An illustration of Gary Vaynerchuk in a white suit with his hand over his chest, looking upward as flowers surround him
An illustration of Gary Vaynerchuk in a white suit with his hand over his chest, looking upward as flowers surround him
Illustrations: Guillem Casasus

GaryVee Is Still Preaching the Hustle Gospel in the Middle of a Pandemic

His message is what so many desperate people want to hear right now. It’s also dangerous.

There are few business maneuvers that Gary Vaynerchuk appears to love more than the flip. The Belarus-born, New Jersey-raised, straight-talking entrepreneur — “GaryVee” to his fans — regularly recommends flipping everything from sports cards to sports cars. He once created a special five-part video series devoted to his love of yard sales, and in January, suggested his fans flip 250 sweatshirts printed with the slogan “Hustle like my name is GaryVee,” congratulating via tweet those who succeeded in driving the price up on Ebay. So when the coronavirus essential supply schemers emerged in mid-March, like a teenage boy in the U.K. who sold squirts of hand sanitizer to his classmates, it wasn’t so much of a leap to conclude that, as one tweet put it, “this kid is 100% a GaryVee fan.”

Though there is no way to count exactly how many people publicly assumed that Vaynerchuk would support flipping essential supplies during a pandemic, there were enough that Vaynerchuk decided he needed to address them through his social channels. “There have been so many articles written about people hoarding hand sanitizer and wipes and things of that nature and flipping it, and I see a lot of people tagging me,” he said in a video posted on March 14, emphasizing his disapproval. “When there is a global pandemic and people need things and you hoard them to flip them on eBay and Amazon… That’s garbage, that’s not fucking entrepreneurship I look up to. That’s fucking disgusting horseshit.”

For more than a decade, Vaynerchuk has been an evangelist for a branch of entrepreneurism known as “hustle culture,” a philosophy that looks a lot like meritocracy, but with punchier slogans.

Distributed to his 4.5 million Facebook followers, 8.3 million Instagram followers, and 2.1 million Twitter followers, the video resembles the thousands of others Vaynerchuk has posted over the past 14 years: a raw, barely edited aesthetic, with Vaynerchuk addressing the camera head-on in the tone of a football coach having a heart-to-heart pep talk with a struggling player. He’s 44 years old, with a raspy voice, and gray stubble — dad-age to many of his young fans (he’s said he has particular influence with young men ages 15 to 25, and has 4.6 million followers on the Gen Z-dominated platform TikTok) — but there’s something about his prolific F-bombs that make him seem like the cool grown-up. The one who is actually going to tell you how the world works instead of insisting that you do your homework.

For more than a decade, Vaynerchuk has been an evangelist for a branch of entrepreneurism known as “hustle culture,” a philosophy that looks a lot like meritocracy, but with punchier slogans. Stemming from the lore around Silicon Valley figures like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, it’s the idea that anyone who applies enough talent, grit, and passion can start a multibillion-dollar business — or achieve whatever their dream is— if they hunker down in their proverbial garage and put in the work. Over time, as startup culture has bled into culture at large, this belief has metastasized into a way of life.

In recent years, a small economy has emerged around this lifestyle, complete with a Hustle & Grind swag shop, The Hustle media company, and a slew of startup hustle boot camps. It’s the philosophy baked into freelance website Fiverr’s exhaustion-glorifying ads (“You eat coffee for lunch. You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice.”) and WeWork’s infamous “Thank god it’s Monday” slogan — also the name of a mandatory weekly staff gathering that went on for hours after the actual Monday work day.

In a 2019 article about hustle culture, the New York Times called Vaynerchuk its “patron saint.” Vice, a year earlier, crowned him hustle culture’s “king.” And it’s easy to see how Vaynerchuk earned these titles: One of his most popular YouTube videos, which has been watched more than 1.2 million times since it was posted in 2014, is an explanation of why “hustle” is “the most important word ever.” People should “hustle their face off 15 hours a day,” he says, in order to get others to care about whatever it is they are trying to sell. “I just think people are loaded with excuses,” Vaynerchuk explains.

Vaynerchuk is his own most powerful example of this. He chronicles his original hustle in his 2009 book, Crush It!, explaining how he grew his family’s New Jersey wine store business from $4 million to $50 million in revenue per year, partly by developing a personal brand of “the wine guy that tells it like it is in plain English.” After his vlog, Wine Library TV, took off in 2006, Vaynerchuk writes that he woke up one morning thinking it was time to use his growing personal platform to talk about business, too.

