The Definition of “Hustle”

hustleWhat do you think of when you hear the word “hustle”?

Do you think of a hard worker, or someone who is out to cheat you out of your money?

When I was a kid, my dad used to have this plaque above his desk. Engraved in brass, mounted on wood, it was called, simply, “WHAT IS HUSTLE?”:


Hustle is doing something that everyone is absolutely certain can’t be done.

Hustle is getting commitment because you got there first, or stayed with it after everyone else gave up.

Hustle is shoe leather and elbow grease and sweat and missing lunch.

Hustle is getting prospects to say “yes” after they’ve said “no” twenty times.

Hustle is doing more unto a customer than the other guy can do unto him.

Hustle is believing in yourself and the business you’re in.

Hustle is the sheer joy of winning.

Hustle is being the sorest loser in town.

Hustle is hating to take a vacation because you might miss a piece of the action

Hustle is heaven if you’re a hustler.

Hustle is hell if you’re not.

I was raised in a home where hard work was rewarded, and laziness was punished. Promptness, efficiency, and professionalism were characteristics that were instilled in me from before I was even 10. It’s probably why I am the person that I am now – always working on multiple projects, never really understanding how to sit still.

The funny thing is that lately, when I hear people mention the word “hustle,” the connotation is not the same. It’s become associated with prostitutes, pimps, grifters, and scam artists. The name of the game in this new-millenium “hustle” is how well you can do the con; how well you can get some stranger to part with his cash. It has little to do with getting up early, working hard, and deserving the rewards you receive – whether it be cash or otherwise.

My dilemma, as a result, is how to define “hustle” as it was when I was a kid. I can’t use “hustle” in the way it was initially intended – if I say that I “hustle,” then the reaction is usually not positive. I most certainly can’t (or don’t want to) use “hustle” to describe someone – in this day and age, with drama the way it can be, word may spread that I am not complimenting someone, but rather being derogatory.

Words change over time, generations, and cultural lines. At one point in time, “The Hustle” was even a dance move (as you can see above). These days, the proper pronunciation is apparently “huss-la” and not “huss-ler.” Every culture, generation, and age group has their own definition of “hard work.” But somehow in my mind, it’s not really “hard work” when you’re trying to scam people out of their money instead of working diligently, intelligently, morally, and ethically.

Or maybe I’m just getting old…who knows.

So, what do you think of when you hear the word “hustle”?