Do the Hustle But Skip the Stress

July 11, 2019


How do we pursue success and vigorously go after our goals while avoiding stress and burnout? Is this possible?

Sometimes–if we’re not mindful–our pursuit of achievement and success can lead to stress and burnout, and eventually create an unhealthy life.

Former lawyer Nik Poplavksy certainly knows a thing or two about this. He left his law career after a prolonged period of stress that resulted in various health issues. He wanted to have a different life, where he could have a career AND have a balanced life.

I found myself chasing something that sort of made sense but did not really resonate with me. –Nik Poplavsky

He started a project called “Balanced Hustle” which was his way of exploring how to do the hustle without the accompanying stress and anxiety that often lead to burnout.

I chatted with Nik about the big A-ha moment he had during a trip to Amsterdam. That experience planted a seed in his head about doing the hustle, achieving success, while skipping the burnout and the stress. He would doggedly pursue that idea until it led to his project.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app. Or scroll down for the edited transcript of my conversation with Nik.

YOUR TURN. I would love to hear your thoughts about the idea of a balanced hustle. Is this something you do today or something you’d want to do? You can leave your comments below. Or find me on Instagram and let me know!

Mentioned in this episode

Edited Transcript

Lou Blaser Hello Nik, welcome to Second Breaks. Thank you so much for joining me.

Nik Poplavsky Hi Lou. Thank you for inviting me. Very glad to be here.

Lou Blaser I usually start the show by talking about the trigger, the catalyst moment when things started going differently. Would you mind talking about your background and the story behind what led you to start Balanced Hustle?

Nik Poplavsky My personal story is a story of a lot of struggle and trying to perform. Trying to chase success and trying to make things happen. I’m trained as a lawyer. I have several law degrees. And living in Toronto in Canada, you know, this society pushes you. “You need to be better than everyone else. You need to perform. You need to get good marks. You need to get a job.” It never ends.

So I found myself stressed, overworked, overwhelmed, chasing something that kind of made sense but didn’t really resonate fully with me. After some years of just running, running, running, taking vacations only when it’s convenient, I found myself with a lot of health problems, digestive problems, no energy and no desire to do anything.

I realized I couldn’t continue like that. My life kind of was on pause. I realized that I needed to make more sense of my life. I needed to have more fulfillment, more experiences. And the state I was in — the physical and mental state I was in — did not really permit any of that. And so, when the legal position that I had came to an end, I didn’t pursue it further. I used the time to just take a step back and figure out what was going on, what wasn’t working and try to figure out how I can ‘fix’ myself

Lou Blaser On your website, I saw reference to a vacation that you took in Amsterdam, where you noticed a stark difference in the way that that they lived or how their success or careers fit with their lives. Could you talk a little bit about your observations?

Nik Poplavsky Definitely. I love talking about this. It’s one of the most fun experiences that I’ve ever had. So, this was an exchange program during my third year of law school. I was tired and a bit depressed. I applied to the exchange program in school to go to Amsterdam. People go there because, you know, it’s chill, it’s relaxed. You don’t have to stress as much. In Europe, a lot of people study two weeks before the exam. Before that, they just have the time of their life.

Lou Blaser I like that.

Nik Poplavsky It’s amazing. It makes a huge difference in a person’s life. And so I went there, exploring, meeting new people. I got a new camera. I do photography on the side and I just immersed myself in new experiences.

One thing about the Dutch, their notion of privacy is slightly different from North America. They have three-story houses and they don’t really use curtains all that much. Not always, not always. You can look inside and see what’s happening in there. They say no one cares about it and they say they have nothing to hide. That’s why they don’t really use curtains. But coming from North America, I was very curious.

And one day, I saw something through a window. I saw this scene where several couples were sitting around a table. There was a record playing. There was wine. There were grapes. They were just sitting and chatting. And that’s it. There was no TV. It was just plain old socializing and talking between five people.

I’m like, “Oh my God, why, where is this? Why is this happening here but not happening in North America.” Here in Canada, it’s always about partying and drinking. Well, that’s been my experience. Like, that’s what lawyers do. Apparently. Thursday night, everybody’s out. Like all the local pubs in the financial district are filled with lawyers and bankers and people wearing suits. And I was getting tired of that. And so when I saw that it was different in Amsterdam, I asked myself how I could move myself towards closer to that. And away from constant work, constant performance. Work hard and play hard. What does that even mean? It’s like one of those words that make you cringe on the inside. So since then, that atmosphere stayed with me.

And so I thought, okay, how can I bring that into my life and to people around me? And after years of fixing my health and doing spiritual work, trying to calm myself down, trying to figure out what really drives me, and why you want to do things and what’s the best version of me that I can bring to other people. So that’s how Balanced Hustle was born.