He’s been hustling ever since: In 2009, he founded the ad agency VaynerMedia, and shortly after he started building a portfolio of communications businesses under a holding company called VaynerX, which he often refers to as “Vayner Empire.” It includes the women’s lifestyle blog PureWow, a speaking agency for which he is the star client, a marketing consultancy for small businesses, and an e-commerce consultancy that he launched in late April, in the middle of the pandemic.

While running his businesses, he has continuously doled out advice to other entrepreneurs in five bestselling books, frequent keynote speeches, and constant streams of social media content that explain how to replicate his success by summoning a combination of grit, self-awareness, and personal accountability. “You want to have business success?” he asked the crowd during a keynote speech in New Jersey last fall. “Watch what I do for the rest of my life publicly, copy it verbatim, but then put your shit in it, and I promise you, you’ll be successful. Because I’m fucking really good at my shit.” Or, as he put it even more directly in another clip, “Fuck your fucking excuses. I’m winning on this algorithm. You can, too.”

Now, as the unemployment rate hits historic highs, small business owners are fighting for survival, and Americans are settling into an uncertain, pandemic-driven recession, the call to hustle and grind our way through it seems even more seductive.

All of this has translated into a highly engaged fan base. Earlier this year Vaynerchuk sold tickets to a solo keynote he gave at a Texas stadium with a 12,000-person capacity for up to $500 a piece. He also sells $12,000 tickets to small day-long workshops at which he is guaranteed to appear for only one hour. After the pandemic hit, he quickly launched a new YouTube Q&A show, “Tea with GaryVee.” By the first episode, he already had tens of thousands of viewers. By episode eight he declared: “We are punching corona in the fucking throat.”

As the most outspoken voice of hustle culture, Vaynerchuk is also the most frequent target of its critics. Entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian famously called “hustle porn” the most dangerous thing in tech right now. “As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy ‘crushing it’ that physical health, let alone mental health, is an afterthought,” he wrote in a blog post in 2018. (Crushing It is the title of one of Vaynerchuk’s books, a sequel of sorts to Crush It!) This February, the Reddit co-founder publicly criticized Vaynerchuk for posting the message “eat shit for 48 months, eat caviar for the rest of your life,” tweeting “I can’t blame you for wanting to make a buck, but you know this isn’t true. And it’s unhealthy, literally and figuratively.” Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote an entire book as a manifesto against what they see as a narrative in entrepreneurship that needs to be retired. “Long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days,” they write. “Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity.”

Now, as the unemployment rate hits historic highs, small business owners are fighting for survival, and Americans are settling into an uncertain, pandemic-driven recession, the call to hustle and grind our way through it seems even more seductive. Is that the mantra people should be following right now — or a toxic, illusory promise?

For someone who does not, as Vaynerchuk recently told the New York Times “want to be anyone’s Tony Robbins,” he does an awful lot of speaking with Tony Robbins. They’ve been billed together in Chicago, Nashville, Washington, D.C., Portland, and Salt Lake City. Still, the very suggestion that Vaynerchuk is a motivational speaker, he once told an interviewer, literally makes him throw up a little in his own mouth. Vaynerchuk has gone as far as to frame the founding of his advertising firm, VaynerMedia, as an attempt to avoid this very fate. “I think I even needed it for myself… to just scratch that itch that I wasn’t a charlatan or personality,” he told TechCrunch in 2017, “that I had chops, but just happened to be a little narcissistic or over the top.” (Vaynerchuk declined to talk to Marker for this story.)

Unlike many motivational speakers who proffer real estate investment schemes or advice about “thinking like a rich person,” Vaynerchuk has plenty of real-world entrepreneurial experience to draw from. VaynerMedia, his largest business, employs around 900 people and is most famous for its social media campaigns. (Remember earlier this year when Mr. Peanut was killed off at the Super Bowl, then resurrected as Baby Nut? That was VaynerMedia.) The agency has briefly included an events division called VaynerLive and a “product sampling division” called VaynerSampling.

His ultimate goal, he says, is to acquire a legacy brand like Tootsie Rolls or Reebok, turn it into a $3 to $5 billion company, flip it, and use the windfall to achieve his life-long fantasy — buying the New York Jets.

