Essays & Confessions / Living

Rachel Hollis & The Myth Of Hustling Your Way To Success

By Tuesday, April 13, 2021

In case you missed it, author and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis came under fire this week after sharing some (tone-deaf) thoughts on privilege, ambition, and perseverance. 

So, what did Rachel Hollis say to upset people? 

Hollis took to TikTok after she and a follower exchanged a back-and-forth during a Livestream. The follower called the entrepreneur “privileged AF” after she shared that she has a housekeeper — or as she put it, “a lady who cleans my toilets” — come to her home twice a week. Quick to defend herself, she said, “You’re right, I’m super freaking privileged. But also… I work my ass off.” 

As the story goes, the follower quipped back by telling Hollis she is “unrelatable.” I guess sis (truly, her using the word “sis” was one of the cringiest moments of the whole video) thought she would reclaim the word ‘unrelatable’ “like every woman in history who was unrelatable” eventually sharing that “literally everything I do is to live a life that is unrelatable.” In a subsequent (and now deleted) Instagram post, she listed “unrelatable” women like Harriet Tubman, Frida Khalo, RBG, and Amelia Earheart, with whom she apparently has things in common. 

Like Erin Condren, Sharon Osbourne, and other celebrities before her, Hollis has issued a statement and is retreating from social media to “listen and learn.” Though I imagine this will inspire an apology tour before expiring to old news, I keep thinking about the millions of us, myself included, who have had to spend years rinsing the pink-washed capitalism ideals from our heads and learn that there is no self-fulfillment or women empowerment when we kneel at the altar of “#HustleHarder.”

“I keep thinking about the millions of us who’ve spent years rinsing the pink-washed capitalism ideals from our heads, only to learn that there is no self-fulfillment or women empowerment when we kneel at the altar of #HustleHarder.”

And I wonder how many of us would have agreed with Hollis, say, five years ago. The rhetoric she spewed isn’t that of “one bad (privileged) apple.” Frankly, I think if this was happening in 2015, the comments under this video would be applauding Hollis, anointing her as a chosen #girlboss meant to lead women to their best lives. So if we’re beginning to know better, why are so many still not doing better? 

Hollis’ words and their parallels to neoliberal feminism 

There’s plenty of fodder buzzing around the Internet about her hypocrisy and that this isn’t the first time Hollis has had to apologize for speaking out of turn. But I think there’s a larger conversation to be had as well. Impressively and unbeknownst to the Girl, Stop Apologizing author, she was able to epitomize all that is corrupt, hollow, and exhausting about neoliberal feminism, white feminism, and girlboss culture in under one minute:

“She cleans my house. She cleans the toilets.” (And continuing to mention that her housekeeper cleans toilets.) 

Akin to when Kelly Osbourne made her toilet comment, Hollis was clear to belittle her housekeeper’s occupation to a singular task and a task that some would find “smelly.” She could have explained that her housekeeper allows her the luxury of time or does a better job keeping the home tidy. But rather than give credit to her housekeeper and her contribution to the efficiency of her business or home’s operation, she was quick to highlight the very task that she is “too hardworking to do.” The task that she believes she’s above doing. (Which, hello, I’m sure your housekeeper is working just as hard and starting her days early too.) 

“Hollis could have explained that her housekeeper allows her the luxury of time or just does a better job keeping the home tidy, altogether. But rather than give credit to her housekeeper and her contribution to the efficiency of her business or home’s operation, she was quick to highlight the very task that she, Hollis, is ‘too hardworking to do.’”

This particular idea of career prestige is something I’ve thought about quite a bit over the last several years. I remember growing up and saying things like, “If I don’t pass this class, I’m going to be working at McDonald’s one day.” As if working at McDonald’s is something to be ashamed of. It’s a comment that would make me wince today. Still, it doesn’t excuse or change the fact that I, just like Rachel Hollis and millions of other American teenagers, grew up believing that all jobs carried a varying level of prestige. And further, that there was a correlation between how smart you were and the job you occupied; how talented you were, and the industry you landed in; how hardworking you were, and the amount of money you made. The message internalized by us all was: you alone decide your fate, and if you don’t like where you are, it’s because you’re either too dumb, too average, or too lazy.

“The message internalized by us all was: you alone decide your fate, and if you don’t like where you are, it’s because you’re either too dumb, too average, or too lazy.”

I’m curious if this internalized messaging has left so many of us with crippling imposter syndrome. Do we all feel like frauds when we achieve success or land a new position because we know that despite what cues society tells us, we didn’t just get smarter, more extraordinary, or incredibly ambitious overnight; we applied the skill set we had to the opportunities we saw. 

Rachel applied her skill set of persuasion and influence toward the world of blogging; her housekeeper applied her skill of detail-orientation and customer service toward domestic support for celebrities. Neither tells us if or how hardworking they are, but we live in a culture where if your job isn’t desirable, “you’re not hustling hard enough.”

“What made you think I wanted to be relatable?”

Maybe because that’s your whole f*cking brand, Rachel. 

“Rachel applied her skill set of persuasion and influence toward the world of blogging; her housekeeper applied her skill of detail-orientation and customer service toward domestic support for celebrities.”

