Social media sensation Gary Vee talks about hustle culture, burnout and business success

The bestselling author and speaker was in Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

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Somya Mehta

Published: Fri 18 Feb 2022, 12:44 PM

Last updated: Fri 18 Feb 2022, 3:10 PM

Known popularly as Gary Vee, Gennady Vaynerchuk was born in Belarus in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States at a very young age with his parents — to chase the American dream. Since then, the Belarusian-American entrepreneur has come quite far in fulfilling his larger-than-life ambitions, becoming a bestselling author, motivational speaker, Internet personality and CEO of his New-York based communication company VaynerMedia.

Vaynerchuk, 46, whose networth was estimated to be at around $160 million according to CNBC, started his Internet journey making long-form videos on YouTube in 2006, called WineLibraryTV, to promote his father’s wine business, growing it from three to sixty million dollars in sales during his tenure. The social media sensation is known for sharing the tricks of his trade with the public, showcasing what worked for him and how aspiring entrepreneurs and organisations can leverage it for their own growth.

His latest book Twelve and a Half: Leveraging the Emotional Ingredients Necessary for Business Success, Vaynerchuk pulls at an emotional thread in an otherwise profit and data-driven territory. In environments driven by business leaders seeking comfort in the ‘black-and-white’ approach of decision-making, the author distills the importance of qualities such as gratitude, empathy, self-awareness, humility and curiosity for organisational health, cementing their position as industry “must-haves” rather than “nice-to-haves”.

In a conversation with Khaleej Times, Vaynerchuk, who was in Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, talks about his latest book, what drives him and why, even now, businesses fail to humanise their employees.

Gary Vee at Emirates LitFest
Gary Vee at Emirates LitFest

You inspire millions of people online. Who or what motivates you?

Two things come to mind. My parents inspire me very much, they are my heroes. I was born in the Soviet Union. I came to America at a very young age and really built our American dream. I was incredibly parented. I think the other thing that inspires me, though, is everybody else. I’m incredibly inspired by humanity. I think humans are incredibly underrated. We spend an awful lot of energy judging what humans are not good at, while I find humans to be collectively, an incredible species that has an enormous amount of love. I’m inspired by all the people that are producing positivity in the face of adversity, which is hundreds of millions.

You often speak about leading a life of purpose. After already having accomplished so much, what’s your purpose at this stage of your life? And why is it important to have a purpose in life?

I think having values keeps you in line with what you’re trying to actually achieve. For me, my purpose in life is to give more than I take, I’m very passionate about a framework I’ve created for myself called 51-49. If I give the world 51 per cent of my energy, then I get so much out of that 49 per cent. So, that is my mantra.

In one of your previous books Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too, you mention that successful brands can be built in the after hours, on the weekends. Millennials or the Gen Z also call it ‘hustle culture’. Can it lead to people feeling overwhelmed and burnt out? How can individuals navigate that?

Gary Vee on hustle culture and burnout

By not judging themselves and by realising that if you’re doing things on the side, which you enjoy, it becomes a hobby, not a burnout. And by also giving people time to accomplish it. If you decide that you need to be a millionaire in one year, then you’re going to be frantic in your side hustle. If you give yourself your whole life to achieve it, your feeling towards it will change. Remarkably, people don’t burnout when they think of things in 100 year terms versus 100 hour terms. I think the reason so many people are burning out is because they don’t realise they have a bigger issue at hand, which is that they’re completely and utterly living their lives for outside validation. So, they’re in such a rush to create optical success, to show everybody else that they’re such a winner. When you play for yourself, and you do these things on the side for yourself, you never burnout.

But is it important to disconnect? Do you switch off in your own life?

The answer is of course I do. I sleep a lot more than people think; I vacation a lot. I take my weekends. But let me remind everybody one more time. You don’t disconnect from things that bring you radical enjoyment. If you genuinely are following your passion as your side hustle, it’s more fun than watching Netflix. It’s more fun than reading a book. It’s more fun than taking a bath with candles. People sometimes are very binary in their thinking. If you’re actually enjoying your side hustle, you don’t even come anywhere close to burnout. I think people are burning out because they have the wrong KPIs and the wrong North Star.

The Great Resignation is an incredibly exciting trend to combat this. A lot of people are realising they have options and are being thoughtful about where they spend their time. I’ve been pushing, for a decade and a half, for the concept of enjoying what you do. And for some people, that’s entrepreneurship, but for many people, they don’t have the stomach to take the risk that comes with entrepreneurship. So, that means they need to find positive organisations to work with.

In your latest book, you speak about the importance of emotional intelligence for business success and you also work with many of the fortune 500 companies. In 2022, how far away are businesses from humanising their employees?

Gary Vee on the importance of emotional intelligence for business success

We are not even remotely close. We are light years away from the North Star that I have for business society. Most organisations are only worried about the money. And when you care about profits over people, you will be vulnerable to everything that I speak about. That’s not eliminating the practicality of having to pay your bills every day. I worry about paying my bills, but there is a much greater level of humanity and kindness that is in that gap between organisations going out of business versus profits. So, I hope to create a dialogue that challenges organisations to understand that if they’re able to keep their people longer, their profits will be greater. The way to keep your people longer is by making it good for them. It’s not a very complicated model. It’s just not there in our conversation yet.

You talk about twelve emotional ingredients in your book to foster a more compassionate work environment. Where can organisations start from?

The number one place an organisation can start towards achieving this North Star is the next situation that they are met with, where they have to make a decision between being compassionate to an employee versus the financial bottom line in that situation. Choose the employee and see what happens.

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