Online cults part 3: “Hustle Culture”

Continuing our series to help make church leaders aware of the online cults out there vying for the attention of your members, so far we have looked at “the manosphere” and at “that girl, girl boss, and trad wife” content. Today we are going to look at the male equivalent of the girl boss: hustle culture.

What is the hustle culture online trend?

Hustle culture online, tends to be content aimed at “self-improvement,” usually in males, that seeks to accomplish goals, specifically entrepreneurial and health goals. It champions hard work and productivity as a way toward success. That success is often portrayed as the accoutrements to wealth. It’s hardly a new trend, it’s been around for many years, but it’s ramped up since the 2015 “here in my garage” advertisements from Tai Lopez which opened up a whole new level of hustle culture grifting on YouTube and Instagram.

How to identify hustle culture content

There’s certain features you will often see from the hustle bros in their content:

  • Almost exclusively male
  • Usually a dude-bro and say “bruh” a lot
  • Wake up really early
  • Supercar ownership (usually a Lamborghini)
  • Expensive home
  • Usually follow a strict diet
  • Exercise regiment
  • “Trophy wife”/”trophy girlfriend”
  • Often, any actual wealth has come from selling courses to their audience

Another common thread is memes that feature Leonardo DiCaprio from Wolf of Wallstreet or Christian Bale from American Psycho. It’s weird, and often enough you’ll see other arguably sociopathic characters in the memes, but it’s a definite thing:

Hustle culture meme

Okay, so that one was actually a meme making fun of the usual meme and I couldn’t resist. You get the idea though, Leonardo DiCaprio picture and a bunch of effort is supposed to lead to achieving goals that aren’t actually connected. 🤷

Some of the most infamous hustle bros are:

  • Tai Lopez (yeah, the one from the memes)
  • Grant Cardone
  • Gary Vaynerchuk (aka Gary Vee)
  • Alex Hormozi (probably the most legitimate/ethical hustle bro)
  • Andrew Tate
  • Kevin Paffrath (aka Meet Kevin)

There are many more, and they are constantly popping up. Sometimes hardcore hustle bros come to realize that hustle culture is on some level toxic and stop pushing hustle culture. An example would be Chris Williamson from The Modern Wisdom Podcast, he started his channel as a productivity hacking channel… which is a sliver of the hustle bro sphere… but would speak against hustle culture today. That’s just to say, hustle bro content creators do burn out and shift gears… often for the better when they do.

The dangers of hustle culture

First, like many of these online cult-like phenomena, it tells people that to achieve happiness they need to become a caricature. This specific caricature is that of “the self-made man.” Like most caricatures, there’s more myth than reality to “the self-made man.” In reality, there’s a whole host of factors that go into business success: education, the family you were born into, personality, luck, location, education, friends you made in your youth, etc. Rugged individualism and hard work won’t necessarily get you the Lamborghini, private jet, mansion in the hills, and “trophy spouse.”

Second, one of the biggest dangers is burnout. This should come as no surprise, hustle culture essentially says “success is just a measure of effort” so the next logical step is “if I put in more effort, I will be more successful.” This is where nonsense like Grant Cardone’s 10X concept comes from. However, what if you do 10X of a really dumb thing? You are 10X more exhausted without the outcomes to show for it.

Third, hustle culture is certainly manosphere adjacent. Hustle culture may not outright say it, but it has an archaic view of manhood that provision = love. It may mean well, but ultimately, who cares if dad had a Lambo or a Volvo if he’s also an emotionally distant workaholic? Likewise, who wants to be married to that? 🤷

Fourth, as we have alluded so far, hustle culture has a very narrow definition of success. Business and entrepreneurship are a small perspective of success. Would we call Gandhi successful? How about Mother Theresa? Van Gogh? Edward Kimball? Jesus? No Lambo, no private jets, no mansion, no “trophy spouse,” yet we would recognize success from each of these individuals.

Finally, it fails to fully abstract what people are seeking. Most people don’t want to be successful just for the sake of being successful. If you lived on a deserted island by yourself, who cares if you have 2 coconuts or 20? That’s the catch, success is a proxy to approval from others. So instead of healthy relationships, which does make people happy, hustle culture says “work really hard so you get everybody’s approval and end up with relationships!”

The grift is real

While not all hustle bros are grifters, a lot of them are grifting young and vulnerable guys. While many of the hustle bros may have had some success in real estate or other ventures, their attention has turned to making their wealth off of their audience. Like most grifters of the past, they usually sell expensive courses and conferences promising that if you just take the next level of course then you will get the keys to success.

It’s usually a very “dog eat dog” view of capitalism wherein business is a finite game of a few winners and many losers instead of an infinite game wherein people are collaborating toward a common good. Some of the hustle bros are less predatory than others, Hormozi and Vaynerchuk lean considerably more toward the infinite game as they function more like angel investors to businesses in their audiences, but they are the exception and not the rule.

Countering hustle culture

Hustle culture’s big promise is actually that people will respect and accept you if you become “the self-made man.” The most powerful way to counter that narrative is to build community that accepts men and provides avenues for them to use their unique gifts. Similarly, put guys together to accomplish projects for your church, letting guys accomplish something together builds healthy respect, appreciation, and acceptance among them. Finally, highlight all kinds of success in your congregation. Because of the Puritan work ethic, there’s a tendency in church to lift up the hustle bro mentality and we lose out on philosophers, scholars, artists, consensus builders, etc.

When it comes to business, few churches ever really connect young people with older experienced businesspeople. This leaves them open to one of the hustle bro grifter promises to “be a mentor because everyone needs a mentor.” I interview and survey Gen-Z and Millennials pretty regularly about digital ministry and the thing that often surprises me is that they really want to connect with the older people with life experience in the church. Highlight the business folks in your church on podcasts, hold entrepreneurship meet-ups, and set up mentorship opportunities with mature Christians who will help people find their unique calling and experience bettering their community through success.

Finally, hustle culture fails miserably when pitted against existentialism. In Ecclesiastes, Qohelet goes through a hustle phase but even with his success ultimately feels unfulfilled. He realizes that accomplishment had become a hedonic treadmill devoid of any ultimate point or purpose. For all his wealth and luxury, what Qohelet truly desired was to hear from God. He needed but never took a trip to the temple so he could rearrange toil to have meaning and purpose. We need to help people today see a purpose in toil beyond the “work hard play hard” philosophy that Qohelet lives and laments (Bible nerd alert: this is why the narrator at the end of Ecclesiastes critiques Qohelet for his son by referencing Torah as the method to understand purpose).

Closing thoughts

Hustle culture is never satisfied because there will always be more to compare against. Today it’s the business down the street and even if you are wildly successful in an entrepreneurial venture, you still get to compare yourself with the likes of Musk, Bezos, and oil sheiks. Very few people ever get there, and, I would argue, we shouldn’t actually encourage that given that the infinite game theory is quite literally a Christian theory. “Success” should not be characterized as “the self-made man” in church, it needs to be broadened and seen more holistically.

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

Other articles you might like…