Hustle, Not Talent

I believe in hustle.

Hustle to me is a state of mind. It is a combination of working hard and working quickly. You make mistakes quicker, you make adjustments quicker and you have success quicker. Not only that but once you find success, you sustain that success through continuing the cycle.

Hustle doesn’t take a college degree or pedigree. You don’t have to be privileged to hustle. In fact, those with lesser talent, education or advantage can put hustle to better use and see a greater increase in results.

Why do I believe in hustle?

We talk about talent all day in HR and recruiting. Who has the most talent? Why does “B” or “C” level talent drag organizations down? How can you get rock star talent?

Early in my career, I was not talented though. I don’t think I was any company’s ideal candidate for any job. So how did an average student from a state school eventually get to where I am today?


I worked 40+ hours a week during school in management roles. When I went from management into HR, I didn’t have the skills I needed so I networked, researched and read everything about HR. When I started my blog, I tried to learn everything I could about the technology, how to attract readers and what to write about. When HR kicked me to the curb, I tried my hand at something completely different. I sent speaker proposals out even though I had very little real experience and had success booking them. Now again, I am doing something different and seeing some of the fruits of labor coming out.

I get both excited and anxious about the unknown. I know what a HR generalist does on any given day but I don’t know what a Community Director is supposed to do. Am I missing things? Should I be spending more time reaching out? Should I be spending less time moderating online message boards? Yet as I’ve continued to live in this hustle world, I’ve quickly found out that I will learn it quickly (and relearn it, and relearn it again).

In the end, this singular focus on identifying and cultivating “A” talent has driven me insane but I haven’t been able to put my finger on it until now. If everyone had a singular focus on talent, I wouldn’t have got my first management position at 19, I wouldn’t have gotten a break into full time HR at 23 and I wouldn’t have what I do today. I can say with certainty that I wasn’t “A” talent for any of those positions.

Finding talented people is important. There is no doubt about that. But how do you factor in other pieces of the puzzle that will impact performance (like hustle or passion for the job)? Pieces of the puzzle that might be more important to your organization than just the talent level.


  1. I don’t know if hustle outweighs talent, but it certainly is something that should be valued, sought out, and retained whenever possible. I don’t screen for “hustle” or “passion for the job”, I screen for “passion of the hustle”. I want people who are going to go beyond social/business norms, make calculated risks, and break/change things along the way. This might not be the best approach when hiring, say, a CPA or a lawyer, but for sales/marketing/leadership roles you sometimes have to roll the dice on people with big ideas who aren’t afraid to shake things up.

    Hustlers can have a huge impact with a minimal amount of work, and that’s good for them and the business (most of the time).

  2. Lance – I’m glad you touched on one of the many “intangiables” that make people “talent.” Too often HR and Recruiters follow the trend of catch phrases instead of being reflective and seeing what attributes make people talented in their organizations.

    Hustle is a great attribute !! It can show other great competencies like drive, intiative and desire. I don’t believe it’s whether someone is “busy” or not.

    Great point !! Love that you did a post on this !!

  3. Lance,

    I love this blog post. Ive been a recruiter for 14 years and recently decided to change careers. Too often hiring managers/HR are too focused on what is written on titles and duties vs. the passion/hustle. I have made a great career in recruiting and plan on continuing this streak b/c I was made to HUSTLE.

    Your blog has given me great ammunition for the next client meeting when they may be considering someone who has 5,10, or 15 years of experience on me BUT will they hustle for you like I will! You have so eloquently put into words what I have been thinking for years! Thank you!

  4. Wow – this was kind of eye-opening. Throughout my career, I may not have been the most experienced or had the most talent for a particular job, but I have always used the hustle to learn more, connect with others and pass that on to my team.

    I’ve just never thought of it as ‘hustle’ – for me, it was about exceeding customer service and performance expectations and not being afraid to go above and beyond to make something happen. My motto is: ‘It’s better to ask for forgiveness than wait for permission’ and 99% of the time it’s been the right way to go.

    Thanks very much for this blog article – it’s nice to know that ‘the hustle’ is valued, sometimes as much or more as raw talent or experience.

  5. Great post Lance! I’ve had quite a bit of success in hiring people with no recruiting experience and training them from scratch. During the interview process, I tell them that the recruiter role is a “hustler’s” job – certainly not in the negative sense of the term, rather in the sense that it’s not about how many years of recruiting experience you have, but more so about making things happen and getting results without making excuses, regardless of the challenge.

