Have you ever wondered what separates success from failure?
Like whether or not there’s a certain attribute responsible for success, that those who fail never seemed to find or cultivate?
The truth is, there are a number of attributes a person needs to really succeed in life. As unfair as it is to say it, talent and luck definitely play a part.
These things are outside of our direct control.
But there’s a third attribute DIRECTLY in our control, something each of us is capable of cultivating and developing.
This third element is essential; unless you have it (and develop it), you won’t go very far as an artist, writer or entrepreneur.
So what is it?
Hustle means going all out, every day, until you hit your breaking point – and then continuing on because hustle doesn’t break.
Hustle means doing the hard creative work even when you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Hustle means putting in the long hours others aren’t willing to put in.
Hustle separates the professional from the hobbyist.
Hustle is the girl on the tennis court, practicing her backhand for the 4th straight hour instead of meeting up with friends for drinks.
Hustle is the guy on his laptop, working on his manuscript 40 hours a week even with a fulltime, 60+ hour a week job.
Hustle is the person who does the work others think is madness.
Hustle is the differentiating factor in essentially every case of recorded success throughout history (monetary or otherwise).
Da Vinci, Copernicus, Napoleon, Einstein, Plato, Constantine – love them or hate them, they were successful because they hustled.
If you were a car, hustle would be your engine – it’s the thing responsible for forward motion against friction (see: drag), fueled by your purpose and passion (a topic for another time).
If you’re an artist, writer, or entrepreneur, you need hustle. At some point (at many points, actually), things won’t be easy. At some point on your journey, you’ll be traveling uphill against the elements (negative self-talk propaganda and the army of bad habits). If your engine stalls, there goes any chance of reaching the top.
This is why you need hustle.
Because on your journey you WILL hit hills, roadblocks and dead ends. You’ll probably experience a number of turnarounds and you’ll get lost quite a bit. You will face the elements.
In the long run, unless you’re ready to hustle, you’re just wasting time re-routing.
Hustle 101: an Introduction to the 5 Elements of Hustle
So what is hustle?
Fundamentally, hustle is comprised of 5 elements:
1 – An Audacious Goal (aka “Vision Quest” Goal Setting)
In the movie Vision Quest, the protagonist, Louden Swain, sets a goal to beat the state’s reigning, undefeated high school wrestling champion. But not in Louden’s weight class – two weight classes below him. The antagonist, Shute, is undefeated and the best wrestler in the state.
Louden’s teammates think he’s crazy. People think he has no realistic chance of winning.
He goes for it anyway.
Louden’s Vision Quest – to beat the dude carrying the tree:
In life (and art), you have to do the same.
Hustle requires an audacious goal because it means we have to become better than we are. Audacious goals are uncertain and terrifying – they might not work out. And that’s the whole point of hustle – to work toward something that might not pan out.
Yes, it’s hard, but that’s exactly what separates the hustler from everyone else.
The hustler sets the crazy goal and accepts the challenge – then does everything he must to see it through to the end.
If you’re not setting goals that cause you to stretch, then you’re not hustling.
2 – Intense Focus (aka “Rocky IV” Focus)
In the movie Rocky IV, the protagonist – Rocky Balboa – accepts the challenge to compete against the machine-like Russian competitor, Drago.
Rocky is the underdog.
To have any chance at winning, Rocky needs to train harder than he’s ever trained in his life – and that requires incredible focus. Toward the end of the movie, before the fight, we see a 3 minute montage that demonstrates Rocky’s commitment and intense focus…
Of course, what we don’t see is the quiet and slow passage of time that actually occurs in real life.
Success requires an absurd amount of focus over a long time – months and years in most cases – and it’s not always accompanied by awesome 80’s rock. In fact, most of the time, focusing is boring and painful.
This is what you get for having laser like focus:
The hustler doesn’t care.
The hustler puts it all on the line for as long as he needs to. There’s no “I’ll try this for a month and see what happens” – it’s either all in or all out.
And, if it’s all in, it’s all in EVERY day.
If the hustler had a motto, it would be “or die trying” (or something equally intense and motivational).
3 – Indifference to the Critics
The hustler is completely indifferent to the naysayers, critics and haters.
Face it – no matter what you do there will be someone, somewhere hating you for it. If you want to be successful, you need to get over it. And yes, that takes hustle.
