My legs were burning and my heart was racing. I had just conquered a steep hill, ten blocks from my house. Usually I would quickly turn the corner and finish my run home. But this time, I stopped abruptly.
“If you don’t have your heart, you have nothing.”
This message welled up inside me. It wasn’t about my heart rate; it was about the implications of my nonstop hustle towards productivity, success and efficiency over the previous six years. My life had been a mad dash of starting a faith community, a neighborhood nonprofit and a network for spiritual and social change. Not to mention a transitional housing program, neighborhood news blog, and, oh yeah, fathering 3 children!
This message was telling me I had to stop the hustle. I was losing myself, becoming an emotionally distant dad and husband, and quenching my inner fire for my work at the intersection of spiritual formation, community development and social change.
“Hustle,” I learned, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The Problem With Hustle and Efficiency
In a recent Fast Company article, Why I've Stopped Accepting Compliments About My “Hustle,” writer Jeff Goins calls out current entrepreneurship’s obsession with “hustle,” promoted by self-help/startup gurus like Gary Vaynerchuck, James Altucher, and Tim Ferriss.
“Hustle is unhealthy” personally and relationally, he writes. Yes.
“Hustle hurts the work we do,” he adds. I agree.
But when Goins argues that “Hustle is inefficient,” I stop dead in my tracks like I did on that early morning run. Because our fixation on efficiency is part of what got us into this culture of hustle in the first place! When efficiency is our goal, hustle squeezes out the heart and soul in life and work, and we’re left with the endless pursuit of perfection and productivity.
I’ve seen this dark side of hustle culture in entrepreneurship. In nonprofits. And in the church.
Indeed a solid work ethic and insights on how we do what we do can be beneficial. But how can we keep our soul from sneaking out the back door because we’re too busy hustling around our homes, workplaces and faith communities?
Why We Need Inefficiency Experts
In The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, author and psychotherapist Thomas Moore writes, “It’s important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative and progressive, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture the soul.”
Instead of more efficiency tools or experts telling us how to be productive and successful, Moore suggests we need “inefficiency experts.” They help us expand our perspective, keep our creative edge and assist us to do our best and most satisfied living, fueled by joy and gratitude.
So where can we find these experts and what do they teach us? Whether in the home, workplace or church, here are five “inefficiency experts” that I’ve found most helpful in my own life:
5 Inefficiency Experts for Everyday Life
The places we live, if we let them, guide us into inefficiency. When we seek to be present and live in harmony with our urban neighborhoods, rural towns or suburban communities, we are forced to slow down and to listen. We grow in love and respect toward the complexity of our place and the people who live there. Paying attention to place helps guard us against the more efficient, productive ways of trying to extract value out of a place for our personal gain at the expense of others. Attending to the landscape of our place beckons our souls to the forefront of our lives by facilitating experiences of wonder, beauty and reverence.
We live in a “get over it” culture in which we're praised for pushing through – the injury, the failure, the loss. Recently, a friend who was only 3 months out from concluding his time as pastor of his church and the closing of the church told me he had wondered to his spiritual director why he still felt so much heaviness about the ending. He should be moving on, he thought. But his spiritual director reminded him that, while there's no normal timetable for grief, in the case of losing a loved one, the initial stages last at least 18 months. So it would make sense that my friend's grief over the loss of community and vocation would also last for a while. He was only at the beginning of a period of mourning.
There is no way to hustle through grief, no shortcut or quick fix. When we try to bury our pain, it inevitably shows up in some other way. But when we give ourselves time and space to name and explore our loss and disappointment, our hearts and minds expand into new frontiers of awareness and action.
In my worst moments under the spell of efficiency, I view my kids as an impediment to my productivity. I could be getting so much more done if I didn't have to get them fed, dressed and out the door to school in the morning. Or worry about them during those late afternoon and early evening hours I used to have all to myself at some point in the very distant past!
Spending time with children – walking in the woods (Look, a slug!), sharing a meal around the dinner table, reading a bedtime story – helps us stay awake to another world overflowing with love and curiosity and imagination. Jesus noted this unique capacity children have to receive the deeper reality when he said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
During my season of burn-out, the best thing I did to get whole again was start to practice yoga. I deliberately began to practice over my lunch hour. This was the least efficient thing I could have done – to move on a mat for an hour (not to mention arriving early and getting cleaned up afterward) in the middle of the day when I could have scheduled a lunch meeting or caught up on email. Instead of hustling my way onward and upward, it was downward for me, downward dog.
Dedicating oneself to a spiritual or physical practice – such as yoga, jogging, prayer or therapy – is a powerful way of secreting the soul from the incessant demands of efficiency. It also might surprise you how much creativity and focus it fosters!
My friends train people to be everyday peacemakers in our increasingly divided world. At the core of how they train people is to bring groups into hotbeds of conflict, such as Palestine and the U.S.-Mexico border. In these contexts people can see with their own eyes the pain and oppression of our global neighbors, as well as the brave work of peacemaking that local leaders are engaged in. It is remarkable.
Anyone involved in the work of peacemaking or other justice work at a global or local level knows it is a slog. It demands perseverance. It means getting a variety of voices around the table. Except efficiency. Because efficiency doesn't have much to offer when it comes to healing longstanding wounds or standing up to systemic oppression. Peacemakers teach us a gift much more powerful and generative than hustle: hope.
In light of the urgent crises plaguing our planet, those concerned with efficiency have much to teach our spiritual leaders, community builders and agents of social change. Things like vision and strategy, focus and dedication, self-acceptance and courage.
But if we keep accelerating our cultural obsession with hustle, we're going to collectively crash and burn.
And if we don’t have our hearts, we have nothing.
Imagine instead where inefficiency could lead us. Working diligently with a soulfulness that equips others with the compassion to recognize the dignity and worth of every human being. Exuding a hopeful creativity that engages the most pressing issues of our time. Embodying a relentless commitment to pursue equity and justice for all.
We don’t need to eliminate efficiency. But we do need to ground it with the soulfulness and wisdom of inefficiency experts.
Also published on Medium.