Beyond the empire of VaynerX businesses, Vaynerchuk also has a diverse roster of ventures, from the ambitious to the oddball. He is a partner in a sports star talent agency and a cannabis-focused marketing firm, and was (briefly) the co-founder of an influencer agency specifically serving stars on the now-defunct app Vine. He owns a piece of Minnesota’s Call of Duty esports team, calls himself an early backer of Uber, Birchbox, Facebook, and Twitter, and co-founded an early-stage venture fund backed by the Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (one of the fund’s early investments was in Medium). According to the New York Times, Vaynerchuk is also an advisor and middleman to hip-hop artists, including Lil Keed and Jeezy. He has trademarked his own signature, as well as the food brand “GaryVee’s Podcast Puffs,” which he prototyped and featured in a video about pairing wine with breakfast cereals. The latest version of GaryVee-branded shoes, marketed through a partnership with K-Swiss, remind wearers via a patch sewn on the insole that “you’re gonna die.” His ultimate goal, he says, is to acquire a legacy brand like Tootsie Rolls or Reebok, turn it into a $3 to $5 billion company, flip it, and use the windfall to achieve his life-long fantasy — buying the New York Jets. He may be getting a little closer; on July 1, his wine brand Empathy Wines announced it had been acquired by the beverage giant Constellation Brands for an undisclosed sum.

But no matter how much Vaynerchuk may remain involved in the day-to-day running of his businesses, or how many new business ideas he has, his accomplishments have been eclipsed by his own personal brand. Along with his always-on social media blitz, he regularly makes television appearances on CNN and Good Morning America. Social media content marketing, Vaynerchuk’s area of expertise, is a niche topic, but his most popular videos have much more universal appeal like “One Life, No Regrets” and “The Ultimate Advice for Every 20-Year-Old.” You can seek out his wisdom using the Gary Vaynerchuk search engine, which surfaces relevant snippets from his massive archive of keynote speeches, rants, and podcasts. Or attend an event with taglines such as “New Year, New You” or “Unlock Your Potential With Entrepreneur Royalty” on his nonstop speaking tour.

In November, back when people intentionally packed into large ballrooms, I shuffled into a powder pink resort in Orlando with nearly 3,000 aspiring entrepreneurs to attend one of these events. The “National Achievers Congress” promised, as Vaynerchuk put it in a marketing video posted on the event’s website, to provide the “tips, the tricks, and the execution to win today’s day.”

By 7:30 a.m. banquet chairs lined up like row crops were vibrating to the tune of Pitbull’s “Fireball.” By 8 a.m., attendees were standing, still clutching coffees, to sing along to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and practice getting “pumped up.” And by 8:30 a.m., it became clear we were in for some get-rich seminar shopping.

Tony Robbins wasn’t there, but his business partner, Dean Graziosi, was. The author of several self-help books with titles like Millionaire Success Habits, Graziosi gave the first of the four hour-long sales pitches — this one, for a course that promised to teach the attendees how to build their own courses on the company’s platform, paying that platform a cut of every ticket sold. “We literally created the greatest course that I believe has ever been created in history,” explained Graziosi, before breaking down how the course had a $6,746 “value,” though it was being sold today for $1,997. Workers in conference-branded polo shirts circled the attendees with contracts and credit card machines.

After Graziosi left the stage, a series of speakers issued more pitches for “commercial investing programs” and “VIP value packages.” After talking with more than a dozen attendees, it became apparent that Vaynerchuk was the event’s main draw — but it was unclear when exactly Vaynerchuk would take the stage. Aside from several emails and text messages reminding attendees to be in their seats by 8:30 a.m. (in one case noting “it’s what Gary would do”) no schedule had been printed, posted, or was available on the website.

Most of the people I interviewed struggled to pinpoint any tactical business advice they’d gleaned from Vaynerchuk. Instead, what people cite are his bombastic Jersey persona, and the feeling that someone had spoken to them with honesty.

In the packed ballroom I spotted an older woman with a flowered shirt and punk rock blue hair, men in suits with gold wedding rings, people with tattoos and ear expanders, and women in cocktail dresses and stilettos. The only common denominator seemed to be ambition and the desire for something more. By a show of hands — the speakers regularly take polls — most of the attendees would like to have financial freedom, to write a book, to make profit and impact, to add another zero to their net worth, and to speak on this stage some day. Later, the attendees also had an answer in common when I asked them what they like about Vaynerchuk: his almost primal authenticity.

