Anyone who’s worked in tech knows at least one hustler. Someone who was maybe starting companies while still in school, always at work on something. And probably the next thing. They’re not afraid of hard work (or trying to rope you in as well, or trying to make the sale), but they are grinding with a purpose.
They have goals and next levels they’re striving for, and things they want to do once they reach them. They want to achieve X because it will then help them achieve Y.
Until eventually, they’re there. They don’t have to hustle so hard. They’ve built the network, the wealth, the experience, etc., and now they can put it to use – the use they’ve had in mind all along. Maybe consulting, or teaching, or investing, or all three.
Or, like, heirloom cabbage farming, but with extensive community contributions and a solid legacy to leave for their descendants.
Now, while attractive connections or investments may be of interest, hustlers are not constantly, obsessively seeking them out. More often, others bring these opportunities to them.
The successful hustler is probably still ambitious, but it’s in a different way, with different goals. They know what’s worth the effort. They know how to plan and be strategic about how they invest their resources, which includes themselves.
They know when enough is enough. They don’t just throw themselves at everything because it might pan out, and they don’t just want all the time.
That, you see, is a different kind of person entirely. You probably know some of those, too. Those people likely haven’t always been hustling. Often there’s a catalyzing event that triggers their want.
There’s a good chance they didn’t grow up deprived of much. But regardless of what they’ve had, or have now, they always want more. Anything specific? Well, kinda. They see what certain others have, and they want that, too.
At some point they may have developed a plan to work toward what they wanted, but not in the same systematic way that hustlers do. Not as strategic and with as much of a long-game focus.
They’re often bad at building companies, at least companies with any long-term future or with stability for those working there. Because at some point something bigger, better, or more worthwhile will draw their attention.
While there are few, if any, limits to their want, there are limits to their perspective and their thinking. Path of least resistance. If they need investment, for example, there’s a good chance they’ll try to leverage relationships – family and friends – rather than pursue venture capital or other labour-intensive investment.
They want to achieve success, and they do use variations of it as stepping stones, but not the same way hustlers do. They will use success, often in smaller increments, and with very little patience, to seek access to things they see as exclusive. Things, as noted, that they have seen that others have, and decided they want. Country club memberships are a classic (if old school) example.
Access to these people, places and things is to feel elite, to have and have access to resources that most others don’t. Not specifically for its pleasurable value, or as a means toward additional goals, like making specific useful connections, as hustlers would do.
But those who want aren’t done yet. What do they still want? Could be a lot of things. Their wants are often arbitrarily based on what they see or hear about. They’re suckers for trends.
So maybe they want to develop more successful businesses. Or get on a board or two. Or buy a fancy cottage. What do people they admire have?
As they amass – often Smaug-like – the life and trappings they want, their surroundings and social sphere will change. They associate their “old” life and its trappings with failure, after all, with not being special.
Move to a nicer house, in a better neighbourhood, and put nicer cars in the driveway. Get your kids into a better school. Hang out with cooler friends. Get a better (younger, hotter, more sophisticated) partner.
The problem with people who want, like those cursed in old fairy tales, is that they can’t stop. No matter what they have or achieve, they always want more, because there always is more. Someone else just has it.
Because of this affliction they can’t appreciate what they have or what they’ve achieved. They can’t rest and there’s no sense of enough. Saddest, they can’t appreciate who they have. Or had.
Unsurprisingly, those afflicted with want often end up broadly unliked. Because who wants to be around someone who makes you feel like you’re not good enough, or a stepping stone? Or they’re just that person you only ever hear from when they want something.
Of course, this impedes the wanter’s striving (not that they realize it). Since they’re not building a network of real relationships, those who want their company and counsel and look out for them. If you’re no longer useful or prestigious enough – bye.
Another big difference between hustlers and those who just want is self awareness. The distinctions between the two types are generally clear as day to others. But hustlers know they’re ambitious and embrace it.
People who want, not so much. They would say that they, too, are hustlers. Or get defensive. Why shouldn’t they want to improve their lives and their family’s? Why is it fine for other people to have it all but not them?
They will never stop to smell the roses or enjoy the fruits of their labours with their families. To know the satisfaction of hard work well done, and the associated achievement. To know they’ve gotten where they wanted to go.
Because there was no strategy, there isn’t really any end goal. And because there will always be more trends, more wealth and more prestige to chase, there’s no finish line to cross.
When the only thing they can really see is what they don’t have, it leaves them blind to what they do have, or could have had. And what they could have done with it to benefit others and spread around some of their very real advantages.
They could have built something that was truly an achievement and set the foundations for others’ achievements. That would have actually contributed to getting them the status they wanted among others they admired.
There are none so blind as those who will not see. And none so bereft as those who will not be satisfied.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached on Twitter at @melle or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.