Hustle is in many ways the master virtue of New York City, and especially of Manhattan. So it may come as a bit of a surprise when I say that most of my struggle with this sometimes-virtue, sometimes-vice occurred before moving here.
2008 was a year that required a great deal of hustle from me. I met Catherine, and so began that terribly awkward dance that is what passes for wooing on my part. I got my first non-retail job, 40 miles away from where I was living at the time. I started grad school, which involved two or three night classes a week, more than 40 miles away from where I worked. And at that point, I was living about a half hour drive away from where Catherine was.
There was a lot of time spent on the road. So much so that I moved on from the family car to a brand new one I bought myself. Nevertheless, it was a tiring thing, to drive so very much. I very quickly grew sick of it, though podcasts helped to ease the pain.
Crunched for time on so many sides, I embraced hustle to what was in retrospect an unhealthy degree. My average driving speed, when traffic allowed it, was 80 mph. That was the average, to repeat—I frequently exceeded it. I fought for even inch of gain I could, weaving around slowpokes (by my skewed standard of slowness) without hesitation.
This embrace of hustle went beyond my driving. I would push my way past people into elevators, almost knock people over on the sidewalk, and so on. Got into a couple of nasty spats for no good reason.
I was already in the process of dialing back on this when we came to New York, but coming here actually helped me get to a healthier place in a number of ways. First of all, I was no longer driving regularly, though I’d like to think I would be more responsible and more calm on the road even if I was. Second, it is impossible to be the person with the most hustle in New York City. It just is. It’s a fractally nested hierarchy of hustle. There’s no point trying to be at the top, so you just shouldn’t.
Finally, it became clear to me, as it already had been becoming clear, that unbalanced hustle doesn’t help anyone. Peace of mind matters, and so does being charitable to strangers. Today, for instance, I’m willing to accept a longer commute in order to avoid having to switch trains, or to minimize the amount of times I do so. In the past, I would try and fight for every minute I could get—but in the end I have to ask myself, what’s the point? I’d rather be relaxed and leave a little earlier if I have to than give up my peace of mind to shorten my journey by five or ten minutes. And I don’t want to remember myself as the asshole who knocked someone’s grandmother off her feet so he could achieve his aspirations of being a minute faster.
Hustle is part of New York’s charm and also one of its frustrations. Like all virtues, it must be balanced with the others; such as temperance, prudence, and love.