Whatever you try to do will be difficult if it’s worth doing, and it’s made more difficult because most people won’t get why you’re doing it – sometimes this includes close friends and family. When it does, they can be the most detrimental to our success because, unlike strangers, they genuinely care about our well-being, so their critiques will be the most biting.
Don’t worry about them.
The hustler doesn’t concern himself with how others view him – he ignores the negative comments, the misdirected feedback, and the misinformed (even if well-intentioned) advice – the guy with hustle is too busy doing the hard work to concern himself with the people in the bleachers (family and strangers alike).
To thine own self be true. [Shakespeare]
3 – Self-Determination
The hustler doesn’t do it because he has to – he does it because he chooses to.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. [Emerson]
4 – Personal Ownership
The person with hustle takes complete ownership and responsibility for their actions; they accept the consequences – good or bad, success or failure (it cuts both ways).
If something doesn’t work, the girl with hustle tries a different way.
If the route is blocked, the guy with hustle climbs over it, or moves around it, or goes under it, or digs right through it.
The hustler doesn’t blame others for the hardships; the hustler deals with it and continues moving.
5 – Grit
Grit is the attribute that gets us to carry on after every fall, every setback, and every failure.
If hustle is the engine, grit is the oil that keeps it running.
The good news: ANYONE can develop grit – if they have the courage to develop it.
What a person with grit might look like:
Developing grit isn’t easy. It takes time. It’s a lifetime pursuit, one that never becomes automatic. Like staying in shape, grit is a continual, gradual self-development that fades if we don’t practice it.
How do we practice Grit?
We do things just a little bit longer than we think we’re capable.
We work for one more hour; we sprint for 30 more seconds; we write just 500 more words…each day, we work past our breaking point and find that we don’t break – we become stronger for it.
This is how you develop grit.
Grit is arguable the most important attribute of the hustler because without grit everything else falls apart over time.
Sometimes, the best way to understand hustle (or anything, for that matter) is through example.
Below I’ve compiled a list of some truly remarkable people who are 100% Tom Approved hustlers. These guys and girls go all out every day – and I know this, because I’ve seen them work and grow and continue to push boundaries, day in and day out.
Many of them have had outstanding success. Others are still working toward their major breakthrough.
Whether they’ve found success or not isn’t the point – the point is they’re all on track to doing something worthwile, and they’re hustling like mad to make it happen.
I hope this list helps you understand what exactly I’m talking about when it comes to hustle – and more importantly: how you can learn to hustle in your own life.
I encourage you to personally reach out to these individuals and say hi – even though the hustler ignores the haters, the hustler appreciates a compliment every now and then.
The Internets Hustler
Scott Lobdell is a full-time programmer and a full-time “internets” hustler.
Scott is a good friend of mine – we met way back in college and became fast friends because we both love weight lifting, Subway, and the internets.
Scott started programming in middle school. He found he had a knack for robot language (computer programming) and pursued programming into college. Scott continued to develop his talent into college and beyond, working on his skills in his free time. After he commissioned, Scott took his ability to the next level by building software and creating awesome lines of code on a daily basis in every spare moment he could find.
Scott is currently hustling a new project: http://collage-maker.me/
It’s an online collage maker. Simply enter your pictures and Scott’s online software does the magic of constructing your photos into an awesome collage.
So awesome you could print them out and place them on your car’s window (actual picture of Scott’s car):
Scotts also produced workout generator software, boat picture software and he hand made a zeppelin complete with camera and google maps autopilot control so a business can fly around and take HD pictures of things.
*Yes, I noticed a trend too – Scott loves pictures…
Scott is a serious hustler. Check him out.
The Round the World Hustler
Natalie Sisson is a coach, entrepreneur, author, world traveler…and a hustler.
Natalie biking across Africa (no big deal):
Right now, Natalie is continuing to produce content for her blog, she’s finishing up writing a book that she kickstarted on Kickstarter, and she just launched her newest program Women Entrepreneur’s Mastermind.
I met Natalie through the $100 Change program – a program she created – and actually won a scholarship she was offering through the program for my new publishing company startup. Because of this awesome program, I’m building a new business I may not have built for another year or so, but thanks to Natalie’s relentless hustling, now I’m hustling my own project.
