The hustle-and-bustle culture of college campuses seems like it never ends — and a prime explanation for that is shame.
Hustle culture — a mentality of always wanting more in career, success and the like — is terrifyingly glorified, pushed and admired by students and educators alike.
I work in the nonprofit sector, in both my own nonprofit and through partnerships with others. I often speak with undergraduate students, who sometimes share with me their experiences. These students try to make sense of wanting to or trying to “do everything.”
While listening, I found myself getting flashbacks from moments of high school competition, where every student was trying to do this exact same thing. Why does this process of toxic hustle culture repeat itself? I was naive enough to think and believe the “trying to do all” cycle ended in high school. The truth is, at whatever point you are in life, this cycle can restart in you, and its impact manifests in many ways.
I recently graduated from university and have been constantly reflecting on my college experience in terms of its hustle culture. I have certainly succumbed to the aforementioned lifestyle in a variety of ways. After numerous conversations with members in my organizations, I started talking about our toxic tendencies to set unrealistic goals with my friends. Most, if not all of them, said they have definitely given into these pressures before. I have noticed that most of my peers who identify as people of color, in particular, try to do more than is expected.
I too, am someone who pushes themselves to do a million things all at once: for what? I am still trying to figure that out.
However, from illuminative patterns, I am sure it is my own personal shame that drives this. A part of my personal truth in striving for a great education, future and general “productivity” stems from the shame I would feel if I did anything otherwise. The driving force behind all of these in students is normative psychology, a particular standard of behavior by a large group of people that is based in shame and embedded in our global educational systems.
I had the pleasure of talking with former Wall Street Journal journalist and current New York Times opinion contributor, Asra Nomani. Nomani also works as an education advocate as co-founder of Coalition TJ, which aims to promote quality and fair admission standards for high school students. Nomani advocates especially for students of color and other underrepresented students to get the fair treatment they deserve in high school and college admissions.
I chatted with her as she walked me through the track where she once competed in high school. Her calm nature, enthusiasm and warmth eased me throughout the entirety of the seemingly heavy topic we discussed with each other. Nomani and I have similar backgrounds: We are both immigrants to the United States, striving for the best education possible. During high school, Nomani, too, was ambitious. Like all of us, she tried her best in everything she got into and strived to discover more about her purpose. Her story aligns extremely well with her present job advocating for students’ rights.
When I shared my thoughts and recounted conversations with friends about experiencing shame and “hustle culture” in school and work, she immediately nodded.
“A lot of people pursue virtue signaling,” Nomani said. “Machines have taken over trying to indoctrinate young people, to use young people for their talents. If these aforementioned talents are not shared or used, they are guilt ridden. Confused young people are then traumatized. Kids should not be ashamed of anything.”
Nomani then reemphasized the need for more merit-based platforms for students in admissions and acceptances. To protect students today, Nomani said schools should look into a child’s merit rather than their statistics. How educators have emphasized admissions and awards has given shape to the intense shame students experience today.
Merit, Nomani added, was her personal weapon that helped her overcome challenges of shame and hardship in both education and journalism. When Nomani graduated from college, she worked as an intern at the Wall Street Journal at the San Francisco Bureau, then worked full time as a journalist for 30 years.
Naturally, during those times, she had been criticized harshly for her writing, but persisted and sustained a career that allowed her to become the excellent writer, advocate, mentor and mother she is. Merit, for all students, should be highlighted as a powerful force against unwanted forces that pressure children and adults alike to succeed. She described it, beautifully, as finding a “spark.”
“Sometimes we go through many kinds of motions. Moving forward as a young person, you find yourself doing not exactly what you want sometimes,” Nomani said. “But when you keep on going, the answers you are looking for will eventually find their way to you.”
At the end of the day, all you have is your character. Your integrity is your biggest asset. Remember that the best way to overcome shame is letting the brilliance of your values be the core of what you do. Stand for the right thing and the success in your education and everything that follows after that is indisputable. Don’t let hustle culture drive you away from what you want to achieve.