“He’s raw, he’s real. He says it like it is,” a personal trainer tells me.

“He’s unscripted, real,” a real estate agent says.

“He’s a real guy, down to earth, and good points, and entertaining,” the general manager of a restaurant explains.

“His rawness. Just all the information he gives out. A genuine guy,” says a man who works construction.

“GaryVee is straightforward, to the point. Yes, he curses in his speeches and all that, but I like that because I don’t like fluff,” says another realtor.

Most of the people I interviewed struggled to pinpoint any tactical business advice they’d gleaned from Vaynerchuk. Instead, what people cite are his bombastic Jersey persona, and the feeling that someone had spoken to them with honesty. Vaynerchuk’s fans seem to appreciate that he’s not selling a get-rich-quick scheme. “When he gets done on stage” one man tells me over a bowl of penne pasta at lunch, “I promise ya, he ain’t gonna ask for money.”

When Vaynerchuk finally does appear at 4:30 p.m., the warehouse-sized ballroom is still full, with some people opting to stand at the sides of the room instead of watch from one of the few empty chairs in the back rows. The crowd jumps to their feet and most hoist a cellphone above their heads to capture a photo or a video. “I love you,” someone near me shouts. Vaynerchuk enters in a black hoodie, and launches right into a bit I’ve already heard in his videos on YouTube — about balancing “living in the clouds and playing in the dirt.”

From there he delivers an ode to personal responsibility that — as predicted — does not contain any sign of the lengthy, hour-long sales pitches that preceded him. But it’s not exactly true that he’s not asking for money: Before he went on, a man who never introduced himself took the stage and invited everyone to write down a URL for the “GV Experience” if they were looking for more “individualized experiences with Gary.”

When I navigate to the event’s website on my phone, I find a survey: “How much would you invest for Gary’s guidance?” it asks, perhaps a way for event organizers to gauge how high to set the price. The drop-down menu answers begin at $50,000.

A couple of weeks before Vaynerchuk turned 44 in November 2019, he started the campaign: “A fun gift for all of you on my birthday!”

A brief accounting of his Twitter feed:

11/2: “I have a fun gift for all of you on my birthday! 11/14… time to turn 4–4… #44”

11/7: “Do I have a gift for all of you on my birthday. 11/14… can’t wait...”

11/7: “In a week... on my bday… I’m giving you a gift 🎁... look for it”

11/11: “I have a huge present to all of you :-) Dropping on my birthday 11/14 . My gift to you on my birthday”

11/13: “Big day tomorrow — I have a gift for all of you”

11/13: “8:30 a.m. my gift for you drops...”

The gift, unveiled four days before the conference in Orlando, was a 270-slide deck about “how to make 64 pieces of content in one day.” In a keynote speech posted to YouTube, Vaynercuk said, “It’s going to fucking piss off everyone because most people would have sold it for 3,000 bucks… and I’m going to to do it for free and fuck up the system.”

Free content is part of a larger strategy. “I do use my personal brand as a top of the funnel awareness to drive my business development tool for my businesses,” he told an interviewer last May.

And Vaynerchuk seems to see top of the funnel opportunities everywhere. In every video shot at his desk, you can see a couple of bottles of Vaynerchuk’s Empathy Wines perched behind him; when you visit his website, until recently you’d see an ad for his winery’s deals in the banner text. Subscribers to the GaryVee newsletter recently received a video about VaynerSports, which represents athletes. The new agency was looking to set up local advertising partnerships and asked Vaynerchuk’s followers to get in touch if they might be interested in featuring local sports heroes in influencer campaigns and “have a budget of at least $15k+ for marketing.” During keynote events, Vaynerchuk often wears a sweatshirt printed with the phone number anyone can text to sign up for his regular SMS updates. Though he does not sell anything through this number, he’s promoted two other text groups in which he does: One for buying wine from his family business, the other, dubbed “yummytext,” that offers gourmet food options from his family business.

In his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook (the “jabs” are relationship-building, the “right hook” is the ask), Vaynerchuk advises that “your story needs to move people’s spirits and build their goodwill, so that when you finally do ask them to buy from you, they feel like you’ve given them so much it would be almost rude to refuse.”

