How I got from “there to here.” My backstory.   I grew up in a family of classical musicians, the youngest of four kids. I attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, with the goal of winning a principal oboe position with a symphony orchestra. Just prior to my college graduation, my mother passed away suddenly. A year later, while pursuing my graduate degree at MSM, I lost a dear loved one to suicide, and my father died a short time later.

I had struggled for many years with episodes of depression and anxiety, feeling quite isolated, and I carried a sense of deep shame. Just before the death of my mom, I began seeing a therapist for the first time. Over a period of 10 years, I tried working with several therapists with varied expertise and theoretical approaches (psychodynamic, CBT, DBT, eclectic), but they never seemed to help much. I wasn’t happier. Life wasn’t easier. I felt disconnected, lost, lonely, and filled with shame. I went through more than a decade of therapy and not much changed in my life. It was when I discovered Gestalt therapy that things shifted.  I had completed graduate school and was working at my first job as a therapist in community mental health. My clinical supervisor at that time lead me to Gestalt as it was through her eyes that she saw in me what turned out to be a beautiful fit for this particular type of therapy.

Alongside my love of music, helping others and being of service had been lifelong interests, so I pursued a second master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. Yet it wasn’t until I completed graduate school that I was introduced to the Gestalt method by my first clinical supervisor, who used the approach to guide the way she lived her life and our work together. That’s when I consider Gestalt Psychotherapy to have found me. I went on to complete the clinical fellowship program and certification at Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy in New York. 

What does my typical day look like?  

At twenty years into my career, I finally have the dream schedule I have wanted. I see patients in my practice 3 days per week, which leaves enough time for me to move at a pace that feels good and allows for the self-care that is required to have longevity in a career as a psychotherapist. Each day begins with a hot cup of coffee, while I check and respond to emails. I then proceed with some type of movement which ranges from swimming and aqua fitness to yoga, aerobic activity, resistance training, and stretching. Even though I don’t see patients each day, I do work every day whether it be writing, attending to the needs of my business, networking, marketing, writing, teaching, or learning. I wake up and go to sleep on a consistent schedule, I take time each day to eat lunch away from my desk, have a break or two to play with my dogs, take a walk outside, do a chore, or run an errand. I finish most days around 5 pm except for one day per week when I am in my office later seeing patients.

The lessons I would like to share with my younger self.  

I love thinking about various versions of myself, as it is a very Gestalt approach to talking to parts of ourselves and resonates deeply. The things I would love to be able to impart to my younger self are: 1) Be present in today – yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not here yet; 2) Don’t worry about what other’s think of you; 2) Believe in yourself; 3) Practice patience; 4) Attempt to not burn too many bridges; 5) Learn to let things go; 6) Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe; 7) Money matters though it is not everything; 8) Life is not a race or destination, it’s a journey, and 9) Look for something good or positive in everything.

How I define “Hustle Culture?” 

 Hustle culture is a work culture in which someone is expected to work extremely hard for long hours, often sacrificing personal time and well-being, to be successful. It is often associated with the idea of “hustling” or working hard and relentlessly to achieve one’s goals, regardless of the cost.

Problems that come with “Hustle Culture?”

  I experienced my entire 14-year career in higher education, along with the first 15 years of my career living in a city saturated with Hustle Culture – New York City. I fell victim to the culture of working extremely hard for long hours, working my way through my entire higher education experience, at times holding down two jobs, and spending more than half my career working in this manner. I felt chronically stressed and burned out several times in my career at one point, took a sabbatical from healthcare, and went to work at a grocery store. I have had to learn from my choices and experiences so that I could continue in my career. I have had to figure out what I need, how much of it, and when, and to pay attention to my feelings and listen to my body. I have learned what works for me today and this will continue to be evolving as I evolve and age. So, this is constant work that is in process. I redefined what work means to me and this cannot be compared with what it means for anyone else as we are all different, with different needs, and in different phases in our lives.

While “hustle” culture can be motivating for some people, there are also several problems with hustle culture. Some of the main issues include: 1) Burnout: Hustle culture often emphasizes working long hours and sacrificing personal time to achieve success, which can lead to burnout and exhaustion; 2) Lack of work-life balance: Hustle culture can make it difficult for people to maintain a healthy work-life balance, leading to strained personal relationships and reduced overall happiness and satisfaction; 3) Health problems: Overworking can harm the bodies physical and mental health, which can ultimately impact a person’s ability to achieve success long term; and 4) Social pressure: Hustle culture can create a sense of pressure to constantly work harder and achieve more, even if it’s to the detriment of an individual’s well-being.

The specific term “Hustle Culture” may have been popularized in the 2010s, but the concept behind it and the behaviors that come with it can be traced back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years. Here are some of the main drivers of “Hustle Culture?”  

Several factors have driven the hustle culture in recent years. One of the primary drivers is the rise of technology and the internet which has created new opportunities for entrepreneurs and freelancers to build their businesses and work on their terms. Additionally, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of work/life balance and people are looking for ways to create more flexibility in their lives while also achieving their goals. Finally, the current economic climate and job market also play a role, with many people feeling like they have to work harder and hustle more to stay afloat. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the hustle culture is going strong and likely here to stay. As long as there is a lack of awareness and education surrounding the hustle culture, the more likely it is to continue. 

Marketing and advertising have played a very large role in creating the frenzy caused by Hustle Culture that many of us feel.  

