I hit burnout hustling my 'a**e off', Molly-Mae – it's not sustainable

At the age of 29, I reached breaking point.

I was in the early stages of pregnancy, while working full-time and as a freelance journalist on the side, as well as simultaneously managing a house move that came with renovation works.

I was burnt out. It got so bad that I was signed off sick just before Christmas and ordered to rest properly. My doctor was clear that this meant no laptop, no work and no pushing myself.

So this week, when I saw the clip of former Love Island star Molly-Mae Hague talking about working her ‘a**e off’ and going to ‘any length’ to get what you want in the future, I felt my eyes roll as it was something I’ve seen and heard before. And I was tired of it.

‘Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day,’ she preached on an episode of the podcast Diary of a CEO last month. It’s the idea that we all have the same amount of time to use, so we should all be able to reach our goals.

While the quote aims to even the playing field and put us all on equal footing, it does anything but. It’s this phrase in particular that has caused widespread backlash, as many rallied against it on social media.

Yes, we all have 24 hours in a day, but not all of us have the same privileges within those precious hours.

This isn’t a new phrase or concept, by any stretch – this ‘work hard, no excuses’ mentality has been floating around for years. But that doesn’t make it any less damaging.

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Hustle. Grind. Put the graft in. All these sayings focus on how we should be pushing ourselves to work harder, and that’s the only way success will ever come. Yet, in a world where more of us are now suffering from fatigue, mental health issues and burnout, surely this mantra is just encouraging us to push too hard?

It’s become commonplace for us to flaunt our weary, worn-out selves as a sign of the hard work we’ve put in to reach optimum success. Hard work is expected, but the idea that success is achieved through constantly working is setting us up for a fall. And a big one at that.

While being aspirational and goal-driven is great, it’s important to know how to manage our expectations. This mentality of working ourselves to the bone to the point we will collapse at our desks as we fight to tick off the todo list and build that entrepreneurial empire is fundamentally wrong. We don’t live to work, and never should.

Plus, there’s a glaring element of advantage in Molly-Mae’s attitude to work.

Yes, she has the same 24 hours that everyone else does, but the influencer and Pretty Little Thing creative director has an army of support behind her. Having that privilege isn’t something we all have.

For Molly-Mae – who has undoubtedly worked hard for her success – it’s not entirely true to say that you can be a creative director at a fashion brand at just 22 years old with a rumoured £500k salary.

The seeming lack of awareness of classism and social mobility is what really adds salt to the wound here. Molly-Mae declared in her podcast appearance that she understands ‘we all have different backgrounds and we’re all raised in different ways and we do have different financial situations, but I think if you want something enough you can achieve it’.

She continued: ‘It just depends to what lengths you want to go to get where you want to be in the future.’ It’s setting those in the hardest of positions up for a fall, as it implies that if they haven’t reached the lofty heights of success, it’s because they simply haven’t worked hard enough.

When I was approaching my own burnout in 2020, the culture I saw on social media – particularly Instagram – was that grafting hard and pushing ourselves to the limit is the only way, and it’s the price we must pay for success.

To have a nice home, good income and happy family life, you had to work to the bone. Or, as Molly-Mae put it, ‘work your a**e off’.

It didn’t take long before the constant work and balance took its toll. At just over three months pregnant, I found myself completely and utterly burnt out.

Physically, my body was tired, I couldn’t handle the long hours at my laptop anymore and I was struggling to eat and sleep properly; which was not just affecting me but my unborn child too. Mentally, I was fractious and exhausted. I cried constantly and found making even the simplest of decisions overwhelming.

So when I was medically ordered, not just to slow down but to stop completely, I was worried.

At first, I thought that everything I had worked so hard for would fall apart. If I wasn’t there putting the hours in, everything would surely come to a standstill. Work, the house renovations, my freelance writing – would all be for nothing. After all, everything I’d seen and been taught to believe meant that if I wasn’t continuously grafting, then it would disappear.

That isn’t what happened.

My employer was understanding and supportive, while encouraging me to take time to get back on my feet. As a result, I was happier and much more productive when I returned. I was able to take on challenges and handle situations that in the past would have caused me to freeze like a rabbit in headlights.

I found that it didn’t matter if we hadn’t finished the house. It would get done when we needed it to. My freelance writing – that had always been for fun – went back to being something I did when I wanted to.

I was much happier, and more importantly, I was healthier. I slept better, I could eat and nourish my body in the way it deserved, and my pregnancy journey felt much smoother.

It didn’t come without its challenges, but as a result of being more rested and less anxious, I could handle any concerns or worries that came my way.

Now, as a mum to an eight-month-old, I’m returning to work and back to the grind. But I refuse to go back to a hamster wheel of hustling until I physically can’t anymore.

At 30 years old, I know better, but that’s from my own experience of pushing myself. I learnt from my own experience of chasing the hustle and grind culture, and it was a lesson that pushed me to the edge.

Molly-Mae is still young at 22, and potentially hasn’t reached the brink of burning candles at both ends until it backfires.

Hopefully she can see one day that there’s more to life than hustling and work.

A statement from Molly-Mae’s reps read: ‘Her opinion on if you want something enough you can work hard to achieve it is how she keeps determined with her own work to achieve more in her own life. Molly is not commenting on anyone else’s life or personal situation she can only speak of her own experience.’

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