Vaynerchuk is good at moving people’s spirits. The heart emoji is probably the only thing that appears as frequently in his text communications as the F-bomb, and it seems genuine. “Don’t you think that motivational speaking is manipulative?” the host of a Yahoo News show asked Vaynerchuk last April. “Of course,” Vaynerchuk responded, visibly distraught by the question. “But I don’t think I’m manipulative… I ask anybody who wants to throw that cynicism at me to go read the transcript of what I’m saying. I am the most practical, immigrant, operating person you will find. There is no delusion in my optimism.”

This symbiosis between Vaynerchuk’s business interests (he literally wrote a book on his subtle art of selling to you) and his message (that he builds his personal brand as an altruistic mission to give back to the world, and to you) is part of his appeal. Vaynerchuk did not become famous by appearing on a reality television show, he was never a famous athlete, he has rarely “gone viral.” What he did was build a personal brand from scratch, and use it to sell wine without making a sales pitch.

The gurus who tell you to invest in real estate often open by explaining how they built their real estate empire. (One guy who spoke at the National Achievers Congress even showed scanned copies of the checks he’d been paid.) The gurus pitching advice about how to become a guru explain how many conferences they’ve spoken at even though they were just like you, at one point, sitting right where you are right now. It should not be surprising that Vaynerchuk continues to demonstrate that he is good at selling. It’s why you’re following him.

The economic crisis has not spared Vaynerchuk. VaynerMedia, like many media agencies, has laid off staff. With conferences on permanent pause, Vaynerchuk himself, he said in a recent video, has already lost “seven figures” of speaking fees. But his message, despite the occasional caveat, has remained much the same: Make lemonade.

Which for Vaynerchuk, in this case, is tea, or rather, “Tea with GaryVee,” the daily Q&A session with his followers that he launched while social distancing, presumably from his home in New York. His callers want to know how to achieve happiness when you’ve lost your job, how to sell flower garlands online when the weddings are postponed, how to pay rent for an antique business when the store is closed. And unlike so many other leadership figures right now, GaryVee has answers.

On the show, he takes callers one by one, listening to their problems like a priest in confession. In one episode, a man with a travel startup, Vaynerchuk notes, probably isn’t going to do so well in the near future, but that shouldn’t stop him from finding the social media influencers who will advertise in exchange for equity. In another, a man who sells point-of-sale systems to restaurants asks what advice he should give his clients while they’re closed. Vaynerchuk hardly hesitates: “I’ve been yelling it for over a decade: Make content on the internet.” Restaurants, he says, should be filming the story behind every dish, building their brands up for the day when they can open their doors again. “I think about all my restaurant friends saying, ‘Oh, we’re so unlucky,’” he says. “No you’re not, you have the internet. You are so lucky.”

Only a few episodes into “Tea with GaryVee,” and Vaynerchuk’s go-to advice has developed into something of a mantra: “Offense and optimism.” The rough translation: it’s time to make lots of content, and focus on the things you can control rather than worrying about the things — like stay-at-home orders — that you cannot. In one Q&A session, the musician Jewel makes an appearance to pitch her free meditation tools.

For an hour or two in each video, Vaynerchuk convincingly makes sense of what to do next, and why so many businesses and people are suffering, and it’s not just the unpredictable destruction of a global pandemic: “If you didn’t save money and bought $13 cocktails… and didn’t put that in a bank to help you through a rainy day,” he says in one episode, “the consequences are that you lose things, and that is the way it should be.” By contrast, he says later on in the same session, “I can go on the offense right now because I’ve saved.”

Maybe, for better or worse, the point of a guru is less about dissecting reality than ignoring it.

Even in a pandemic, Vaynerchuk has found no shortage of places to channel his content-pumping energy. He is now the communications strategist for a fundraising effort to support anti-hunger organizations during the coronavirus crisis, run by the sports apparel company Fanatics. To raise money — nearly $60 million so far, according to the fundraiser’s website — celebrities pitch in prizes for raffles and auctions that most often involve access experiences like lunch with the Kardashians or a putting lesson with Tiger Woods. Vaynerchuk has also launched an e-commerce agency; a speaker series on marketing featuring executives from Burger King, JPMorgan Chase, Pepsi, and GE; and yet another YouTube show called “Coffee and Commerce.” Vaynerchuk looks, once again, like the living proof that his strategies work — and that you can do it, too.

