How Barbie Helped Me Break Free From Hustle Culture (Personal Essay)

Have you heard about hustle culture? It’s this idea that you should always be working (“hustling”), even when you have free time.

It’s related to this concept called “side hustling,” which is when you start a second job in order to increase your income, such as selling knitted sweaters on Etsy, dog-walking, starting your own business, etc. Basically – monetising your hobbies for financial gain. 

Now, “hustle culture” doesn’t inherently sound like a bad thing. If you enjoy knitting, then it sounds like common sense to start a small business selling knitted sweaters, right? Or, if you want to further your career, it’s okay to do some extra studying after work, right?

Of course. There’s no problem with wanting to do better and achieve your goals. The problem arrises when you feel that you have to always be productive. You feel like you have to always be working towards something. It’s when you start to feel guilty for relaxing, because “oh, I could be studying right now” or “I could be working on my graphic design business right now.” 

Examples of hustle culture:

  • feeling guilty for resting
  • believing that you are worthless if you aren’t doing something productive
  • working even when you are ill
  • feeling lazy whenever you take a break, even if you are going through something difficult
  • feeling like you always have to be busy, even when you have a day off

I am definitely guilty of feeling like this. I’m naturally very ambitious, and I generally achieve high results in everything I do. Does that sound stuck-up? Probably. But it’s true. At the moment, I study at university, and I also work three jobs. Within one month of starting, I was already looking at a management role in all three positions. I am already one of the best new employees in all three. During school, I was never the smartest student, but I still managed to achieve high results, thanks to studying all through my lunch breaks and then well into the night. This “get it done and be the best, no matter the cost” attitude has definitely crept into my working life as well. 

I remember when my previous manager and I were going through some reports I had written. He remarked that my performance was really outstanding, better than any other employee at the same level in the company. He put the papers down and stared at me for a moment, before saying; “Holly, do you excel in everything?”

“Yes,” I replied, without a moment of hesitation. He seemed taken aback. He probably didn’t expect me to say that. I suppose it’s uncommon for girls to be confident in themselves – when they are, they are labelled “stuck up” or “bossy.” I prefer the term “ambitious, natural leader” but go off, sis.

Anyway. You get the picture. 

Recently, I lost my job. Well, technically, I resigned, but I was kind of backed into a corner. I won’t go into it, but basically, when I tell people about the incident, they are absolutely horrified. “That’s illegal,” they say. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” Everyone advised me to sue the company, but I didn’t want to do that – mostly because of the hassle, but also because a tiny part of me hoped that they’d say “actually, we were wrong, we’re sorry, we need you back!” (Obviously this didn’t happen.)

This was basically me, 24/7. Expect maybe not quite as glamorous.

So anyway. This whole fuss made me realise – why am I working so hard? Why am I working 50-hour weeks for a company that is willing to drop me overnight? The day before I resigned, I spoke to my boss on the phone. She was telling me how she was going to train me in a new area. Things were good. The next morning, less than 10 hours later, she told me not to bother coming in.

(Don’t worry – I had 3 job offers within 24 hours. I started my new job on the same day I handed in my resignation letter. Over the course of one month, I had seven interviews and was offered five positions. I took three of them.)

That’s when I started to learn about “hustle culture” and realised I had definitely fallen victim to this “always on” mentality. When I got home from work, I didn’t rest – I worked from home. I did some university study. I went for a run, not because I particularly enjoyed running, but because I knew it was good for my health. In my 7 years at this company, I only took a sick day once. I never took one day of annual leave. I arrived early and stayed late almost every single day.

Even though I still love Barbie, and always will, I definitely haven’t kept up with her recently. My diorama has sat for months, ready and waiting to be photographed. I still haven’t finished watching Princess Adventure. I haven’t been keeping up with Barbie’s vlogs and there’s a Fashionista Ken who has been sitting in my car, unboxed, for months. 

Because the thing about Barbie is that it’s not productive. Unlike my other “hobbies” (if you can even call them that!), like studying Japanese, or studying at university, or exercising, or cleaning (it’s a bit of stretch to call cleaning a hobby, but I digress), there is no point. There is no reward. Taking Barbie photos won’t help me advance in my career or get better grades at university. 

But you know what it will do?

It will be fun. It will be relaxing. I will get a chance to be creative and explore new ideas. I will get a chance to stop and do something purely for enjoyment reasons.

Losing my job was hard. It was one of the hardest, hardest things that has ever happened to me. Not because, oh, I’ve lost my income, but because I lost my identity. All my plans for the future suddenly disappeared. I felt like I was worthless, because I had invested all my self-worth into a faceless corporation.

So I have decided that it’s time to start living life for me. Sure, work is important – I love all three of my jobs so much. I love being at work. I love excelling in things and I love working towards the next promotion. I find it rewarding and exciting. But I am also important. I deserve to enjoy my life and do things that make me happy.

It’s been three months since I resigned from this company. I’ve had three months to mope around and cry (boy, I did a lot of crying) and be upset. But now it’s time for me to focus on myself and move forward with my life. When I’ve finished work, I’ve finished work. I’m going to spend time doing the things that matter in life – sleeping in, eating good food, taking long showers, hanging out with my friends and of course, spending hours playing dress-up. 

Barbie was right – a positive attitude really does change everything. 

From now on, I’m going to be unapologetically me. Unapologetically, a 22-year-old Barbie lover with a positive attitude and a love for bright colours, fun accessories, sparkly gel pens and all things pink. 



5 thoughts on “How Barbie Helped Me Break Free From Hustle Culture (Personal Essay)

  1. Congratulations Holly, you learned a very important lesson early. There is more to life than work and everything doesn’t have to be for profit. Playing Barbie, hanging out with your friends and sometimes just vegging are good for your mental health but more importantly they are fun things to do. Not everything has to show a tangible result.


  2. Good for you! I’m glad your doll collecting and story writing have helped you break free from “hustle culture.” I’d never heard of it but it sounds like most of my working life – and I’m so glad to be free of it too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agreed! There has to be more to life than work…play is valuable. Thank you for reminding me, I’ve had the same kind of push and pull relationships with my doll adventures. Right now, in fact they are packed away while I figure out what I am doing business-wise. But, balance–when we can find it…is key. Best to you, Holly and thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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