"Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle." - Abraham Lincoln.
I found this quote during my research for Hustle and Float, and was immediately skeptical. (The Internet has a spotty record for accurately citing who said what
I fell down a rabbit hole that spanned both the evolution of the term hustle within our cultural narrative as well as the development of Abe Lincoln as a digital meme (see the side bar for my favorites). Both digital safaris were fascinating and I hope my notes make it into the book!
This particular Lincoln quote got me thinking about the reason behind linking a greatly respected historical figure and the word "hustle" as it's applied to our contemporary work culture. Interestingly, as I traced back different versions of the quote, I found it had shifted over time from simply saying "things may come," to "good things may come" and finally, the latest iteration, "great things may come."
Good things are no longer enough, we now demand the arrival of great things and we only deserve them if we hustle. There's a lot of symbolism here: a man of impeachable character, the notion of working harder than those around us, all woven together via pixels and bytes to push a very specific narrative about self-worth and value.
As you might have guessed, Lincoln did not say those motivating words. According to a 2003 newsletter from the Abraham Lincoln Association
The word hustle in Lincoln’s time would have been understood to mean “to get up” or to “obtain,” as in “hustle me up a few chips to start this fire.” The word hustle as used in the quote refers to an energetic effort. Yet this usage did not appear until very late in the nineteenth century, well after Lincoln died. Hustle became embedded in popular culture with the rise of competitive sports and the disco song, “The Hustle,” by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony, which sold eight million copies in 1975.
The article helpfully concludes that "Lincoln may have been ambitious, but he did not hustle."