But can everyone really do it? There is a popular refrain in entrepreneurship that a recession is in fact the best time to start a business. People point to companies like FedEx and Slack and Airbnb as model examples, and the data often cited is a 2009 study by the Kauffman Foundation, which found that more than half of Fortune 500 companies had been founded during bear markets. But, as the authors noted at the time, “2008 and 2009 will each produce anywhere from 400,000 to 700,000 startups. Many will fail, some will limp along, and many will survive and thrive. A tiny number may turn out to be among the largest companies of 2020 or 2030.” Their point, though, was not that an economic crisis creates some sort of entrepreneurial jet fuel, but that startups get by at more or less the regular rate. The reality is that not everyone is going to win this one, no matter how hard they try.

Not all achievement — not any achievement — is only a matter of working hard and having talent, but GaryVee has not previously dwelled on that. “I think I’m giving the best advice to women and minorities right now, which is, tough,” he told a young Black man he advised in a 2016 video, explaining that it doesn’t feel good to say it, but “the market just doesn’t care.”

Lately, he’s been addressing racism differently. “We need systematic change, it’s just unbearable to see this much consistent evil on daily basis,” he wrote two days after George Floyd’s murder. A couple of days later he told his followers that “history is watching” and they’d have to answer to their grandchildren one day about “why you didn’t say shit when your fellow humans were hurting so much.” But these posts still live awkwardly next to his usual gospel of working hard, ignoring what other people think, and not dwelling on the disadvantages of your situation.

There is also no acknowledgement that it might be easier to withstand a pandemic — regardless of how many $13 cocktails one has purchased — while in the position of having earned seven-figures for giving a handful of speeches. No nod to the fact that, yes, Vaynerchuk overcame a lot to build his business empire, but also started with a several-million-dollar family business. No discussion of how his playbook might be received differently if executed by someone who isn’t a white man.

The world is not fair, as research proves again and again. When it comes to startups raising money, 77% of seed and Series A rounds go to companies with all-white founding teams. Meanwhile, only 2.1% of all venture capital funding goes to Black founders. Since the pandemic hit, the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program — created as a lifeline for small businesses amid a national crisis — has exposed a similar, systemic imbalance. A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., found that banks treated Black small business owners significantly worse than white borrowers in March. Those biases have grim consequences: According to an analysis based on Census survey estimates, since February, 41% of Black-owned businesses have permanently shut down, compared to only 17% of white-owned businesses.

Critics of hustle culture often talk about how it is used as a prop of the meritocracy myth, to explain who succeeds and who fails, ignoring racism, sexism, and other inequality in the process.

Vaynerchuk once wrote that, “Plenty see white privilege. So do I. I see privilege in being from the streets and having zero and being hungrier. There’s so many different ways. And of course, some are better than others at the most macro. But I don’t even spend the time to figure that out, because by the time you figure out if it was fair, you’re fucking finished.” He’s stuck to this philosophy on fairness during the indisputably unfair pandemic.

This spring, during an NBC news segment about how small businesses could stay motivated during the coronavirus crisis, Vaynerchuk offered his advice to entrepreneurs on national television. He took a question from Los Angeles-based video producer Nick Uhas, who told me later he’d had a rough couple of weeks. Most of his clients had put projects on pause, and there weren’t many companies running ads against the YouTube channels he runs. His question asked for advice to struggling small businesses. Vaynerchuk told him: “What do you want to do, dwell and cry?”

And maybe, for better or worse, the point for those seeking a guru is less about dissecting reality than ignoring it. Uhas says that being told to focus on things he can control, even if obvious, is helpful. “He is an entrepreneur communicator; he has to be bold and clear,” he explains, while acknowledging that Vaynerchuk exaggerates sometimes. “If that helps even one out of 1,000 people, then awesome. He did it right. If the other 999 are like, that is not the answer I was looking for, they’ll look elsewhere, and they’ll find their answer and their motivation somewhere else.”

Critics of hustle culture often talk about how it is used as a prop of the meritocracy myth, to explain who succeeds and who fails, ignoring racism, sexism, and other inequality in the process. That happens. But there’s also a flip side of refusing to acknowledge real barriers to success — global pandemic included — that makes the philosophy sellable even to those who are disenfranchised. The church of GaryVee offers salvation to anyone, because if there are no valid excuses, then everyone, regardless of their situation, has a chance. And even with a million legitimate asterisks, that’s a delusion whose appeal only increases with desperation.

Author and journalist, writing and editing at Medium’s OneZero.

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