An Interview With Drew Gerber
Authenticity: embrace your whole self and be truly human- this will allow you to embrace others in the same way and connect with authenticity. This means honoring when you need a day of rest, time to think something through, or to be there for a loved one. It’s a level of empathy you can provide yourself and then provide to others. We aren’t robots, and no one should expect you to behave like one.
“Hustle Culture” is an ethos often propounded by young self-proclaimed internet gurus that centers around the idea that working long hours and sacrificing self-care are required to succeed. This mentality may have gained popularity in the mid-2010s, but it has peaked, and now it has been sardonically renamed “Burnout Culture.” So why exactly is Hustle Culture the wrong path to take? What damage can it cause? What is a viable, sustainable alternative to hustle culture? How can we move from Frenzy To Focus? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, mental health leaders, marketing experts, business coaches, authors, and thought leaders who can share stories and insights about “How We Can Cancel Hustle Culture And Create A New Sustainable Work Paradigm.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Talya Esserman.
Talya Esserman is the Head of People Operations at We Are Rosie, where she leads a team of people empower-ers in operations, engagement, DEI, and scalability to promote We Are Rosie’s rapid growth and mission. She is an ambitious, creative leader passionate about developing and enhancing team functionality, strategy, culture, communications, and relationships. Talya develops innovative initiatives to scale the mission of supporting We Are Rosie’s extraordinary people while providing a workplace that treats everyone with dignity and access to opportunities to bring about an inclusive, flexible, human-centric future of work.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
My life is filled with inspiration from my family, friends, and surroundings; they have ingrained ambition, accountability, and honoring all while never giving up on your dreams. I live in Denver, CO, and am an avid skier, reader, dog mom, and advocate for the human-centric future of work.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles as a first-generation American; this gave me the privilege of being exposed to the wide range of diversity a metropolitan city offers and a deep understanding of what equity means.
During my childhood, my mom pursued her Master’s in Psychology to become a therapist, leading me to read the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) with her as she studied throughout the evenings.
These factors instilled curiosity, a passion for advocating and understanding all, and a level of grit rooted in the desire to make the world a better place.
I studied Fine Arts and Art History with the objective of provoking thought and change in the world, and then I found the beautiful world of business.
I discovered I could similarly approach the business world as art, design experiences for the greater good of the collective, and in turn, change the way work or the world happens- championing for collective respect and care, being human, and connecting people through those pillars.
Before We Are Rosie, I was Director of People Operations at a series A start-up, focusing on global expansion, DEI, talent and employee management programs, learning and development, and People Ops. In an earlier season of my career, I sat on the leadership team at Projectline, where I led a team of consultants, served as a career coach, and spearheaded a Veteran and Military spouse DEI initiative.
In 2020, Projectline was acquired by Accenture; I then transitioned into a Talent Strategy role for Strategy & Consulting at Accenture after serving as a critical partner in the Accenture merger for both Yesler and Projectline.
When I read about We Are Rosie, and the mission, I knew I had found a kismet opportunity that aligned with my career objectives and personal values.
Tell us about your typical day!
The exciting part of People Operations is the variability behind the scenes. In a generalized way, a typical day consists of supporting my direct reports and other individuals on the leadership team while working through complex programs such as Performance Reviews, DEIB, Learning & Development, or creating a Leadership handbook.
During the work week, I always make time and space to work out, walk my dog, meditate, read, and care for myself. On weekends, you can find me skiing in winter or hiking with my pup in summer.
Staying active is a high priority for me and my well-being- it allows me to process solutions and show up as my best self.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
I’d encourage myself to embrace my empowerment at an earlier age and to voice my opinions more. I’ve always wanted to explore, create, and make a difference, but I was unclear on how to show up. With experience, the how and expression came, but the voice was always there.
Always trust your intuition, and patience truly is a virtue.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s start with a basic definition to make sure that all of us are on the same page. How do you define Hustle Culture?
When I think of Hustle Culture, what comes to mind is work above all else, along with a deep understanding of meeting people where they are at.
The term first surfaces thoughts of long hours, inflexibility, damaging relationships with yourself and your loved ones, and burnout, being rooted in the idea of the American Dream, turned into a nightmare.
As a first-generation American, the American Dream is near and dear to my heart; for me, it isn’t ‘rise-and-grind’; it’s about sustaining a beautiful life with the freedom of choice.
I fully acknowledge that the mere option to sustain a beautiful life and have the freedom of choice is a privilege. There are people who need to lean into hustle culture to ensure they don’t go hungry, pay bills, and sustain life itself; others are lit up by hustle culture in certain seasons of their careers- I have been one of those people.
As it pertains to this interview, it is about a culture created by corporations and ‘influencers’ to get high levels of output from employees without valuing them as humans.
Now let’s discuss an alternative to Hustle Culture. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the problems that come with Hustle Culture?
Within my role at We Are Rosie, as Head of People Operations, I have the privilege of influencing our culture, impacting change, and serving as a leader of the people for the people working to empower and embrace each individual as whole humans. At We Are Rosie, we aim to do this for our 25K+ community members.
In my personal life, being a first-generation American who is self-made, I have gone through the struggles of Hustle Culture and know it well.
