As a society, we are heading for a crisis point. We’re pumped up on articles that tell us there’s a template for being happy, and there are 10 characteristics we need if we want to be millionaires, and we have to hustle 24/7 if we want to succeed, and we can’t sleep past 5 am.
The same influencers and bloggers and survivalist bias fanatics are telling us we also need to find inner peace, and we need to meditate, that material things don’t really matter, and that there’s a competing set of 10 characteristics we need to have if we want to be “mindful”. Then there are the self-improvement apps, Fitbits, and dashboards for your steps, heart rate, hopes, dreams, and self-actualisation.
The more I’ve consumed all this stuff, the more I’ve struggled. We’re sold overwork as a positive in the same breath that we’re sold mindfulness. The internet has become a weird, mutated Zen shopping mall, where money and anti-materialism, overwork and downtime, inner peace and stress and endless hustle are all packaged up as a part of a new enlightenment.
It’s a contradiction; somewhere in the past year, it’s stopped making sense. It’s stopped making sense to idolise 120-hour work weeks while battling guilt over how much time I spend meditating. It’s stopped making sense to me that we share stories about founders sleeping under their desks as though it’s a behaviour to emulate while pushing the Instagram aesthetics of yoga and perfect skin.
This contradiction is causing real harm. Many of us stretch ourselves too thin as we try to reconcile these mixed messages of overwork and inner peace, hustle and mindfulness. Rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout are rising across generations. We feel pressure to do and be everything all at once.
Behind this contradiction is a deeper issue: the commodification of perfection. Influencers, gurus, and apps sell us on a promise of the perfect life — perfect health, perfect productivity, perfect happiness. It’s a consumerist trap that sets the bar impossibly high, then offers products and hacks to inch us fractionally closer to that bar. But the truth is, the perfect life does not exist. Humans are inevitably flawed, messy, and inconsistent. And when we buy into an ideal of perfection, we feel constant inadequacy, exhaustion from chasing ever-higher standards, and loss of meaning.
The notion that we can spend our way to the ideal state of being should end with the last generation of social media and influence. It’s a shallow promise built on marketing, not meaning, teaching us that if we just buy the right products, implement the right rituals, and tweak our lifestyles, we’ll unlock perfect happiness, fulfilment, and success.
The brands and gurus keep telling us that perfection is attainable if we devote ourselves more completely. So we stretch ourselves thinner and thinner, trying to reach that bar. We hustle harder, grind longer hours, fill our free time with side hustles, and immerse ourselves in rituals of optimization. When we inevitably fall short of perfection, we are plagued by self-criticism, anxiety, and impostor syndrome. Still, we cling to the promise that fulfilment is just one more productivity hack, one more meditation retreat, and one more journal away.
But here’s the truth — the ideal state we seek cannot be bought or sold. It cannot be neatly packaged. It’s not a peak to reach but a practice, an imperfect and lifelong process unique to each of us. It certainly doesn’t involve hustling harder or spending more.
If we want to survive and thrive as a society, we have to let go of these contradictory messages. It doesn’t serve us to run faster while simultaneously trying to find inner peace. Our humanity demands that we choose balance and sustainability over the relentless push for more. We need to re-centre our focus on meaning, purpose, and caring for each other, not merely increase productivity and wealth.
The solution lies in embracing our flaws. Rather than endlessly trying to optimize, we can focus on doing the best we reasonably can each day. We can set goals aligned with our values rather than the importance of productivity gurus. We can celebrate incremental progress while accepting setbacks and limitations with self-compassion.
On an individual level, we have agency. We can opt out of the comparison game, get off the hamster wheel of more, and instead direct our limited time and energy toward what matters. We can live with imperfection — and even appreciate the beauty in flaws. There is no shame in clocking off at 5 pm, taking all your vacation days, or setting boundaries around work to prioritise other areas of life. We can give ourselves the gift of learning to be happily human.
In my view, we need to critically examine this “hustle culture” we’ve created and its impact on our wellbeing. We need conversations about reasonable workloads, appropriate, non-commercial self-care, and a redefinition of what success looks like. We need public discussions about the filters we use to portray curated lives and the unhealthy benchmarks for productivity and balance. And we should question the influencers and media outlets that glorify extreme hustle without showing the whole picture.
The commodification of perfection has led our society down an unhealthy road. But we have the power to choose another path — one of self-acceptance, sustainable balance, and meaning rooted in authenticity. It begins with the understanding that perfection does not exist and should never be the goal. As flawed, vulnerable human beings, we can support each other in doing the best we reasonably can — and recognise that our best is always good enough. We open the door to lasting well-being by shifting the narrative to compassion over competition and progress over perfection. The choice is ours.