It’s hard for them too

December 1, 2021

A few days ago, I was playing in some pretty competitive basketball games. At one point, as I started getting pretty tired, I remember thinking to myself: dude, this is really hard.

Playing good defense, working to get a good shot on offense — going against people around my skill level (or higher) in general — demanded near full attention and energy.

But later, as I was reflecting on the experience, another thought popped into my head: yes, it was hard for me, but it was probably hard for them too.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the sigma grindset (or hustle culture), and I think my earlier insight is directly related to an incorrect assumption that it makes, which is that everyone else is on top of their shit — when this is usually not the case at all.

This is perfectly illustrated by a phenomenon at Stanford called the duck syndrome, which is the idea that students appear to be doing just fine — while actually mightily struggling behind the scenes. As a result, students often hold themselves to ridiculously high standards, thinking everyone else is doing better than they actually are.

Obviously, there’s no denying that talent and differing aptitudes for work exists. But even the smartest and most talented people you know have their struggles. It’s hard for them too.

I saw this tweet the other day, and the general idea is that every one of your minor successes puts you far ahead of millions who couldn’t do the same. At first glance, it seems to feed into the sigma grindset and perpetuate toxic stereotypes of working until you burnout. Do more so you can be better than everyone else. More, more, more.

But I’ve recently been starting to think of it like this: as long as you’re moving forward, you’re doing better than most people. And I find that to me more encouraging and nurturing than a “grind or die” mindset.

Hustle culture aside, during times of grief or anxiety, I find it encouraging to remind myself that I’m not alone when it comes to this whole “existing” bullshit. Life is hard, suffering is inevitable, and we’re all here for the ride. Take care.