Lou Blaser I was wondering, and I don’t know if this is a fair or unfair question to ask. I’m sure there are lawyers in Amsterdam as well. This idea of a more balanced life and work, do you think it’s really applicable to lawyer’s life? It seems sort of, I don’t know. I know a few lawyers and it seems like they all lead very stressful lives, you know?

Nik Poplavsky Some of my lawyer friends, they are not the happiest folks. I do think that it is possible, but there will have to be some mindset shifts that need to happen. Because the perception that everybody gets is, you need to run. You need to constantly perform. You need to hustle. You need to spend a lot of hours, even if you don’t have much work, you just got to be there in the office and stay there and pretend that you’re very eager. Jump on every opportunity that presents itself. Show them that you’re willing, especially at the beginning. It’s a very big grind for starting lawyers. And the expectation that the put on themselves also affect how they perform and how they think about themselves.

But I think to answer your question, if they figure out what truly drives them, if they find the work that’s really fulfilling for them. Because you can do corporate work for a bank or you can work for a charity. You can do work for the environment. These may not pay as much but they can be more fulfilling. Or if you have your regular job, find somebody on the side that is fulfilling, that can give you the sense of self-expression and that will make you feel that you’re a contributing. Because the appreciation of work is also quite scarce in the lawyer environment. So I mean figuring out and finding a good team, good managers and good colleagues are also very essential.

Lou Blaser Exactly. Certainly, the environment that you’re in day-in, day-out plays a part in terms of how stressful your day is or even the mindset that you eventually have. Because you are influenced by the people around you and the messages that you hear. To your point earlier, when you constantly hear the “Play hard, work hard” message and that’s all you hear then that’s what you end up doing as well.

Circling back to your experience in Europe and Amsterdam for example. You had made a comment that people in Europe have different work habits different compared to us here in North America. So, for example, a few years ago I had this occasion where I was part of our leadership team. For a period of time, we were all assembled and living in Washington, D C. It was a global team, so there were people from Europe, from Asia, from South America.

It was amazing because the American contingent, during lunch break, we would buy a salad that we thought was healthy because it’s just salad. But then we would take the salad and go back to our cubicles or our offices and work through lunch. Meanwhile, our global team members would say, “What are you doing? Why don’t we go outside and eat our salad outside or walk around?” After a while, the Americans learned that habit. In the beginning, we thought the non-Americans would follow us but actually, in the end it was us who followed them, which was very good.

Nik Poplavsky Totally. When I was in Paris a couple of years ago, like, take any random day. You go out in the middle of the day and those patisseries on every corner? They are full of people in the middle of a Thursday, drinking wine, they’re chatting, they’re with a bunch of friends. They sitting there and reading the paper or chatting with people. Every single one of these patisseries was full of people. Here, if you go to the financial district in Toronto, the only full places are coffee shops because there’s the line to get a coffee. Everything else is empty.

Lou Blaser Yes. Until it’s bar time. Then they get drunk.

Nik Poplavsky I mean, yeah, it can happen. It can be good for you. But you know, moderation. Moderation.

Lou Blaser I think maybe it’s just the way that we think of the word hustle. It has this frantic energy around the word. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a very popular online personality, always talks about hustle. Although I don’t often read what he writes, there is this frantic energy about him when he talks about hustle. And so I wonder, when you say balanced hustle, is that really attainable? Can you really hustle and be balanced about it?

Nik Poplavsky I definitely know what you mean but I do believe it’s attainable. Hustle means to just go and get results. Go and do something. Take action. Don’t just sit on the couch and hope for the best. Take action and move forward. Whatever it is, move forward. And you don’t necessarily have to be overwhelmed to do that.

When someone is coming from a place of lack, or a place of fear, or from wanting to get a sale, that will really affect their work products or how they present themselves. Like how you talk to a person, to prospects, whether you’re trying to contribute to a person from a place of abundance because you love what you do and you actually care for the person that you talk to. Versus when you just want to make a sale on that person. That’s part of creating balance where you’re steady, you’re grounded. Where you’re feeling fulfilled and you’re not frantically chasing accomplishments or sales.

Lou Blaser I like your definition. Hustle is action that takes you forward. And you don’t have to be frantic about the action that you’re taking. It’s how we approach that thing that we want to do, right? If you approach it with scarcity or fear of missing out and all those kinds of other things, I think those are the things that bring about the frantic-ness of our actions.

Nik Poplavsky Exactly. I think the startup culture contributed to all of that by encouraging the constant hustle. I need to get into Y-Combinator. The less I sleep, the more I can work. And more work equals better work products. And more success and more money. I mean, you know, that’s not necessarily true.

Lou Blaser Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Nick, for spending some time with me this morning. I so appreciate it.

Nik Poplavsky Thank you. Me too. I quite enjoy this.

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