Grace Beverley’s life to date has been a roaring success. Aged 24, she’s the chief executive of Shreddy, a fitness and recipes app, and Tala, a sustainable activewear brand, which — since launching in 2019 — has made more than $14 million worth of sales.
She has earned a place on the Forbes Under-30 commerce list and has realized the Gen Z/millennial dream of buying her own, vast home in central London, which she has tastefully renovated (all documented on Instagram, naturally) and shares with friends.
Beverley has achieved this in a uniquely 21st-century way — through being an influencer with a combined 1.5 million followers on her @GraceBeverley (formerly GraceFitUK) social media accounts, a career that initially involved posting scores of pictures of herself in teensy bikinis and low-cut dresses on Instagram, while chatting merrily on YouTube on everything from revising for her Oxford finals (she graduated with a 2:1 in music), to the merits of comfy versus sexy undies. She then used her profile to launch her e-commerce brands.
It’s a way of life that will seem enviable and inspirational to many in her generation — even if it was alarming to her parents at first when she decided against pursuing a career in law after leaving Oxford.
Now she has got a message for other Gen-Zedders, many of whom worship her. It’s fine not to want a traditional office job and that her generation should be lauded for their entrepreneurial flair, skill with social media and ability to turn their personalities, hobbies and even their unwanted possessions into a business.
However, what Gen-Zedders also need to do is question the culture that demands they work 24/7 and monetize everything they do — and take a break. Or they risk burning out.
Beverley’s peers may often be mocked as work-shy snowflakes, but, as she makes clear in her excellent new book, Working Hard, Hardly Working: How to Achieve More, Stress Less and Feel Fulfilled — which she characteristically wrote while running two businesses — twentysomethings are in fact far more obsessed with productivity than their predecessors. And it’s not always healthy.
“Our generation has internalized the idea that we should be working all the time,” she says. “It’s very much looked down on to say, ‘Well, I do my job and then I leave for the night and forget about it.’ There’s this idea that people who work a 40-hour week are lazy.”
While Generation X spent their twenties working eight-hour days in an office, followed by nightly sessions in the pub uninterrupted by phone pings from work or social media, Generation Z are haunted by the all-pervading American-imported concept of the “side hustle”, under pressure to be — for example — a trainee solicitor by day, while importing hand-knitted Peruvian sanitary products at night.
“There’s a new pressure where you feel you have to be making money out of doing something you love and if you’re just working to make money you’re somehow ‘less than’.” Combine that with the rise of the gig economy where people with any spare time are encouraged to find work driving cabs or delivering food and the stresses can be relentless, she says.
“Today absolutely everything is monetizable, which is great in so many ways, but it also means every time you’re driving you could be making money from Uber, every time you give clothes to a charity shop you could be making money off [the clothes-selling app] Depop. Every time you’re not working, you’re instantly losing money rather than just resting. No wonder people are feeling a bit lost and inadequate.”
Her message is important because surveys show there’s a new generation growing up who are increasingly looking to their digital devices to deliver their career paths, rather than traditional vocations.
Surveys show that 53 percent of children want a career as a YouTuber, while only 12 percent fancy being a doctor or nurse. While now middle-aged Generation X peers climbed the corporate ladder, today’s cohort reject the idea of gradually earning their stripes within the system, preferring to use social media to try their own luck.
“When you think of someone who’s fulfilling their purpose I don’t think of a job like being a doctor or a humanitarian worker any more, even though those careers are exceptionally worthy,” Beverley says. “I think of an Instagrammer, someone who can work from anywhere, doing something that’s hyper-lucrative and hyper-fulfilling. That is seen as the ultimate goal and if you’re not doing that, you’re doing it all wrong.”
And she points out, while the term “influencer” may only have begun surfacing on search engines in 2015, its role models are now everywhere, from the Brighton-based 31-year-old PewDiePie, who has made almost $40 million out of uploading video-game commentaries, “Deliciously Ella” Mills, 29, whose clean-eating blog has become a $1.3-million-plus brand, and 31-year-old Zoe Sugg who began her career as Zoella uploading videos about her Superdrug shopping “hauls” and has a net worth of about $4.1 million.
