It's 2:30 a.m. and I can still smell it. It's faint but traceable, no shower could get rid of this particular brand of pheromone. One part sweat, equal parts blood and tears. A dash of desperation mixed with a dollop of hope. A whole heap of tenacity with a splash of cockiness. Humility to taste. Endless cups of imagination and pounds of hard work. A sprinkle of reality almost cancelled out by a smidgen of delusion. That's what hustle is made of. I asked around on Twitter about the smell of hustle and Jack Rogers (@Jackarogers), Operations Manager for the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech says hustle smells "like sweat. Not just any old sweat, but mowing the lawn sweat. On Grandpa's farm. In August with 100% humidity." He should know. He hustles on the side with his new band appropriately called Sweaty Coffee.
A hustle used to be the side gig of some guy outside the Apollo selling knockoff handbags, every fragrance of incense you can imagine or Charles Brown mix tapes just in time for Christmas. I bought one of those tapes this past December so I can tell you hustle is still alive and well in Harlem. And it's always been the lifestyle of a special kind of emerging artist.
But what makes a hustler? Some are born, but most are turned. It takes a backed-in-the-corner situation. Your above-average, talented, hard-working big dreamer who has every confidence in their gift and has never doubted the largeness of their future finds themselves in a situation where the inevitability of that success is suddenly threatened. To an artist on the rise this could be a lost record deal, getting dropped by a big time manager or simply just having a once in a lifetime opportunity snatched away unexpectedly. Then, the hustle hormone activates. Look to today's examples of Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Diddy and the feisty upstart Azealia Banks for proof. The artist feels a jagged edge jutting out from that corner, pressing up against his spine and now he knows firsthand what a do or die moment feels like. He could either be fatally speared by one last rejection or he can simply decide not to believe in corners in the first place. Here's what makes the hustler more hardcore than you:
1. They don't take breaks and they're always on to the next thing. A hustler's wheels turn constantly. She dreams up new possibilities and strategies on a minute-to-minute basis. Sleep is usually the first luxury to go. Holidays are those days they use to get ahead of the rest of the world taking the day off. The Hustler's Motto: One day I will work smarter rather than harder, but I have to get where I'm going first.
2. They see solutions instead of obstacles. This is where that smidgen of delusion comes in. While most of us are blocked by imaginary hurdles we prematurely create in our heads, the hustler always sees and acts on the possibility of possibility. They never allow a lack of resources or education to stop their long-term pursuit. The Hustler's Motto: I call things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:17)
3. They use rejection and failure as fuel and rarely take "No" for an answer. I heard someone say, " "No" doesn't mean "Never," it just means you're not asking the right person!". The hustler's faith in what he's doing is so strong that when he experiences rejection, though it's painful, he doesn't accept it as the truth that his art is unworthy. Proving doubters wrong fuels his next move. The Hustler's Motto: You just wait and see.
4. They shape shift. If a hustling artist starts out as a block of ice and someone tries to box them in they simply melt their way out. As a liquid, if some situation tries to scoop them up and spit them out, they simply evaporate into thin air. They're aware of their surroundings, their fan base and the market and are not only willing, but eager to adapt in order to be crazily successful. The Hustler's Motto: Change is a good thing.
5. They say YES to scary opportunities. They fake it until they make it, they wing it like nobody's business. Because they've tasted failure before, they're no longer deathly afraid of it. They realize that risking failure by saying "yes" to something that could offer life-changing breakthrough has more promise than saying "no" out of fear and always wondering "what if." They say yes first, then figure out how to actually do what they've just committed to doing. Usually, they have an inkling that they'll be mostly great at almost anything they commit to, so deep down the risk is not so big after all. Splash of cockiness, remember?
It's a mixture of chutzpah and handwork, bravado and bravery that infuses the modern-day artist hustler. So what are you made of? Tell me what hustle looks, smells, or tastes like to you. Who's the best example of a modern-day hustler?