Hustle is the most overused, misunderstood word on the Internet right now. It sounds a bit like an axe body spray flavor with everybody constantly "hustlin'" and attributing quotes that sound like Rick Ross to Abraham Lincoln on Instagram.
We tend to think hustle means "work harder," or "chase every opportunity all at once in every possible direction." But real hustle is an act of focus, not frenzy.
You have to say "no" as often as you say "yes," when you hustle, but how do you know which opportunities you should pursue? How do you avoid the wrong ones and jump into the right ones? How do you make sure you don't make a fool of yourself in front of 500 people while wearing a tuxedo?
That last one didn't happen to you? Just me? OK then, allow me to explain.
I once co-hosted a gala at the historic Fox Theater in Atlanta. At the end of the night, I tried to invite my co-host back up to close the evening. From backstage, she refused to join me in the spotlight. She kept shaking her head "no" and staring over my shoulder. Finally, I turned to see what she was looking at. Standing next to me was the last performer of the night, someone I had forgotten to announce.
In that moment I froze and forgot her name. I was faced with a dilemma, do I just announce her by what she does? "Ladies and Gentlemen, Spoken Word!" Or do I wing her name? Give it the old college try?
I decided to go with the second option, essentially ad-libbing her name and proceeded to shout into the microphone. "Please give a warm welcome to Amani Brown!"
As she walked by me, a kind smile on her face, I remembered that her name was actually Amena not Amani.
What I learned that night is that I suck at hosting events. I can't do it to save my life. People think that just because I speak at companies, colleges and conferences that that I can move the night along as an emcee but they are mistaken. Hosting an event is a completely different craft from speaking at an event and involves sequence, something I am horrible at.
So now I say no to opportunities like that because hustling on the wrong thing just gets you in the wrong place faster.
Knowing when to say yes and no is the key to hustle discernment. If you don't have an easy time with that naturally, ask yourself these questions when faced with an opportunity:
1. Where will this lead?
If this goes well, what will happen as a result? For example, I was asked during the writing of my new book, "Do Over," to host an event promoting the town I live in. The mayor was going to be there and members of the media. I said no. Why? Because if it went well I would get invited to more hosting gigs. And I'd establish for a whole new group of people, "When you need a host, think of Jon Acuff!" I'd get more hosting opportunities, which is not what I want. If it went poorly, and it would have, I would have exposed a whole new group of people to the idea that, "Jon Acuff sure does stink at sequence on stage!" That's lose-lose.
2. What will I lose if I say yes?
We never tend to ask this question. Instead we say, "What will I lose if I say no?" That's only part of the equation because to say yes to one thing is to say no to another. It's easy to see that booking myself to host that event would prevent me from doing a different event that same night that might have been more in line with my career aspirations.
3. What other things will I have to say yes to if I say yes to this one?
Our yes is never an isolated event. It always brings cousins to the party. I worked in branding for 16 years and whenever a client wanted me to do something extra for free they always said the same thing, "It's just a quick tweak, won't take you long at all!" That was code for "Here comes three weeks of tasks and a laundry list of out of scope work if you say yes to this one thing." My one yes always multiplied like a rabbit into other yeses. If you say yes to one thing, will there be other things you have to say yes to as well?
It's fun to say yes. It's hard to say no.
The reason we tend to say yes to the wrong things is fear. I'm afraid that if I say no, I'll never get asked again. If I turn down an opportunity, all other opportunities for the rest of my life will dry up. People will never work with me again because I dared to say no.
I know logically none of those fears is true but in the quietness of a decision, those fears get loud. To deal with that fear I usually do two things. I ask myself, "What am I really afraid of?" If the answer is "Never getting another speaking engagement again because I say no to one," then I know fear has the wheel and I leg sweep it Cobra Kai style. The truth is that about 75 percent of the time, when I say no to a gig, the client comes back and offers to change the event in a way that works better for both of us. Saying no can work in your favor that way.
The second thing I do is refuse to look back. You can't say no to an opportunity and then follow it on Facebook like a scorned boyfriend to see how cool the next person it's dating is. Dreaming about a door you shut is a nightmare.
If you're going to hustle, you're going to scare some opportunities out of the bramble of your life. Be ready when you do.
Hustle the right way.
Aim for focus, not frenzy.
Commentary by Jon Acuff, author of "Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck." He's worked with some of the world's biggest brands including Home Depot, Staples and Bose. Read his blog at Acuff.me and follow him on Twitter @JonAcuff.