Rise and grind. Chances are, you have seen this phrase or hashtag on social media countless times. And if not the phrase, then definitely the concept. It’s every post that asks you to: “wake up early, start working, and don’t stop. Be the first one in and the last one out.”

From workout folks to self-employed inspirational posters, rise and grind folks are a group of positive thinkers who push a specific way of approaching work and life. The idea has also been used as a way to cultivate the workplace output during times of extreme pressure. The idea that shilling for a company with extra time and effort is a virtue is naive at best, harmful and toxic at worst.

The promise of rise and grind culture (sometimes called hustle culture) is that maintaining a positive attitude, working harder, smarter, and faster than peers in the field will bring all the wealth and power one might dream about. Any doubt or critique of it is just a bad attitude or an excuse the mind makes up for why a person can’t achieve their goals.

It’s an insulated way of thinking. While positive thinking and self-talk may have marginal benefits, rise and grind culture ignores the systems of inequality that exist in the world. Didn’t get that interview for that dream job? Can’t focus on failure, just have to keep grinding towards success!

There’s no room for grief, disappointment, or any negative emotion. Injustice in the form of hiring discrimination becomes internalized and discarded. Grief, loss, and disappointment are normal human experiences and it’s important to feel those just as deeply as any relief, elation, or sense of accomplishment.

If success were the result of hard work, the US would be governed by landscapers and trades workers. Rise and grind culture would have us believe that our strength of will to succeed against any obstacle is what sets us apart from the rest of the people who make excuses for not getting what they want in life.

Poverty, mental illness, and racism are not merely excuses, they are systemic injustices that no amount of positive thinking can undo.

Capitalism frames itself as an equalizer that rewards hard work. Positivity and ingenuity would, in theory, be two elements of what makes a person successful. Unfortunately, capitalism in practice rewards exploiting the labor of others in order to become successful.

Rise and grind culture places a person’s self worth on the line. Are you a go-getter or a loser? Do you have the willpower to rise above all the whiners and complainers and make something of yourself? It’s all the worst aspects of self-help books chopped into pieces and disseminated in tweets.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of one’s work or in the labor one puts into creating something. A lot of union rhetoric is centered on the fact that because one’s work is quality, the time and effort should be rewarded with fair compensation. Rather than placing the value of a person in how much work they can do or how hard they can work, unions position the value in the person who does the work. It is the power of people that gets the work done.

There is a time and place for hard work and showing off one’s mettle, but not because of some illusory belief that the hard work will manifest greater rewards in some cosmic law of returns.

  • Jamie Saoirse O'Duibhir

    Jamie Saoirse O'Duibhir is an ordained minister and contributor for the ENnie award-nominated project Uncaged Anthology with a BA in Social Science from Shimer College. Jamie does everything while listening to some variety of metal, folk, or Disney Showtunes.