I’m breaking up with hustle culture

Dr. Melissa Shepard Smiling in white lab coat

By Dr. Melissa Shepard

I’m doing something scary.


I’m prioritizing my passions, and I’m not sure if it will work out.


I’m taking a big pay cut to focus on my writing, social media work, education, and advocacy for at least the next few months.


I love taking care of patients, and I can’t ever see myself not seeing patients. But I’ve decided to hold off on taking any new patients and make a few other changes so that I can cut down my patient-care hours and instead work to expand the other areas of my business (which just happen to be the ones that don’t pay the bills…yet).


I’m scared because I’m the primary breadwinner in my family. I also have two employees and I want to continue paying them well. I want them to be with me for the long-term (they are wonderful) and I want them to feel valued and well-cared for. I’m okay with taking a pay cut, but I’m not okay with them taking a pay cut.


But I’ve been working myself to the bone with my schedule the past several months. I see more patients than the average private practice psychiatrist because I charge less. I want my care to be accessible to people regardless of their financial situation, so I’ve made a point to do things like accept insurances (despite low reimbursement rates) and offer sliding scale discounts to anyone who needs them. I even have patients that I see for free. And I don’t want to change this. I hate that mental healthcare in this country is so dependent on what you can afford. It’s not right and I refuse to be a part of it. That being said, I fully acknowledge that this is probably not the best business model.


I also love and truly value what I do on social media and my blog. The comments that people leave for me have made me realize that it is making a difference. But the haphazard way I post (no planning, just doing the best I can to create something when I have the time) is not enough to pay the bills. Case in point: I have over 1.1 million followers on TikTok, and I’m a part of the “Creator Fund,” which allows you to monetize your TikTok account. I made $1.13 on 10/11/2021 (the most recent date reported), up from $0.46 the day before. But hey, that’s better than Instagram, which doesn’t have any passive monetization process for most creators.


Despite my subpar monetization results thus far, I know that people make a living as creators, writers, and educators. I’ve seen that people can make the kind of difference I’ve always dreamed of making. I might not be there yet, but I think it is possible that what I do could become more sustainable.


For the past several months, my solution to this financial sustainability issue was to work harder. I told myself I needed to focus more, become more productive, wake up earlier, go to bed later, and cut out the things I enjoy (RIP Starbucks) to make ends meet. I guess this has helped, but the results haven’t been all that impressive.


More importantly, the mediocre results I’ve gotten have certainly not been worth the toll they have taken on my family and me. I’ve been physically and mentally exhausted for a while now. But the final straw was when my three-year-old daughter cried to my husband that she missed me because “Mommy was at work when I went to bed last night and then Mommy went to work before I woke up today.”


It broke my heart. I missed her too, but I kept telling myself it would pay off, and I would be able to spend more time with my favorite person soon. But that time hadn’t materialized yet, and I knew I had to do something different. I couldn’t just “try harder” my way out of this.


As uncomfortable as it has been, I’ve started setting better boundaries over the past few weeks. I’ve prioritized being at home and spending as much quality time with my daughter as I possibly can, instead of promising myself that if I work a little harder now, I’ll be able to spend more time with her later. I’ve made time to go to the gym and eat nutritious foods. I’ve blocked off times on my schedule to do the things that energize me, like working on my social media work and writing, even though those things aren’t paying off yet.


I don’t know if this is the right thing to do. It’s early in the process, so I haven’t seen many benefits. But I do know that “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” If I want to live the kind of life that has always seemed to elude me, maybe I need to do something different from what I’ve always done.


Hustle culture teaches us that we need to work harder. And if we aren’t happy yet, well, we need to work even harder. I’ve learned that so many people subscribe to that belief, but very few actually achieve their version of success.


I realize that I’m in a very privileged position to be able to take a pay cut to chase a dream. I know it’s something that many people simply can’t do. But I do hope that by talking about my thought process, I might inspire someone else to take a small risk, a step towards becoming more of who they truly are.


So here goes nothing. I have some money saved up for my business, so now is the time. It’s never the perfect time, but it’s the time.


But here’s the exercise that really sealed the deal for me and convinced me that it was time to leave hustle culture:


Before I decided to take the leap, I challenged myself to envision the worst-case scenario. In doing so, I realized that if the reprioritization of my efforts doesn’t pay off and my bank account starts to feel the squeeze, I will just have to go back to doing things the way I have always done them.


That’s right. If I take the risk and change things up, the worst-case scenario is that life will have to go back to the way it is now. If I don’t change anything, things stay as they are now. The choice felt much more evident when I phrased it that way.


So just as I have done, I want to challenge you to think about your dreams, the risks you need to take to get there, and realistically, what would happen if you failed. How would you cope with that failure? Would it be as devastating as you think? Could you find a way to work yourself back from that failure? Chances are screwing up wouldn’t be nearly as scary as you think.


I don’t know if my dreams (or yours) will work out. But I’m realizing now that we probably don’t have that much to lose.

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