Check out Natalie’s blog, podcast, and book (when it comes out) here: www.Suitcaseentrepreneur.com
You can seriously learn everything you need to know about starting a business from anywhere in the world via her FREE online blog. Definitely worth a look for those interested in the subject.
The Audio Blog Hustler
Chris of www.heard.fm (currently down for maintenance due to a major business pivot – see below) makes blogs into podcasts.
It is – crazy awesome.
Right now, Chris is producing Zenhabits.net blogs into amazing, professional voiceovers…podcast style.
Chris recently made a major pivot in his business – he’s changing his online business to focus on specific content areas (say, online marketing or Productivity Hacking, for example). I’m excited to see where he goes with this because podcasts are one of the best ways to learn new material in a busy world.
Definitely check out Chris’s content and consider supporting his work by spending a measly $5 on one of his professional voiceover podcast series. Not only are you supporting an incredible entrepreneur, you’re gaining tons of wisdom through awesome content.
Bookmark this page for later and then check out Chris at Heard.FM here.
The Stoked Hustler
Deacon is an ex-Collegiate athlete that’s hustling to bring something new to the online entrepreneur realm: effective, actionable content.
Deacon is the producer of Life Stoked where he helps entrepreneurs (and anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur) get started the right way. I spoke with Deacon a few weeks back and he was crazy busy creating content for his site. Deacon routinely spends hours creating actionable stuff you can put to work right now.
Deacon is ambitious, passionate and sincere – and, best of all, his content is effective (check out his Quarterback technique on his website).
Coincidentally, Deacon just published an article about how to keep going even when you’re mentally out of hustle.
Lesson’s we can learn from Deacon – it’s not about going harder every day, but about working smarter every day.
The 365 Hustler
Alan Bishop is an ex Canadian Special Forces paratrooper, a Crossfitter, an avid golfer, a lifelong competitive athlete (think ultra-endurance style competitions), a TV producer (ever heard of ‘Survivor’?), and the creator of the 365 effect.
Alan is the definition of hustler…and the definition of authentic, disciplined and generous…heck, Alan is a lot of definitions – all of them inspiring. Check out his work for a reminder of what it means to do great work – and how to do great work one day at a time: www.the365effect.com
Several years ago, Alan was signed to write a book by the publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul…and yes, that’s pretty big time. Alan didn’t end up going through with it because producing for television took up too much of his time.
Recently, Alan has forced himself to make time so he can dig into his blog and program, The 365 Effect. He’s getting ready to roll out some serious content including courses, training and (finally!) his book – all while he continues to produce television shows all across the world.
No easy feet by any stretch of the imagination.
Alan is seriously non-stop – but that doesn’t stop him from spending time with his family or staying fit at the age of 40.
The Smart Business Hustler
John Corcoran worked in Hollywood, in the White House, in the California Governor’s office, on Silicon Valley court cases, as an entrepreneur, a coach and tons more…
John is a hustler.
John started his career as a writer in the White House and is now a lawyer, entrepreneur, author, consultant, coach and networker extraordinaire…the list of things John creates/works/hustles is endless.
Right now, John is working on his first book – something that effectively bridges the gap between politics and business. Like The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell but instead of STDs and hush puppies, think campaign slogans and demographic targeting. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this sounds amazing.
I think I recognize some of these people…:
John also has an awesome podcast where he interviews incredible people like Dan Pink, Guy Kawasaki, and Andrew Warner. Find all his stuff here:
Oh, and stay tuned for an incredible and inspiring interview I did with John for In the Trenches.
Well, if you read through this post, I hope you’re inspired to keep working even if you’ve hit setbacks and failure.
None of the people I mentioned above have it easy – they all struggle to build the lives and businesses they want. For each of these case studies, the path was never easy nor was it certain. Each one of the people listed above has had their fair share of pain, setback and failure.
The question isn’t – have they made it?
The question is – are they doing the hard, creative work every day?
Because if they can answer yes to that question, success will follow.
The answer for these 6 case studies is yes, they are doing the hard, creative work every day.
What’s your answer?
Learn how to build a profitable + ethical online business
Since 2014, I've made a full-time income by creating and selling digital products online. If you want to see how I did it, sign up below.