Hustle & Flow: Finding the Perfect Balance


Are you a “do-er” or a “let-it-be-er?”

Do we even have to pick??

Type As have long been wondering how they can be more zen, at peace, or in the moment without losing their edge or sacrificing their drive.

Go-with-the-flow-ers have been wondering something of the reverse — how they can pursue a drive for achievement without losing a sense of spirituality, or “selling out.”

Hustle may have been the new hashtag, but now we are starting to wonder: is there a downside to too much hustle?

I believe that the answer is far from a simple either/or. And that it is possible to find a balance of hustle and flow.

Hustle = The ability to get shit done. Action-oriented, goal-setting, driven to achieve. Wants the successes. Good at pushing through difficulty. Pitfalls: Thinking that more success or accumulating bigger, better things will make you happier. That the more you achieve, the more worthy you are. Getting stuck peddling the ever-striving hamster wheel so hard that you can never just be at peace with the present. “I basically only sleep three hours a night because I’m constantly working.” (See: burnout.) Slipping from well-intentioned growth mindset, to values driven by ego.

Flow = Effortless action. Ease. Being in the moment. Contentment. Gratitude. Acceptance. Surrender. Doing less, but accomplishing more. Pitfalls: Mistaking surrender for non-action. Using “whatever will be, will be” as an excuse for letting fear stop you from making hard choices or doing scary things. Becoming so lackadaisical that no one can rely upon you for anything. Getting so lost in the clouds of spirituality that you can’t function here on Earth.

How do we balance these two?

I think it’s important to note here that everybody gets to decide for herself where the balance lies and where her values fall. Everyone’s balance will not be the same. Your neighbor may truly love growing her business and setting revenue goals, while you may want nothing more than enough to meet your needs and time to spend in your garden. Neither is wrong.

But getting the balance requires a high dose of self-awareness. Sometimes we can’t see our own blindspots. Where are we avoiding action? Pushing too hard? Making things more complicated than they need to be? Not only do we need a regular good, honest look at ourselves, but sometimes we need outside eyes too. A gentle check-in or reset from someone we trust who can see from the outside. Whether that is a loved one, friend, or therapist… and aided ourselves by journaling, long walks in nature, meditation, or whatever works for you… finding and maintaining that balance of hustle and flow is a process of ongoing check and adjustment.

I have been thinking a lot recently about “inspired action.” Shout out to the marvelous Amanda Frances, whose work on changing mindset around money for women I’ve found incredibly valuable. For myself, I am working on dropping control of the “how” of what I want to achieve. I get clear on what I want, and why. (No scarcity or fear-based whys here… we have to banish the “I want to make X amount of money because then people will think I’m worthy/important/impressive" etc… or “I want a relationship because I don’t want to die alone” … you get the picture.) Then I take an approach of both surrender, and inspired action. Surrender, because I am not in control of how things will unfold. Inspired action, because I can’t just sit on my ass and expect magic to roll up to my feet.

Surrendering the how: this requires a fair amount of trust. Trust that the Universe (or whatever entity is meaningful to you) is taking care of things far beyond my little scope. Trust that even if things don’t seem clear, they will work out. Trust that everything is unfolding exactly as it should. This is a tall order for those whose response to anxiety is to grip more to control. It requires a dance with discomfort (which I have been learning about and believe deeply in). 

Taking inspired action: I am learning about what this means. For me, there is a happy medium somewhere between “totally planned” and “I’m winging the whole fucking thing.” My brain offers input: “here are some ways this might play out, some options, and some ways to cap the downside that I can prepare for.” But the gut… I don’t think we give enough credit to the gut. Frankly, the brain is helpful but often gets the hell in the way. Amanda puts it rather well:

“My job: to be an energetic match for what I desire. To trust. To be clear on what I want. To know I’m being guided. To take inspired action. And to learn the  lessons.

Not my job: Freak out. Force. Control. Manipulate. Over-analyze. [Ooooo, that’s a big one in my world.] Get in my own way. Attach myself to the energy of confusion.”

So good, right? And so I think sometimes, inspired action means following an impulse. Not ignoring all rational thought, but not gripping too tightly to the brain spooling. “Follow your heart, but take your head with you.” If something feels easy to our gut (but scary to our head), maybe we ought to not overcomplicate things too much and just follow the impulse. Remember, risk is the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome. Most things are not actually irreversible. And sometimes impulses don’t make total sense. And that’s ok. We look for a moment of greater clarity, and then we try. We trust the voice that says, “Huh… THAT’S interesting…” Sometimes we’re not giving ourselves permission to act just because it feels right. (“Ugh. Fucking irresponsible,” our judge-y rational mind would say.)

The other problem with hustle & flow, I think, is that we often don’t realize that to balance the two and make sure flow has enough air time, we need some silence and space. That inspired action cannot happen if we always feel: Overwhelmed. Racing around. Exhausted. Stressed. Pressured. Anxious. Spooled up in our heads. Inspired action is like a shy little deer — if we are running around cursing, banging pots and pans, moving fast, muttering to ourself — she’s not coming out. She’s going to stay in the shadows. She’ll be there, but we’ll never be able to see or hear her, because we can’t slow the fuck down.

So for me, during a time of transition in my life, here is what I’m working on. The hustle is: attending a tech bootcamp, where I’m getting a skill I can use to do work that will afford me a particular quality of life and freedom. It’s capping the downside. It’s pushing through shit that is really hard for me and learning things outside my comfort zone.

The flow is: Following the fun. Pursuing joy. Getting clear on my desires. Letting go of the how. Making a practice of getting in touch with what the desires feel like, and practicing those feelings. Quieting my mind in meditation, taking walks in nature. Letting go of negative thought patterns. Allowing myself to dream really big, getting in touch with what that life feels like and how future me behaves and responds. Asking the Universe for guidance. Being ready and willing for something different. Following impulses because they feel right, and not over-thinking it.

So… Are you more prone to the hustle, or are you really good at flow? How do you balance the two? As always, join the conversation here.


Image unknown.