As a child, Beverley’s ambition was to be a lawyer or politician. She started her Instagram account when she was a self-conscious sixth former at the prestigious St Paul’s Girls’ School (social media buzzes endlessly with snipes at her “privilege”, something she fully acknowledges), originally as an attempt to track her attempts to get fit for summer.
“I didn’t even post my face on the account until I hit 10,000 followers and I didn’t manage to monetize any aspect of it until over a year and a half later,” she says. By this point she was at Oxford on a choral scholarship and her number of followers had mushroomed.
While vlogging, Beverley spotted gaps in the market for her businesses. She launched B_ND (which later incorporated into Shreddy) in her second year, while Tala was unveiled to the world the same month she was taking her finals. “I was in the library until 3am, then up at 6am to talk to factories, it was crazy and unsustainable, but also one of the most validating times of my life,” she says.
But even with two companies under her belt, she still imagined she would end up pursuing the traditional Oxbridge path into law or the City. “I was determined to finish Oxford, it had always been my dream to go there, I owed it to my past self, to my future self,” she says.
In the end, however, after she graduated, Beverley decided to stick with the already flourishing businesses, not least because she was smart enough to recognize the prospect of posting mirror selfies forever had a shelf life. “I decided I needed to create longevity for my career and fulfilment in my work that didn’t involve sharing every moment of my life, all the time,” she says.
What did Beverley’s father, who runs a business consultancy, and mother, a senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, make of the career choice of their daughter, former head chorister at Salisbury Cathedral?
“For the first few years, it was very hard to explain to them what I did. No one really knew what an influencer was. But now, it’s very clear that I run full-blown businesses with employees and extra cash flow and stock.”
Despite her success and the perks of her job, she has grown acutely aware of the dangers of never switching off. Even “self-care”, Gen Z speak for relaxing, can be onerous, she points out. “We have to present an image of being carefree when we’re actually working all the time and it all adds to the pressure.”
All these anxieties have only been exacerbated by the pandemic where Beverley’s contemporaries were guilted into feeling they must be using their time “productively” to learn a new language or start a business, with many living 24/7 in the same room as their office equipment.
Unsurprisingly, she’s now witnessing more and more of them burn out. “You see people thinking, ‘I just can’t do this any more, I’m going to drop out altogether.’ I think that’s going to go up and up and get uglier and uglier.”
Beverley’s aim in writing the book was to help others “navigate our strange working world”. She advises “planning and implementing in” breaks into schedules, but admits our interconnected world makes it hard ever to truly relax. “I might sit and scroll through my phone for an hour, but I’d never do that without having Netflix on and afterwards I feel fried. You can’t ever get away.”
Individuals require different solutions, she says. Beverley copes with “planned nothings”, trying since the new year — “for the first time since school” — to keep weekends and two nights a week completely free. “Although three weeks ago we had an absolute crisis, and I had to work all weekend and didn’t sleep for the next week — that’s just part of the job.”
At the same time, she acknowledges the importance of “f***-it nothings” when everything becomes overwhelming and — however inconvenient — you simply have to wind it down for a couple of hours or sometimes days. And while she acknowledges it’s “hardly groundbreaking”, having a dog means she’s forced to go outside every day and, while on walks, she leaves her phone at home.
Does she recognize her contribution toward making grafting good? “I’ve definitely played a part in that,” says Beverley, who on a “normal day” works from about 8am to 6pm with a lunch break where she usually watches a TED talk.
Every time she wants to down tools, she knows she has to ignore constant boasting from other influencers about “sleep is for the weak”. “I know I work incredibly hard, but I always feel I need to be seen to be working even harder because that’s the culture we glorify,” she says.
“I’m definitely not saying, ‘Fight against this, don’t work after 5pm!’ You should be able to lean in and work really hard to get to where you want to get to, but at the same time we all need to know when to step back. Right now, no one feels rested, no one feels comfortable, no one can do their work properly and we all end up being far less productive.”
Julia Llewellyn Smith is the author of several books, including Lovestruck