    I firmly believe that talent is overrated, and in fact – no one is born with a “talent” for recruiting, nor is there a recruiting gene. I strongly recommend reading Geoff Colvin’s book Talent is Overrated, which shows that top performers in any field/profession aren’t born with a specific innate talent, but they rather apply and perform “deliberate practice” – which is a concept that more people in the business world should consciously apply.

    Short excerpt from the book:
    Full version –

  6. Sadly, I’ve encountered organizations that discourage hustle, even rebuking employees for demonstrating it. Seriously.

  7. Lance – great topic. Beginning with my paper route at 11 years old, every time I was hired/promoted for a position that was viewed as a stretch, I kicked-@$$. Not intentionally, but that is just how I’m wired. I see what needs to be done and I do it – WELL!

    Talent does come in to the picture as well, but internal drive, work-ethic, common sense and continous learning/improvement is what it takes to make things happen.

    I find it frustrating that so many employers are short-sighted when it comes to their selection process. They seem fixated on the been-there/done-that mentality when it comes to hiring.

    While experience is usually an asset, everything any of us has ever done in our careers had to begin with a first time. It makes you wonder how much potential hustle is being wasted, when employers simply look for the safe match rather than seeing the capacity that many people have to add value if only given a chance…

    I know that I wasn’t always considered “A” talent prior to getting each job, but I sure earned straight “A-s” with my performance once I was in them.

  8. Great blog! Lance, I have to say that I’m just like you when it comes to hustling. With me, I’m usually the shining star at my job for a while. But then, i dim. I always thought I didn’t have the “hustle” in me like some of my friends and co-workers and I thought I had to be born with it. Yes, some are born with it, but I’m a very quick learner and can adapt to changing circumstances and I’ve been getting my hustle on with my own employer and succeeding. :) Thanks!

  9. I don’t really agree with most of what this post says. I’ve worked with people in corporate training who were very talented at what they did but were not breaking any speed records doing it, and I’ve also worked with people who were not as talented but hustled non-stop everyday. In the end, the work of the talented employees was of better quality, and it was worth waiting for. There were fewer mistakes made because the person had taken the time to do the job right in the first place, and we ended up with a more stable product right from the initial roll-out. I guess I’m just no fan of the “100% done and 80% good” mindset, and besides, hustle, hustle, hustle is a really great way to burn yourself out, at which point you are of no use whatsoever to your organization. Personally, I also think that people who hustle all the time come off looking far more committed to their own personal advancement than they do to doing quality work in the job they already have, and I don’t like working with climbers. I’ll take a talented, educated employee who works at average speed but does high quality work over a speed demon who is content to make a few mistakes just to get the job done quickly any day. As the old saying goes, it’s better to work smart than to work hard.

    • Three points:

      1. Most companies cannot afford to hire top talent for all positions. Even if they could, I’m not sure that they would.

      2. Who said anything about shipping a half-baked product? Never something I would advocate. You ship the product you intend to.

      3. Talented people most certainly are looking for personal career advancement as much if not more so than those that hustle. And they burn out too. I’ve watched the most talented person walk off a project before it was complete.

      • This is an interesting exchange, but we’re missing a key component. That is, your blog does a good job of describing what you mean by “hustle,” but you never explain what you mean by “talent.” So how exactly are defining that term? What does “talent” mean to you?

        • Talent to me is stop everything. Stop development, stop evaluating potential, stop talking about possibilities or how hard someone works: who is the most skilled at getting the job done.

  10. Herman Kelting

    June 14, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Folks: Somehow I stumbled on this website and found your discusison interesting. But I’m not sure that “hustle” is the best word because a portion of Webster’s definition is “to obtain something by energetic activity esp. underhanded activity;” gaining the respect and cooperation of others up and down the organization chart is difficult under this definition.

    I think a better term may be “energy level” because it connotes the positive use of activity. I believe that it is this attribute that major universities seek in student admittance perhaps because it is so important in our quest to create a better environment. And it is the combination of energy level, continous learning (as several mentioned), focus on achieving organizational goals in the context of excellent relationships with others that are supportive of their best interests, passion (also mentioned by several) that welds high energy level, technical knowledge, and relationship management that contribute most to business success. And talent, I think, is the synthesis of the list of items in the preceding sentence.

    Best wishes

    Herman Kelting

  11. Hustle, from the way I see it, is a modern term for diligence and persistence. I’m not really sure though if ever it is justifiable that hustle would outweigh talent when it comes down to quality or substance. But I do believe that talent combined with hustle equates to one very formidable individual whose ability and reliability are too precious to be overlooked by most companies.

