Sorry, What Are We Hustling For Again?

by be.

It’s 4:30am in Toronto and for about 100 reasons I should be asleep. But I’m not. By most social media measures I’m up “hustling”, “grinding” and “getting it in”. Because if I’m not out partying and posting pics of the popular forms of people pollution, I must be working. I mustn’t be relaxing, resting or watching television since that would mean I’m like a regular person with a regular job whose main concern isn’t getting rich off of their passions and crafts. Yes, I’m awake because of work. But don’t be fooled, I’m not awake because I love what I’m doing. At least not anymore.

I read something once about a rich man who decided he’d trade in his yacht and lavish living for a life of minimalism; a life where he would neither spend nor earn a dollar. By the end of the read, (which was longer than 140 characters) I genuinely felt as though this man was happy. He seemed to understand that his human calling was the pursuit of happiness rather than the pursuit of riches which would somehow transfer to the ability to purchase products that provided pleasure. And I couldn’t help but think of when I was 12, sitting in my dads van while he drove and being asked what I was going to do with myself. “I want to be a writer”, I told him. And I genuinely meant that. That, since I was 9 or 10 years old, was my dream – to write. “A writer? You won’t make any money being a writer”, he replied. At 12 I seemed to reflect in the same way the former yacht owner did as I answered my dad’s skepticism with, “I don’t care about getting paid. I don’t care if I live in a hut. As long as I can write and have enough money for a bowl of rice I’ll be happy”.

5 years later when I had my daughter my dad brought this story up to me and asked what my thoughts were about what I said. “I still feel the same”, I told him, “I’ll just need enough money for 2 bowls of rice now”. To this day my dad still brings up that conversation. And to this day I still struggle with what I’ve done with that dream of mine. It’s not the writing part that bothers me quite as much as me forgetting that at one point riches meant nothing to me and happiness was an internal projection rather than an exhibition to the public.

With the help of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I’ve been able to reach the eyes of people who support the work that I do and the story I have to tell. The support seems genuine and the affect of the substance behind the products I make an effort to provide feels positive. These platforms have also given me exposure to people I look up to greatly, who, thanks to my social anxiety, I may have never had the chance to meet or speak to, let alone do work for. My focus has always been on the “media” aspect of these “social” circles, considering the internet to be the virtual Times Square for these scalable billboards that cost me nothing but time and a bit of effort to market on. And thankfully, it’s worked. But with that opportunity comes the inability for me as someone who is steady on my business to completely shut it down when I’ve decided enough is enough. It’s not that I can’t. It’s that if I do, suddenly my business and in turn my means of living become disconnected from those who are paying for the show to go on. That, paired with this feeling that I’m suddenly not doing what I do because I love it anymore, I’m doing it because it’s what I’m somehow expected to do it and it may be my ticket to the “American (see: Canadian) Dream”, is the reason I crash between the idea of living for happiness or working for money.

I can’t deny the joy that’s come along with pursuing the other dream I had at 12 years old – to work for a clothing line. I’ve known since before I was a teenager that that’s what I wanted to do and I’ve worked very hard to get to the point where owning my own brand has become my main source of income. After my first solo art exhibit in 2011 I decided not to go back to working a comfortably paying job as a designer and art director in the ad industry in exchange for the lead role in my own “How To Make It In Canada” reality show. (Note: It’s not a real show. At least not yet). After 2 years of “hustling”, “grinding” and “getting it in”, the scales began tipping from doing what I love and getting paid a bit, to doing what I started to hate and getting paid a little bit more. And for the most part, gone went the joy. By most standards shared by my circle and those supporting my efforts I was somehow “living the life”. But I wasn’t and am still not happy. The efforts aren’t matched with the rewards. And the exhausting grind has yet to “pay off”.

So what’s the answer? Well, obviously when I’m successful enough I won’t have to grind in the same way I do now. I won’t have to be designing at 4:30am (now 5:00am), as I’ll have people around to do that for me. I won’t have to be worried about sacrificing my creative integrity to pay my rent because at the level of global success my circle of supporters tend to think I’m bound for I’ll own my home, my car, my dog and the park I walk him in. The answer is, “To get paid”. The answer is, “To make money”. The answer is, “To get rich”. And the question I pose to those Jeopardy answers is, “What did I care about the least when I was 12 and had a dream about what I wanted to do with myself?”.

Far too frequently I find myself trying to figure out how to make more and more money rather than thinking about how to make better art. I find myself talking about the cost of my ideas rather than the pay-off that comes with completing creative projects. I get clouded by the race to being rich rather than gaining clarity from the exhilaration of being expressive. This is not what I signed up for. And this is not the note I want to see myself sign off on.

I live in the biggest small city on the planet it seems; in a place where the buildings give us the delusion that we’re like New York and the women give us the delusion that we’re like L.A.. But outside of surface area, not the population nor the money to spend comes remotely close to either of those cities let alone the entire country just south of here. So it’s hard to get rich with your feet so planted and I keep saying to myself that success is just a “get the fuck out of Toronto” away. I guess only if the measure is money more than happiness and unfortunately my reality keeps weighing me on that scale.

One of my favourite lessons I’ve learned came from watching Winnie The Pooh with my daughter. A few of the characters got lost in The 100 Acre Woods trying to find home. When Pooh noticed they kept finding themselves back at the same sandpit, he said, “We have been looking for home, but we keep finding this sandpit. Maybe if we start looking for this sandpit, we will find our way home”. I don’t know that I want to do this anymore, this “trying to make it” thing. I’m not certain that working a life trying to get rich is more valuable to me than living a life trying to be happy. And it’s not a “mo’ money, mo’ problems” problem. It’s about who amuses the clown and who cures the doctor. It’s about finding out what you do to heal you. Evidently it’s what led to how MA$E “screwed up”, how Lauryn Hill went “nuts” and arguably why Dave Chappelle is happier than most comedians in the world. And I’m quite content with the thought, at least right now, half asleep while my workload piles, that I can leave this all alone against the better judgement of those who too are chasing a Western World Dream, in order to finally feel happy with life rather than thinking about how happy my life would be if I could just buy it all back.

Sometime ago there was something fanciful in our minds about “doing what we wanted” for a living. Whatever that was, we need to remind ourselves of it when responsibility to conform outweighs our instinctive response to create. Because great riches at the expense of sacrificed art is rarely better than sacrificing riches to be an expressly great artist. And if that means leaving everything you’ve “hustled” and “grinded” for in order to stop chasing the detour your responsibilities have created for you, then maybe it’s better that we get lost. Maybe it’s better that we search for the sandpit or live in a hut and leave the yacht at shore for someone who cares either a little bit more about money or a little bit less about dreams that mirror mine. Because a shepherd doesn’t get rest counting his sheep. And maybe that’s how we’ll find our way to some place that feels remotely like home and maybe then we can find better reason to sleep, or rest, or watch television like someone with a regular job and an extraordinary understanding of the meaning of their lives. When your pleasure is in the prize more than the process you’re doing for profession more than for passion. I think it’s time we earn the time to relax.

- Bryan 'be.' Espiritu