Get your hustle on! Four winning lessons for succeeding in hard times

Truly beautiful: The view from our hotel room in Hammamet, Tunisia

My husband and I recently returned from the most amazing holiday in Tunisia.

Apart from the beautiful hot weather, gorgeous beaches and delicious local food, what really made the holiday for me was the chance to experience the culture of the Tunisians and to witness first class ‘hustling’ in action.

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘hustle’, it’s defined in the urban dictionary as follows:

“Anythin you need to do to make money…be it sellin cars, drugs, ya body. If you makin money, you hustlin.”

In Tunisia it seemed almost everyone hustled for a living.

We had our first taste at the airport when a young man of about 18 years old with sun-kissed skin appeared from nowhere, took our suitcases – without asking – and started pumping his way to the coach that was to transport us to our hotel in Hammamet.

Once we got to the coach, we thanked him warmly for his kindness and went to climb the steps to our seats. At that moment the young man’s palm swiftly stretched out towards my husband exclaiming, “Sir, please, dinar!”

It turned out he wasn’t being kind after all – he was simply making a living and we were now required to make a financial contribution for the privilege.

Hustle on the beach

We were hustled again the next day when a friendly looking man in his late thirties approached us on the beach with a heaving basket of papaya in tow and a small chameleon clinging to his shirt.

With the little English he spoke, he asked us if we were from England and then offered to take a picture of us with the chameleon (which up until that point I thought was a toy!) – “Me friend, you friend, he friend”, he said, pointing to the creature.

There was no getting away from the chameleon man's hustle!

There was no getting away from the chameleon man’s hustle!

Reluctantly hubby and I both posed with the lizard, and despite saying no several times, also ended up eating the warm papaya fruit chameleon man had cut open from his basket.

Now that we had taken pictures with his animal and eaten fruit from his basket, the final sell – as we later realised it was – was to force two papayas each into our hands, along with two packets of home-roasted caramel peanuts.

No amount of no’s were good enough – it was only after handing the guy 10 dinars (around £4), that we were finally able to escape and get on with our day!

Hustling for survival – a very long winter

By the time we left at the end of seven days, we had been hustled so many times we really couldn’t keep count any more.

We got pretty good at haggling the hustlers (okay, my Nigerian background and childhood shopping with my mum in East London’s Walthamstow Market gave me a pretty good headstart in this area), but on day five we learnt something that totally changed our view of the Tunisian people and their hustling ways.

Quad-biking in the desert - a great experience with a sad truth...

Quad-biking in the desert – a great experience with a sad truth…

We booked a quad bike excursion which took us an hour’s ride into the desert and up to the beautiful mountains of Hammamet.

As we pulled over to admire the breathtaking views and take some pictures, our quad bike tutor, Mohamad, confided that he couldn’t take part in Ramadan during the summer because he worked 12 hours a day every day in the blazing hot sun, taking tourists like us up and down the desert on quads.

When we asked why he worked so much, he said he had no choice – he needed to make all the money he could (just 10 dinars a day) because for three months in the year he would have work during the holiday season, and then the other nine months there were no jobs to be found anywhere – “I love my country but I hate the economy”, he said.

Later that evening, one of our hotel waiters at El Mouradi Hammamet shared similar woes. He didn’t mind that he rode 80km a day on his moped for the morning and night shift - “I’m one of the lucky ones to even have job” – but he was dreading the 25th of October when his contract ended and just like Mohamad, he would have to spend a long winter doing very little until the following summer.

Winning lessons for succeeding in hard times

By this point we quickly realised that what we had initially thought of as a quirky, inconvenient, and perhaps a tiny bit annoying aspect of Tunisian culture, was actually a survival mechanism. 

Underneath the beautiful exterior of the well-kept tourist areas of Tunisia lay a country struggling with poverty and desperate unemployment – so much so that a 27-year-old cigarette vendor set himself on fire in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, earlier this year in a suicidal protest.

I boarded the plane back to London with a tinge of sadness, a new-found respect and admiration for the Tunisian hustle, and these four winning lessons for succeeding in hard times:

1) Attitude is everything

What’s your attitude about being out of work or not being in the job of your dreams? Are you blaming any and everyone around you? The job market…the economy…the government?

The Tunisians had every reason to pass blame, but remarkably all the ones we met chose to take personal responsibility for their lives and make the best out of a bad situation. The right attitude can keep you going even when circumstances are hard.

2) You always have something to offer

Camel riding was a constant hustle - we eventually gave in...

Camel riding was a constant hustle – we eventually gave in…

There’s a story in the Bible about a widow woman who was down to her last pennies and in so much debt that the bailiffs were due to come round and collect her two sons as payment.

She is visited by a prophet who asks her a crucial question that was the key to her breakthrough: “What do you have in the house?” The woman replies, “Nothing…” and almost as an afterthought adds, “…except a small jar of oil”.

The prophet tells her to borrow as many jars as possible from her neighbours and to start pouring the oil into it. Miraculously, as she starts to pour into the jars the oil starts to flow, and flow, and flow, until she was all out of jars. Then the prophet tells her to go and sell the oil, pay off her debts and live off the rest with her sons.

Customer service with a smile: Fake designer goods and hustling shopkeepers galore in Tunisia

Customer service with a smile: Fake designer goods and hustling shopkeepers galore in Tunisia

Whether it was papayas and pictures with lizards, camel rides or fake designer goods, each person we came across in Tunisia found something to offer us in exchange for those precious dinars.

You too have something to offer the world of work (and of course, the world at large).

If you’ve never done a personal skills audit before, now’s a good time to sit down and analyse what skills you have that will better position you for the job you want.

Don’t restrict it to just skills you’ve gained from your previous work – also look at skills from volunteering, education or any community activities and initiatives you’re part of.

Not only is this exercise great for writing out your CV or LinkedIn profile, it will also give you a confidence boost when you realise, just like the widow woman, that you have a lot more to offer than you think.

3) Persistence pays off

If there was just one thing I could rate the Tunisians 10 out of 10 on, it would be persistence – they never stopped hustling for those dinars!

In his book, An Enemy Called Average (I fully recommend reading this), John L. Mason talks about persistence being one of the things that differentiates winners from everyone else – “Persistent people begin their success where most others quit”.

Our new friend after hustling us into a horse and carriage ride

Our new friend after hustling us into a horse and carriage ride

4) Develop a sense of urgency

The Tunisians hustled like every day was the last ever chance they would get to do it.

Every market stall owner wanted you to ”just have a look one minute” at their stock, in case there was an opportunity for a sale. They had a sense of urgency about life which was very infectious.

I recently came across this inspirational video by a young man with an amazing story of overcoming difficult challenges in childhood and rising above it. Warren Ryan’s adversities led him to develop a sense of urgency about life – to truly live each and every day and make every moment count.

You can develop a sense of urgency with your career, and with your life in general, by setting clear goals and visions for yourself and going at them every day like it’s the last chance you’ll get to do so. Why? Because one day it really will be your last chance so make your life count today.


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