Carlos Hidalgo is fed up with hustle porn.
The glorification of working extremely long hours — think all day, night and weekends, too — to the detriment of everything else, including your relationships with significant others and your children, is popular in the current zeitgeist. It’s a philosophy espoused by guys like Gary Vaynerchuk, Kevin O’Leary and Jack Ma: You’re nothing if you’re not constantly working.
It’s hardly a new idea. One is reminded of Alec Baldwin’s character in the 1992 film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” adapted by David Mamet from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. “Always be closing,” said Blake (Baldwin), as he berates a roomful of real estate salesmen for their apparent slacking on the job.
“If you’re not working 75 to 90 hours week, you’re not going to achieve the richness,” said Hidalgo, CEO and founder of VisumCx, a B2B customer experience agency, and author of the 2015 book “Driving Demand: Transforming B2B Marketing to Meet the Needs of the Modern Buyer. “I see a lot of people my age and millennials buying into this idea.”
It’s a way of life the Colorado Springs man used to believe in, too. More was always better. Always preoccupied with work, he spent more time on the road than he did at home. While his career was going gangbusters, his personal life was slowly imploding. His wife, Susanne, left to care for their four kids alone, eventually realized she’d had it with the hustle. Divorce was bandied about, and the couple separated for a time.
“We’ve seen it where you get affirmation and accolades and people tell you how wonderful you are,” said Susanne, “and that’s really easy to get caught up in. Then you come home and have to deal with real life. He said ‘I have 25 people depending on me,’ and I said I’m concerned about the five people you had first. He walked out the door and left to go on a business trip. I thought now I know where I stand in this relationship. That was the final aha moment.”
Hidalgo’s new self-published book, “The UnAmerican Dream,” which includes a chapter by Susanne, documents his journey from a guy whose ego and identity were tied up in work, to the man he is today, somebody who creates and enforces boundaries around his work and nonwork hours and whose No. 1 value is quality time with Susanne.
It took a lot to get here, and more than one dark night of the soul, including the time in the early 2000s when Carlos talked to his toddler son on a phone during a business trip, and his son told him he was always in a hotel room. That hit him like a punch to the gut, and he quit his job to build his own business, thinking he could be at home more. And life did slow down for a few years, until the ugly pattern reared its head again, and he was sucked back into hustle culture. It dropped him at the brink of divorce in 2016.
“I kept telling myself I’m doing it for my family, but then you arrive at that point and say my kids don’t want to spend time with me because I haven’t invested in that relationship,” he said, “and I think it’s the parents’ responsibility to invest that time in their children. And now I have nothing in my marriage and we’re headed for divorce. What was all this for?”
That was the moment he knew he’d have to change for good or lose everything. He told his company he was leaving in 2017. Ironically, about a dozen of his colleagues confided that they too were miserable and their relationships were in shambles, and wondered how he was able to pull the ripcord and get out.
“The book is really that story and the story of others and is written for anybody, whether a business professional, entrepreneur or business owner, someone who’s trying to achieve the next rung on the ladder,” said Hidalgo, “to simply say there’s a better way to define success. You can still be successful in your work while not sacrificing and buying into the hustle, which is so loud in our culture today.”
Leaving it all was a huge scary risk, but eventually things settled and came together. Today the Hidalgos are in a much better space, relationship-wise, and business partners to boot, in a new, much smaller company. They know exactly how much money they need to make and operate within those parameters. They’re not looking to grow, and they’ve created clear boundaries around work, play and volunteer work.
Carlos was able to detach his identity from his professional achievements by taking time to reflect on his bigger why: What is the one note I’ve been put here to play? The answer was easy: to help people.
“And the crazy thing is that’s who I fell in love with,” said Susanne. “And he got really far from that person, so that was heartbreaking, because I knew that’s who he was.”
His new lifestyle still takes practice, but people are noticing, including his 20-year-old daughter, who told him on the family’s recent two-week vacation that she was “digging (his) work-life boundary thing.”
Carlos doesn’t deny there’s value in hard work. He’s not encouraging laziness. There’s nobility in working hard, but there comes a point when the balance between living and working can tip in the wrong direction. We must also work to discover what can bring us true joy, without tying that joy to work at the expense of everything else.
“I encourage any professional to take a step back and analyze why you’re doing what you’re doing,” he said. “Be really honest with yourself and bring those closest to you into that conversation. You might discover what you’re doing may not be what you’re made to do. You may be better off going out and doing something else. Once you discover that, your life will take off. When you’re your best self, you give your best self to your relationships and your business.”
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