The specific term “Hustle Culture” may have been popularized in the 2010s, but the concept behind it and the behaviors that come with it can be traced back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years. From your vantage point, experience, or research, what were the main drivers of Hustle Culture?
A desire for security, survival, and eventually excess drives Hustle Culture. It makes its mark through stress, anxiety, isolation, and burnout, emphasizing the end goal; it is taken to an extreme and pays no mind to the process of the journey. This makes it toxic.
It’s based on the belief that if one leans into Hustle Culture, they will excel in whatever they put their mind to, and tap into their calling without accounting for rest, life outside of work, and the impact of burnout.
Hustle Culture is driven by the conventional wisdom that you can only succeed if you put work before everything else, to be seen as ambitious, and to ‘achieve the dream.’
I work in the marketing industry, and so I’m very cognizant of this question. What role do you see that marketing and advertising has played in creating the frenzy caused by Hustle Culture that many of us feel?
Marketing and advertising are responsible for selling products, and to do that successfully, you must tap into the psychology of desire. You do that by creating an emotional connection to a value and stating that the product being sold will bring that to you.
For example, if you have a luxury car that shows you are successful, you have achieved the American Dream. How did you do that? Hustle culture, naturally.
Can you help articulate the downsides of Hustle Culture? Why is this an unsustainable work paradigm?
Burn-out, stress, detrimental impacts on mental and physical well-being, loss of dreams, employee attrition, and failure to meet goals.
It’s an unsustainable work paradigm because it fails to acknowledge the natural state of humans and the way our minds work. We need rest, processing time, human connection, and time to play. We are not designed to live in a state of fight or flight- but we do call for having our basic needs met.
Let’s now discuss Focus, the opposite of Frenzy. Can you please share one area of your personal or business life where you simplified things and then felt less frenzied and more fulfilled? Can you please explain?
Focus has been my mantra for the last 3 years.
My most impactful actions have been:
Time Blocking, adopting the Pomodoro method, creating prioritization lists daily, and honoring my boundaries. Since I am remote, personal and business life can blend fairly easily. Creating a clear separation between my workspace and living space has been imperative. I have a place in my apartment where I go to work, and when I am in my work zone, I know where to place my focus.
When I leave my workspace, it’s not only leaving it physically but mentally. It’s time to focus on things outside of work.
These actions honor my well-being, boundaries, and curiosity by caring for myself and working to best meet people where they are, not where or how I project them to be.
What life experiences have you adopted in your business or personal life that have left you more satisfied? Can you please explain?
3–4 days a week (during the work week), I take a break around 3 PM to go work out. I give myself time to get out of my head and into my body. If the day has been jam-packed with meetings, it’s a beautiful time to clear my mind before I think about any next steps or solutions. If it’s been a day of deep focus, it gives me time to think freely.
When I return to my desk, I always feel refreshed and have the much-needed clarity to achieve what I need to. Additionally, I work for only however long I was gone. If not, I just enter a cycle of Hustle Culture and do not create time and space for personal joy and rest; my dog does not like that.
Okay, fantastic. Here is the main part of our interview. In your opinion, how can we break the addiction to being busy or trying to find the next big thing? How can people truly focus on tasks that make THE difference to their business and lives giving them satisfaction or life purpose alignment? Based on your experience and your area of expertise, can you please share “Five Ways To Move From Frenzy to Focused”?
1. Define your Values: identify ways you can live them in your personal and professional life. One of my top 2 values is well-being which motivates me to find ways to ingrain well-being into my day-to-day, every day. Your values will make the difference for you.
2. Authenticity: embrace your whole self and be truly human- this will allow you to embrace others in the same way and connect with authenticity. This means honoring when you need a day of rest, time to think something through, or to be there for a loved one. It’s a level of empathy you can provide yourself and then provide to others. We aren’t robots, and no one should expect you to behave like one.
3. Boundaries & Vision: set boundaries and a realistic vision and timeline for success that takes YOU into account. Honor those boundaries and your personal journey to finding success; things take time, and comparison is the thief of joy.
4. Time away from work: take that PTO and don’t feel guilty about it. Make time for what lights you up outside of work. Make that painting, take that ski trip, hug a dog, volunteer, read a book, pursue your side gig- whatever it is, make time for it.
5. Honor All: treat everyone with the dignity and respect you wish to be treated with.
How would you describe a work paradigm that is a viable alternative to Hustle Culture? What would it look like, and what would you call it?
The human-centric approach to work.
Embodying that when humans are part of a collective, they believe in, feel a sense of belonging to, understand their contributions, and are honored as whole humans, that’s when the magic happens.
People will move through work with intention, innovation, curiosity, and authenticity.
This means saying, “I need more time on this,” or “I need support.”
It’s owning our mistakes and learning from them over feeling shamed.
Taking time for our passions outside of work and understanding that rest and connection are critical parts of well-being.
It’s for the long haul and is about growth, exploration, and innovation. It’s not all about the volume of output or the hustle.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you about working differently?
Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown. Literacy of emotions is key.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can inspire.
We are all humans; we all have needs, we want to survive and thrive, connect, contribute, and belong.
Treat everyone with the same dignity and respect you would treat your idol with. Acknowledge your equity and privilege, and advocate for equality. The small things in life make a difference, and when you practice respect for each and every human, you make the world a better place.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.