A friend recommended her books to me a couple of years ago because Hollis was the “hot mess we could all relate to.” I was given a title to Google, Girl, Stop Apologizing, and her book sits in my Audible library now. Though I never felt particularly pulled to her message, I understood as a consumer who she was (or at least trying to be): the girl next door who’s just as screwed up as you but wanted more for her life. And let’s change your life along the way too! 

Because I was curious if her branding had evolved since listening to her book, I went to her YouTube page. Videos entitled “How I Went From Fast Food to a Healthy Lifestyle” and “End of Semester Motivation” fill her recent channel feed. For someone who “doesn’t want to be relatable,” her content is certainly geared toward those of us with pretty everyday lives. 

But when I push against the idea more, it makes me question how much of a slippery slope when we think about, cultivate, and profit from our personalities. Before I get much further, I am not suggesting that public figures should ditch the idea of having a personal brand. I understand the power that comes with understanding your “thing” and knowing who you’re speaking to. I just wonder at what point are we, or the public figure in question, living in a warped reality of life? 

Here are just a few of the surrounding questions I have:

Where is the line between connection and manipulation between an influencer and a follower? 

Where is the boundary between being in the public eye and being a role model? 

How much do our influencers or celebrities “owe” us apologies and political correctness, if at all? 

What psychological damage are we inflicting on everyone around us, including ourselves, when we become the product we’re selling? Or when we become the product others want to boycott? 

Let’s take Rachel Hollis, for example. Part of the backlash she’s receiving is her blatant admission of wearing a mask and not wanting to be relatable despite profiting off such a facade for years. Though I’m not a loyal follower myself, I can imagine that it’s disappointing, perhaps jarring, to feel duped by someone who isn’t at all the person they portrayed. From what I’m reading, many people invested money, time, and energy into her brand and clung to her words.

While I suppose it’s her prerogative to be “unrelatable,” it reminds me of how little solidarity there is among the working class. We have this person — let’s strip her of her race, gender, class, and influencer status for a moment — we have a person who profits off of us, the working class, and turns around and says she wants to be nothing like us. Furthermore, she doesn’t seem to imply that she wants to take us with her. To her, we are a pink-washed pawn in her game toward billionaire status.  I think this could be my biggest issue with the neoliberal feminist community. You don’t want to smash the patriarchy; you want to dress it up with flags, cool fonts, and hashtags. You don’t want to challenge the system we are all enslaved to; you want to be a master on your plantation of girlbosses.

“I think this could be my biggest issue with the neoliberal feminist community. You don’t want to smash the patriarchy; you want to dress it up with flags, cool fonts, and hashtags. You don’t want to challenge the system we are all enslaved to; you want to be a master on your plantation of girlbosses.”

“No, sis.” 

I mean, my god. The woman is now using a popular term, sis, of the AAVE, likely to seem current and ahem, relatable, but it’s all so wrong. Before we even get to the conversation of cultural appropriation, gatekeeping, and who can say what, she obliterated the word by missing its meaning altogether. 

“Sis” is most commonly reserved for those you care for, love, or are close to. Though it can be used in a condescending tone, it’s typically a term of endearment or a way to say, “I see you.” I use the word only with close friends and do not use it with any of my white friends. Nor do my white friends call me “sis.” But Hollis says the word with the same tone she’d use if talking to the store manager when trying to return something without the receipt. She spoke down to this person and added the term as a “know your place — it’s below me.” She misused the word on every level.

“’Sis’ is most commonly reserved for those you care for, love, or are close to. She misused the word on every level.”

And then she dared to compare her “unrelatable” lifestyle to Harriet Tubman. (*cricket concert*) 

Again, this is why her entire video depicts the toxicity of white feminism so effortlessly. White feminism avoids and denies intersectionality. It focuses on feeling attacked and hijacking a narrative until comfortable. It’s about how their struggles “are so similar” to those of women of color. And though I believe so many white feminists strive to educate themselves and do better (and succeed in doing so), people like Rachel Hollis want the applause for trying but don’t want the discomfort of real growth. 

“Most people won’t work this hard. Most people won’t get up at 4 AM.”

Next, she’s going to tell me how I have as many hours in the day as Beyonce. There’s plenty to examine here, but the chord she struck in me was the glorification of overworking and her misunderstanding that “making history” and being privileged isn’t one in the same. 

I’ve written at length and have a whole podcast dedicated to the cancer that is hustle culture. We’re all trying to live a fulfilling life in the throes of a capitalist battleground; the last thing we need is women pretending that the way to “victory” is to just “hustle harder.” Sure, it dismisses the conversation of privilege, but also, most of us are f*cking exhausted and deserve to rest. Too few of us are content and deserve to be OK with where we are now. I’m sick of influencers hustle-shaming us “relatable people” into burnout and workaholism.

I’m sick of influencers hustle-shaming us “relatable people” into burnout and workaholism.

Jazmine has been a contributing writer for The Financial Diet since 2015. While her spending habits have changed over the years, her advocacy work surrounding social change and mental health has not. She hopes her writing and activism can empower all women to occupy their space at work — and everywhere else. Outside of TFD, Jaz (as she likes to be called) is a career coach, full-time writer, and a plant + dog mom residing in Dallas, Texas. She spends her “fun money” on trips to Trader Joe’s, throw pillows, and white wine. You can follow her Target shopping adventures here, and learn more about her at JazmineReedClark.com.

Image via Youtube

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