Hustle till you make it? Reddit's co-founder says putting work above all else could be 'toxic'

Hustle till you make it.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian recently slated the hustling culture — the idea of prioritizing work ahead of all else — as “toxic,” saying that it could be holding back young entrepreneurs, rather than helping them succeed and live well.

“This idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough … this is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now,” the 35-year-old said at Web Summit 2018 in Lisbon earlier this month.

“Hustle porn,” as Ohanian called it, is distracting young entrepreneurs from good work, and reinforcing the notion that you must be completely devoted to a company to be successful, he went on to say.

Ohanian has previously been candid about his struggle with physical and mental well-being during Reddit’s early days, and has said that was often the result of pushing himself too hard.

“As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy ‘crushing it’ that physical health, let alone mental health, is an afterthought for most founders. It took me years to realize that the way I was feeling — when working on Reddit was the only therapy I had — was depression,” he wrote in a blog post for his venture capital firm’s website earlier this year.

The scene Ohanian paints about the constantly striving culture prevalent in the tech scene may not be an exaggeration.

Recently, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told employees that the tech giant was “not too big to fail” and in order to keep moving forward, the company has to stay hungry and “obsess over customers” instead of “focus(ing) on ourselves.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has long held to the mantra of “move fast and break things.”

So how can you strike the balance between working hard and living well? CNBC Make It gathered tips from experts to find out.

First, decide what are the activities that align with your priorities in life and make those your “non-negotiables,” said marketing expert and consultant Lara McCulloch with 20 years of experience.

“The mistake that most people have is that they don’t define their values and what’s important to them. They don’t sit down and think about what they want their life to look like now and in the near future,” said McCulloch, who is a fractional chief marketing officer at consulting firm READY2SPARK.

The problem with hustling, she went on to say, is not that it values hard work or ambition, but that it perpetuates the belief that there are no boundaries for someone pursuing success. Such behavior might have negative effects on other aspects of someone’s life.

“When you’ve consciously designed your life, you need to be clear about your non-negotiables,” she said. “What are the things that you can do every day that support how you want to feel? Those are the most important activities, because they feed you — your energy, your happiness, your drive. Those non-negotiables need to be scheduled first and vehemently protected.”

A career is a marathon, not a sprint. Hustling may not be such a bad thing in the short term, when there is a clear finish line, but you should be careful not to let it become a lifestyle, said McCulloch.

Working diligently on a project or a short-term goal can be quite satisfying, especially when it aligns with your values and fulfills your vision, she said. However, when the long hours spent are not purposeful, it could result in a constant state of working in overdrive, she explained.

The word hustle signals “a belief that success is tied to busy-ness, long hours, hard work,” said McCulloch. “As a result, many become a slave to their business or the business they serve. The end goal eludes them and so they’re told that the answer is to hustle harder. A perpetual hustle loop.”

In the pursuit of success, it’s important to ensure you set aside time each day to have better health, explained podcast host and best-selling author, Lewis Howes, in his video “advice I would give to my 25 year old self.”

Having good physical and mental health can help one to better tackle the obstacles and make a mark in their desired fields, he said.

“Health is one of the keys to being successful in business. Without a healthy body and a healthy mind, you’re going to struggle,” he explained.

One step toward that goal is to cut back your use of devices, said Howes.

“Disconnect from your phone, disconnect from your computer, and focus on being in nature. Walking, moving, working out,” he said. “We are active human beings that are supposed to move, walk, not just sit and be hunched over a screen all day long.”

Finally, when facing challenging times, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The hustling culture may appear to dismiss the idea, but sometimes it’s the best way to move forward, Reddit’s Ohanian explained.

“When you’re struggling, talk to someone,” he said at the Web Summit. “It can be a professional, a family member, or even a stranger can be helpful in getting you into a better headspace.”

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— CNBC’s Eugene Kim contributed to this article

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Lara McCulloch works at consulting firm READY2SPARK.

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