  12. Seems like the issue is pedigree vs. work ethic. It is possible to have both. However, it is particularly frustrating to work with a person who has a high quality pedigree but who has a snobby attitude about work. That person may demonstrate great attention to detail (the high quality referenced above), but also may refuse projects he or she feels is beneath them (ones the “hustler” takes on with a smile). Or, he or she may spend an inordinate amount of time, at a highly intelluctual level, on a project that does not require it (not practical and not a strategy for success in business, especially where clients are billed by the hour!) Rather than “hustle”, the phrase I use is “hard working, but savvy”. That is, working hard but smart, being self-aware and also aware of others, assigning an appropriate amount of importance to matters, hard driving but respectful, hopeful but not naive.

  13. This was an excellent post and mirrors my own opinion on the subject. It also reflects much of what is taught in “Think and Grow Rich,” one of the first success books ever written.

    I prefer a different word though, which is “desire.” I think we mean pretty much the same thing.

    I sometimes wonder why we don’t put more effort and resources into instilling and developing desire. We tend to develop talent and skills but we leave the desire part up to someone else.

    One possibility: Let’s face it, people with desire can be problematic in large organizations. They are often pushy, they challenge and disrupt the pecking orders, and while in some environments this is helpful, in others it can cause undesired instability. People with talent and no desire tend to be passively obedient, as they are dependent upon outside forces to guide them and put them to work.

    Anyway, I am a fellow poster child for hustle and/or desire . . . when I worked in the music business I had much less talent than most and so I had to compensate by being more aggressive in my marketing. I have actually seen people that have been burdened by having too much talent. They always needed someone outside to guide them, and as a result they never really found their true center.

  14. As the CEO of my second company, I couldn’t agree more that hustle is the magic ingredient to success. There are no “B” or “C” level people, only those unwilling to work and learn to be “A” players. My company has been challenged to find people with the “right” background. Nonetheless, we’ve been wildly successful because of our team who haven’t given a crap about experience and have substituted HUSTLE. With the gift of their effort came fantastic innovation. We simply learned, tried, learned, and innovated our way to the future.

    Among all of the variables associated with success, I have no question HUSTLE correlates best.
    Thanks for reminding the latent talent out there of their responsibility to use their gifts by hustling to greatness. It’s always earned.

  15. I think that hustle certainlies helps to balance the playing field. The ability to hustle, in the end, is a talent. Everyone can learn how to do it better, but some people are just naturally born to hustle better than others. My primary mistake is I’m a hard worker, but not always an effective one. I don’t always choose the best endeavor to maximize potential.

    Good food for thought. We all know of talented people who don’t succeed, because they lack the necessary ambition.

  16. cathy makes an excellent point. hustle is not necessarily a good thing, as sometimes people are hustling up the wrong alley, and sometimes being “pushy” can be a turnoff for some customers who need gradual cultivation. unless perhaps by hustle we mean dogged persistence? this may not look hustle-ish tho.

    another point i’d like to add is, i believe every human being is motivated, and if you have someone who is un-energetic, if could be that they are just not being asked to pursue a goal that is important or meaningful to them. doing a better job of explaining the value of the service to others helps, and strangely enough, sometimes such people can be motivated to be hustlers not by training in hustle but by by giving them a more difficult project to tackle.

    • I agree with what you’re saying. Sometimes wasted talent is just as bad though. We don’t talk about that nearly enough though by just focusing on the dogged pursuit of more and better talent.

  17. Hustle. Really?

    I’m in agreement with Robin. Hustle is just another term for “bullshit,” in my opinion. Hustle doesn’t not equate with passion, diligence, hard work, et cetera and so forth. Drug dealers aren’t called hustlers because of their wit, passion, and diligence for peddling crack-cocaine.

    Semantics aside, your point is well taken. Success is equally about experience, knowledge, and passion for what you do. And sometimes a little bullshit.

    • You’re confusing the terms. I’m talking about it in sports terms where a under-talented player can beat a better one simply by outworking them. How do they do that? Hustle. Hard work. Whatever you want to call it.

  18. so you’ve got a game on the line.

    in the clutch moment, you’re faced with the decision:

    do you play your star player who will clinch the win for you. or do you put in your average player who will try his best?

    i think lance brings to the forefront a great post on hustle. i am an advocate for the hustle player who i know and trust will effect the most utility for me.

    my 2 cents, veering off-topic:
    if you can hire a strong supporting cast for your organization; one that you know will hustle for you. then the only missing element to a successful company here is leadership.

    similarly, if you hire a group of talented individuals. then the key element here is leadership. (who must be able to motivate his team)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

© 2015 Lance Haun

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