A few years ago, during a cozy December dinner party with friends, the idea of a “word of the year” came up: Instead of resolutions, we would pick one-word themes. I chose my first word: open. And over the next 12 months, it took me in some surprising directions—including leaving my magazine editor career to start a software company, guesterly. I had not seen that one coming.
As 2014 drew to a close, I had the concept for my new word, but not the word itself. I felt like the new year would bring a huge leap professionally: Not only were my co-founder and I taking a big swing for the fences with guesterly by building new software and expanding into new markets, but I was launching an online PR School on the side. Oh, and for fun, I was teaching a fitness class at my local gym—a hobby, but one I had to show up for even when things got busy.
I needed a mindset shift that would help me grind out the daily work that would make those big dreams happen. Inspired by a Thomas Edison quote along the lines of, “Success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” I started with “perspiration.” But Year of Perspiration didn’t have the ring I was looking for.
What I needed was a word that said: work hard—really hard—for just one year. Or to paraphrase the popular “work smarter, not harder” adage, I needed a 2015 word that inspired me to work smarter and harder. For 365 days in a row, I would chase every opportunity, solve every problem, and build new things constantly, and then, come what may, I would know I had given this entrepreneur journey my all.
I brainstormed with friends and family (tip #1!) and someone suggested “hustle.” The Year of Hustle. Now that had a nice sound to it—like a mantra—which makes a word more powerful and easy to remember. The more fun it is to say and talk about, the more you’ll integrate it into your life (tip #2!). Having a theme also helped my team rally around this work-hard year.
My #yearofhustle started with a bang: Our guesterly team came together for a two-month development sprint, PR School had a six-figure launch, and as my feet touched the ground at 5 a.m. every day, I would think: “#yearofhustle! It’s go time!” Yes, there were 18-hour days in the office, and my diet consisted almost entirely of delivered pizza—but, wow, was it FUN.
Still, by March, the adrenaline rush had worn off. We were 90 percent done with our new software, and the push to the end felt like a slog. The first round of PR School had been an unqualified success, and I was no longer stressed about where my next rent payment might come from. And for the icing on the cake, I’d been interviewed about my fitness class for “Self” and “Glamour.” Pretty good for a year!
Except this was the #yearofhustle—not #2monthsofhustle. Because I’d publicly shared my journey on social media, I felt accountable to keep it up (tip #3!). So I hustled to find my hustle. I made long lists of things I could do, and then—here’s the kicker—I did them.
I sent hundreds of packages out to media and influencers. I thought of 50 people I wanted to know better, and then invited them to lunch or coffee. Then I asked those people who I should meet. I networked with investors. I began doing free phone calls with potential PR School students, and closed sale after sale. I sought out speaking opportunities anywhere I could, no matter how small.
“Year of hustle,” I repeated to myself, over and over again.
I must have put thousands of feelers out into the world during #yearofhustle, and when I unravel the threads, it’s a domino effect of those feelers that led to the high point of my journey: an acquisition offer for guesterly by a company my co-founder and I deeply admired, Chatbooks. A conversation led to a speech, a tweet led to a meeting, and the story unrolled in the most organic way.
In fact, every little thing that led to and positioned us for the acquisition offer was unexceptional in the year of hustle—and yet the sum of those actions was exceptional: guesterly joined the Chatbooks suite of products, and my co-founder and I joined the Chatbooks team.
The #yearofhustle turned a pipe dream into reality—and changed my life, all in a year’s time.
Where will your word take you?
Rachel Hofstetter is the VP of Marketing at Chatbooks, and you can find her at on Twitter and @rachelhoffy1 on Instagram. She’s an Oprah magazine editor turned entrepreneur, and author of the best-selling book “Cooking Up a Business” (Penguin, 2013).