A hustler's solace

Hustling is the uncanny embrace of creativity under constraints, opportunity with unpredictable outcomes, persistence in dire situations and most of all respecting yourself enough that you can do anything to make a material change. It is a belief that you can control the outcomes. A pragmatic way of life, rather than a pessimistic or fatalistic one. 

What is most impressive about a hustler is their ability to make something special happen in a bleak situation. It can almost look like a miracle. 

After some time, the hustle has given me a sense of calmness and tranquillity. That I have control in my affairs. That I can shape my future. That I can create a trajectory, even if I’m not sure where I’m going to land. I like to think of it as a hustler’s solace. A looming peace that I am in control of my affairs and my destiny. 

I’ve always wanted to make my way in the world. With my energy. My effort. On my terms. I wanted to be the master of my destiny.

For as long as I can remember. I had an insatiable hunger to be in motion. My parent’s told me that I never stopped moving as a child. Constantly talking, running and jumping. Often to my parents inconvenience.

My hustler’s solace first began as a spark of hunger 20 years ago.

The hunger kindled when I was a child in Regent Park. I struck a deal with my mother. I convinced her that I would go to the local convenience store to buy the milk from now on. In return, I would receive the remaining change to buy myself a toasty patty. The crunch of a warm patty, my face littered with yellow flakes after buying milk for my mom - was the best feeling in the world.

My mother who was justifiably and naturally apprehensive at the thought of me going out on my own became confident in me. The feeling of her believing in me meant everything to me and only made me want to work harder.

She gave me more items to pick up. And of course, in turn, I would increase my rewards. A double-scoop ice cream. Or a super surprise bag. I even built a good relationship with the owner of the convenience store. He was always happy to see me and I too. Life was good.

When we moved to Brampton, my hunger grew. At this time I was in middle school. I combed through the classifieds of our local newspaper in search of work. I found a posting for a job to deliver a local classifieds paper called Penny saver. I called the number and they gave me the gig. The pay was abysmal. It was a lot of work. But I loved it. For me, doing nothing was exponentially worse than doing something not ideal.

By the time I reached high school, I realized I had outgrown the job. I quit and picked up a job as a salesman for the Toronto Star. I went door to door in all seasons of the year trying to sell newspaper subscriptions.

This was hands down one of the most difficult jobs I had ever done. We got dropped off in different turfs and neighbourhoods. The pay was not guaranteed - everything was a commission. Selling was extremely hard. The internet was increasingly replacing newspapers. People weren’t interested in the Toronto Star. Also, who’s going to let a snotty-nosed kid handle information for credit card processing? People slamming the door in your face. Wandering neighbourhoods in -20 celsius weather. It was crushing. But it taught me a lot about selling, confidence and persistence.

I wanted a job with more stability. When I was 16, I applied to be a cold deli clerk at the Real Canadian Superstore. Finally, a “real job” I thought. When I got the job, it felt like I won the lottery. I was so happy. It was the first time seeing more than $100 in my bank accounts regularly. Instead of getting patties, I would buy fitted hats to match all my outfits. Life was good.

Within a few years, work became complicated. Power-tripping managers made a regular issue with me even though I worked hard, took shifts for staff and followed the rules. I enjoyed working, but not this kind of treatment. Life was not so good.

So I penned a 5-page essay on why they shouldn’t mistreat me anymore and I left the essay in their office. They never bothered me again.

Then one day while I was on vacation, they fired me.

At the time, I felt crushed. This job was the only stable thing I had in my life and it was taken away from me. The only fallback I had at the time was my ad-hoc design agency “Saleh Enterprise” which barely had any clients. I was down and in the dumps.

It was around this time that I watched Goodfellas. The movie had a lasting impression on me. Henry Hill’s determination and sheer willpower to make it, to carve a space out for himself where he knew he didn’t belong, struck a chord with me.

Augmented by the golden age of hustle music: Cassidy’s “I’m a hustla”, “50 cent’s “Hustler’s ambition” and Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard” the hustler’s spirit was renewed and imbued within me. My resolve was now fortified and my confidence cemented. I felt unstoppable.

I now had laser focus on one goal: Make it in design.

I eventually put my fears aside and got to work. I printed as much information as I could find on brand, print and web design in hopes of elevating my craft. I whole punched hundreds of pages and put them in a binder. Every day I would read and study. I started building out my services, rolling them out one by one. Brand. Print. Web. I networked. Pitched. Got clients. Closed the deals. Did the work. Repeat. And it worked. The thing was happening. I couldn’t believe it. At the time, it felt like a miracle.

By the time I was in university, I was doing very well for myself. Life was better.

For myself, it’s strange to see so many people put down hustling and frame it as fundamentally negative. I think a lot is a misunderstanding along with judging by extremes and outliers. I don’t believe in maximalism, especially when it comes to hustling. There’s a time and place for everything including breaks and vacations - which does not subtract from hustling. If anything returning to your craft, rejuvenated and refreshed is a win-win. 

Hustling has granted me invaluable benefits and lessons:

Personal benefits
  • Kept me away from trouble
  • Gave me a place to channel my energy
  • Opportunity to earn rewards for my efforts
  • Opportunity to take care of my family
What I learned
  • How to turn nothing into something
  • How to stay motivated
  • How to sell
  • The true meaning of persistence
  • Make it make sense on a spreadsheet
  • Always reward yourself
  • Always sign a contract
  • Read the fine print

With the arrival of my daughter, I only want to hustle smarter, better and bigger. Why? I want to give her more options. More opportunities than I ever did. And I’m going to bet that I can do it while being present in her life.

I have no plans or intentions of slowing down. It’s a marathon, not a race. And I intend to stick around long enough. So to anyone out there hustling: no matter who you are or where you are. I hope you end up where you want to be. And you get the solace you deserve.