. 

But in my senior year of high school, things got slow for me. I didn’t have a lot to do, my time playing sports was over and everything began wrapping up as my childhood was coming to a close. As a result, I found myself sleeping in, showing up late to school and spending all my time in my room, in bed, not able to do anything productive for myself.

I was depressed. I was scared of the future. I just wanted to stay safely on the precipice of adulthood for as long as I could. 

Now, it’s 2:32 a.m. and I still feel like I am avoiding getting in bed. As if I’m scared I’ll wake up in a month and be back at the bottom of the downward spiral even after being in college for more than a year now.

When I arrived at Ball State in the fall of 2021, I was determined never to be back in that downward spiral again.

In my first week, classes were the only thing I had to do each day before heading back to my dorm, and I needed to change that quickly.

I joined the Ball State Daily News and made it my goal to spend as much time in the newsroom as possible, soaking up all the experience that I could and doing as much as they would let me through the end of the semester. I liked leaving early in the day, hitting up class and then going to the newsroom before getting back home late. Not being in my room, not being in my bed, instantly made me feel more productive.

I don’t like getting home too early; I always find myself in bed on my phone or watching TV if I have too much time in the afternoon. It makes me feel gross. I immediately begin to ponder negative thoughts about my lackluster talent as a journalist, why my friend got an internship and I didn’t, anxiety about whatever to-do list item I am gaslighting myself into thinking I forgot to get done or the fact that I should go for a run – I could lose 20 pounds or so.

In my second semester at Ball State, I joined NewsLink Indiana and started a podcast with a new (and now good) friend, Andy Newman. I was filling out my schedule more and more, running from an early day home and an empty to-do list.

Then summer came, and it all came crashing down. 

I didn’t get any of the internships I applied for —what I only saw as a sign that I didn’t develop as much as I should have or dedicate enough hours to my craft— so I moved back home and worked the 5 a.m. shift at a golf course, leaving my day over before the afternoon sun had even begun its descent.

I hated that feeling. I had too much time in the day, and the unproductive eight-hour shift of moving cups on greens did not feel like something I could count as fulfilling. I got home exhausted but felt guilty that I had not done enough legitimately productive work.

Now, I am an RA, the Sports Editor of the Daily News, co-host of two podcasts and starting a new relationship with an amazing person.

 

My schedule is filled to the brim, and my life is busy, and that’s just how I like it – I think. Could the new responsibilities in my life be leading to new insecurities?

I feel as though I am working to prove that I belong, to prove that I deserve my position, that I can handle the workload that my goals require and that I can work without looking at the clock. Most of all, to prove to the 18-year-old version of myself that I am getting better and better every day, and I am not going to end up at the end of the spiral again.

I may not be getting in bed too early, but I may be doing more harm than good.

It’s now 3:15 a.m., my head sags slightly, and my eyes continue to fill in weight as I chisel away at the keyboard. 

There’s a good chance I will sleep through NEWS 233 (sorry Kate); I have to finish this. It’s probable I am going to have to rewrite some of this on deadline, it doesn’t matter, at least I will have been working extra hours.

I have a headache, I’ll have one all through tomorrow, but that’s okay I guess. My sleep schedule is out of wack, I think too much and eat and drink inconsistently. I am overweight, and I should hit the gym; but I have no motivation to do anything outside my laundry list full of tasks, just enough homework to get by and spend downtime with my partner in hopes of recouping some energy. 

My nature will still call me to jump at opportunities to start a new project, like writing a story, this story, for the opinion section, getting interviews on a news story or getting started on a lifestyle piece while working on two or three sports stories.

I feel the need to branch out, expand my ability and stay busy. It’s like I am addicted to having another thing to do when I am done with the current project.

I am burning out.

It’s barely November and my foundation is cracking. The hours of excessive and unbalances are leading to a new spiral that, if not mended soon, will run me right into what I have been running from.

To be very clear, I don’t disown working hard, and I believe that the so-called “hustle culture” is a good idea in theory. I think every person should be working as hard as they possibly can at the things that they are most passionate about; however, there needs to be an equal balance. 

It’s 3:35 a.m. and I have a new goal. Not to amass more, but to handle what I have. The chances to do more will pass, but I have come to terms with the fact that I need my life to balance out. Working hard and dedicating hours is fine, but moderation is key.

I’m still learning to put my words into action, but the first step for me was taking the day off and going to the Homecoming game with my parents and my partner before going out to dinner.

I hadn’t seen my parents together since I left for school in August, and I would’ve missed that if I was in the press box trying to add another game to my resume.

Whatever I am trying to outrun, it’s not something that I can control by spending an extra hour in the newsroom or taking on another project.

3:45 a.m., laptop closed, in bed. It’s fine. 

You’ll be okay. 

Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at daniel.kehn@bsu.edu or on Twitter @daniel_kehn.

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