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It’s not hard to find someone who works two or three jobs in order to live. It’s the American Hustle. We hear a lot about the ever constant “hustle”.

We work side hustles after coming home from a long day at work. Doing several jobs to cobble together a living. It can be hard, but in a society of stagnant wages, high costs of living and big student loan bills, it’s the clear thing to do.  Hustling to survive.

When the world constantly feels like it’s knocking us down, we race to find any comfort that will take us away from the pain. Comfort, it’s such a joyous bliss to be in. However, it has different sides to it. While it gives us bliss in making a new norm, it keeps us trapped from any outside perspective.

Advertisements tell us how we want to feel. They know we feel overworked and frustrated. They sell us the ideas of comfort in the form of new cars, over the top vacations, and general excess. Don’t let society tell you what you need, only you know what you need.

Our work ethic and drive gets beaten down and twisted. It’s morphed by societal tendencies to tell us we work to afford all the things that will make life wonderful. A new car because you deserve it! A big, spacious house with two living rooms because you deserve it! This Amazon purchase because you deserve it!

“Because you deserve it”. It’s a dangerous little phrase.

When you choose to do your hard work, without an external reward waiting on a string in front of you, people get shocked and confused. Advertisements and what most everyone else is doing influences us so much that being motivated and doing hard work without buying something afterward is strange. Motivation and determination are strange. Have motivation and hustle because it makes you better, not because it helps you get some kind of consumer good.

Throughout my life, people never understood why I had such motivation to do things. They didn’t understand why I started taking college classes when I was 15. They didn’t understand why I chose to complete my 4-year bachelor’s degree in 2.5 years. They didn’t understand why I was in such a hurry to pay off my student loans.

They didn’t understand.

When you’re used how things are usually done, doing something different doesn’t feel right. Societal expectations, whether we want to admit it or not, plays a factor in our decision making at one point or another. We don’t want to be looked at as weird or ostracized. Our comfort zones nurture us and keep out any new perspective.

When I was 18 years old, I was faced with a situation. I didn’t have enough financial aid to cover all my college costs. I did have a job but it wouldn’t have been enough to pay for an apartment or an overpriced college dorm room.

I had to make a decision. I chose to live in my car my first year of college. A 2003 Ford Focus I had bought when I was 17, with money I had saved up from working as a dishwasher at a BBQ restaurant.

A year later, I wrote about it in an article for USA Today College. The story went viral. Several news outlets picked it up, I started getting calls for interviews and quotes. One of the top questions people asked me was my motivation behind why I did it.

I didn’t really have an answer besides “Uh, well I wanted to go to college, and I didn’t have money for a place, so…”

The seed of motivation and drive 

The more I think about it now, I can see where my ‘why’ has come from: My Grandpa and mom.

My grandpa, on my mother’s side, was born in 1912. In his early twenties, he got a job in a post office doing cleaning work. It wasn’t glamorous and the other post office workers frequently made his inferiority to them known. Both in the employment and in life. He made sure to focus on his work and do his best. During his shifts, he would watch the maintenance workers do their work. After watching how they did their work, he was able to start helping on the tasks. He moved up in his job.

Despite the advancements in employment, he still always felt disconnected from the illustrious ‘American Dream’. He didn’t get all the opportunities available to other Americans. People looked down on him. He was separated from others. It was because he was a black man, working through the 1930’s and beyond.

Being biracial, I’ve always been shown from an early age just how powerful societal notions can be.

As my mom grew up during the 1950’s and 60’s, my grandpa would tell her about all the things that made up the American dream. The nice house with a picket fence and green lawn. The good jobs middle-class Americans got. The extras they were able to afford.

When he and my mom would drive around the city and pass by the nice houses, she would exclaim about how she would live in one one day. “No” he would tell her softly. People like them didn’t get to have those things.

My mom held it with her. As she made her way into adulthood, she joined the Army and got her college paid for. She earned two master’s degrees. She went after the things my grandpa said she would never be able to have.

She bought and bought and bought. Fi, st it was the nice cars. Then it was nice clothes. After a while, she was able to get the big house she had always wanted. I would always hear the fascination in my mom’s voice whenever she bought yet another thing.

Being black and born in the 1950’s, experiencing segregation and racism, she thought she would never have all the things that made up the “American Dream”. As I grew up, she would tell me how she was proving her dad wrong. She was rising up in society. At a whopping 5,640 square feet, people fawned over how big and beautiful our house was.

Originally a lot smaller, my mom enlisted the carpentry expertise of my dad and had us do home renovations and add-ons almost every year. There was something that always needed to be added. A large master bath because she had seen it a Home Living magazine. An addition with 14 foot high ceilings because she had remembered seeing one from her childhood.

There is always a need for more

To fund all of the purchases and home renovations, she worked every day at her nursing home business she had started. Every day was spent tending to the business and reaching out to people in order to get more patients in the facility.

She was an entrepreneur and she loved her business. Building it up was something she is still most proud of doing. However, she felt obligated to continue buying more stuff. She wanted to have the “American Dream” that her dad had said she would never have growing up.

I’m not sure where to line is to show a person has achieved “the American dream”, but my mom seemed to have it. The big house, nice cars, nice clothes, and copious amounts of stuff.

She thought she was happy

Last year, when everything changed. She was diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer. Suddenly, her outlook changed.

Whenever I go home, I sit and talk with her. On the first talk after the diagnosis, she recalled the moments in her life she was most proud of which including hustling to build a better life for herself. A life that society said, statistically, she wouldn’t be able to have. She’s proud going through the army. Going to school and getting two masters degrees. And building a business that she ran for a decade and a half.

Most of all, she said she’s proud of her motivation and hustle to do it all. Her hustle to rise up in life. The American Hustle.

There was something she left out feeling proud about. It was all the stuff she bought that she didn’t really need. Maybe she didn’t need the newest car after all. Maybe those home renovations and add-on’s weren’t necessary.

She cherishes her motivation and hustle. But after all this time, maybe having them within her was all she needed.

As I’ve learned from talking with her, don’t let society tell you what you need. Only you know what you need.

Focus on yourself. Find your why. Go after things and experiences that help build your identity capital. Do stuff that helps you advance yourself rather than just to keep up with the Joneses. 

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Colin // RebelwithaPlan

Colin Ashby is the writer behind Rebel with a Plan, a website dedicated to people who choose to rebel against the norm of living in debt and feeling financially unenlightened. He believes everyone has an eccentric quality to embrace and that lattes are sometimes a necessity (despite what the personal finance community tells you).

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