Having often fallen down the rabbit hole of self-development videos on YouTube, I have come across thumbnails with a photo of some middle aged white guy in suit and a caption saying something like “5 reasons why you are poor”, “10 millionaire habits to take up to improve your life”, “You are the only obstacle in your way” and sometimes something as ridiculous as “how something as simple as making your bed can change your entire life” more times than I would have had liked.
While, sometimes people may find these kind of videos to be helpful, after all, motivating people to take risks in pursuit of what they want, seems to be an effort worth appreciating, but it is what it is. I as a viewer find this promotion of a hustle culture more problematic and toxic than encouraging. The reasons for such an opinion are two-fold. First, such content more often than not entirely ignores the existence of social privilege i.e. people are born into different circumstances sometimes with real constraints preventing them from climbing the social ladder. The entire web of self-development and hustling seems to be weaved in an ideal society operating strictly on merit where hard work is the only variable influencing one’s career. This illusion couldn’t be more misplaced given the reality millions have to battle with every single day. All of this wouldn’t have been as problematic as it is had it not been as derogatory as this content often can be.
For instance, how do quotes like ” 5 reason you are poor” are going to impact a single woman of color who is responsible to feed her kids, has a job that pays her less than her male fellows and can’t even get a good loan because she doesn’t have a good collateral to offer. If anything, they would just make her feel guilty for “not taking a risk” that her circumstances make it impossible to take.
In short, reducing one’s low social class to just those not “grinding” hardly seems motivational. Secondly, the equation of social class with one’s worth as a human is quite common. It means that these videos often portray rich people as those who have somehow mastered the art of living and where their seemingly normal habits are worth idolizing. Financial success is a huge accomplishment but a huge net worth doesn’t mean one has achieved success in life, many would rightly argue that successful life is one lived with vigor, empathy and happiness. For instance, a list Warren Buffet’s favorite classic novels are hardly going to add value to anyone’s life. This idolization is problematic because it mentions such little things as something that actually made them as financially successful as they are. When the truth is financial success in a world like ours doesn’t have a set recipe; luck, hard work, privilege all can play a part in making one successful. A simple thing like making the bed is not going to work like an enchantment, financial success isn’t going to be guaranteed by either making the bed in the morning or meditating in the forest. These things will undeniably add value to your life by giving you discipline and a sense of calm but promising any higher gains would be a wrong.
All of the work ethics like perseverance, practice, faith and risk-taking are desirable but crediting these alone for someone’s success is quite simplistic and in turn problematic, and most importantly defining success and self-worth by mere numbers in the account is hardly encouraging. One needs to work for what they want but all while understanding that success in real life isn’t a mathematical derivation.