Marketing and advertising have a hugely significant role in contributing to the hustle culture that is prevalent in many workplaces today and consequently handed down to people in their development and learning. Advertisements and marketing campaigns frequently promote messages that encourage people to work harder, faster, and longer to achieve success, often at the expense of their well-being and mental health. Here are some ways in which I see marketing and advertising contribute to the hustle culture: 1) Glorification of busy-ness: Advertisements often glamorize lifestyles that are characterized by constant busy-ness, portraying overwork and exhaustion as status symbols and badges of honor. This creates a culture in which workers feel pressured to stay busy at all times, even if it means sacrificing their own physical and mental health; 2) Emphasis on productivity: Marketing and advertising often emphasize the importance of productivity and efficiency at all costs, reinforcing the idea that the only path to success is through relentless work; and 3) “FOMO” or fear of missing out: Many marketing campaigns are designed to create a sense of FOMO in consumers, promoting the idea that if they don’t work hard enough, they’ll miss out on opportunities for success, wealth, or social status. While marketing and advertising are not solely responsible for the hustle culture, they do play a role in shaping societal attitudes and values around work. By recognizing these messages and actively working to challenge them, we can begin to shift our culture away from the hustle and towards healthier, more sustainable work practices.

There are downsides of Hustle Culture that make this an unsustainable work paradigm.  

On every level, the hustle culture is unsustainable. It is a model of exploitation of people which undervalues humanity and causes dysfunction in people’s lives and sickness of the body both mentally, physically, and spiritually. The hustle culture in and of itself is manipulative and takes advantage of human beings’ vulnerabilities and it is filled with promises of success, achievement, wealth, and social status. This plays on the emotional needs of feeling important and having a purpose, giving people a sense of belonging, value, and worth. These human needs cannot be fulfilled by external things or work, and if they appear to, it is short-lived, not intrinsic, and only provides a false sense of these needs being met. The hustle culture requires an individual to sacrifice themselves, giving more to work than almost anything else including family, partners, children, friends, and yourself. It puts a strain on relationships and causes stress which leads to illnesses such as the increased risk of depression and anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, various cancers, and autoimmune disorders. The hustle culture is a model which uses people until they are no longer useful and then discards them when an individual is no longer viable.

Now, I would like to shift to talking about “Focus,” the opposite of frenzy in my personal or business life. How I simplified things and felt less frenzied and more fulfilled. 

In my business, I had to cut back on the number of office hours I have available and reduce the number of days I provide direct care to patients in my practice. When I was able to recognize that the culture of practicing as a psychotherapist is the hustle culture, that I was taught, in part, by my profession to subsidize others’ healthcare while sacrificing my own needs and, in turn, sacrificing the needs of my family and friends, I was able to let go of this paradigm of toxicity that had been ingrained for many years. Additionally, I learned that this way of working was also harmful to my patients as I was showing up exhausted, burned out, and resentful. These changes have allowed me more time to attend to my own needs outside of work. such as taking care of my body, allowing for more play, creativity, rest, and more time to care for my home, pets, family, and friends. I move with ease throughout the day, feel more satisfied outside of the work I do, and am less fragmented and more whole when I show up in my role as a psychotherapist. I am considerably less stressed, the chronic neck and back pain I experience has been reduced, and I feel calmer and more joyful regularly. My friends and family now have a much less fragmented human in their lives and I am more fulfilled in all aspects of my life including my work.

I have had several life experiences that I adopted in both my business and personal life that have left you more satisfied.  

One of the greatest life experiences I had was getting sick and having a cancer scare. It started with a fever and the symptoms compiled from there, I couldn’t get out of bed, I had no appetite, and I was in excruciating pain for a couple of months. I received negligent care from doctors and hospitals and had to do my research on my symptoms, schedule my tests, and eventually had to search for my own oncologist. After a battery of tests and a major surgery that had several potential life-altering consequences, I found out I was not facing cancer. This experience terrified me on so many levels. One, I was afraid NOT to be working as I knew I would not be able to support my family for long lying in bed. Next, I had not been prepared well on taking care of this part of my life and quite honestly, had avoided looking at it as I didn’t know any other way. I was in fear of ultimately losing my business and home. When I was well enough to sit up and work for a few hours, I felt resentful that I had to work and fake that I was well enough to do so. Thirdly, this sacrifice I was making of my own needs to attend to my practice and patients was not appreciated. You know that saying, “No good deed goes unpunished? Well, this was yet another example of this being true. I knew something had to change. After I recovered from surgery and gained my strength back, I was inspired, rejuvenated, and ready to put my needs first and foremost, every single day. I learned how to attach a monetary value to my services that were what I needed to live and sustain my lifestyle. I learned to separate my own learned narrative about success, worth, and value from my business practices and began to get very clear and set different boundaries from what I had been taught from my family of origin, but also society, culture, and my profession. I began to think of my business as a living thing that has needs and since I am not only at the helm, but I am the business and brand, I have to be well taken care of so that I can continue and thrive. In doing all of this, I am more satisfied in the work I do, and more fulfilled in every aspect of my life, and the understanding that my needs must come first has only been reinforced as I continue to heal, rejuvenate, and become expansive. I do now show up feeling resentful any longer. No day is wasted, and no amount of health and time is taken for granted. I work hard but not to the detriment of my existence. I also play and rest every single day. I take breaks and time off. In turn, my work as a psychotherapist is more grounded, present, centered, and focused.

How can we break the addiction to being busy or trying to find the next big thing? How can people truly focus on tasks that make a difference to their business and lives giving them satisfaction or life purpose alignment? Here are “Five Ways To Move From Frenzy to Focus”?

1. Prioritize your tasks: Make a list of the tasks you need to do and prioritize them based on their importance and deadline. This will assist you to focus on the more critical tasks that need to be completed first. Set time limits, just as you would events in your calendar, on tasks rather than making a to-do list. When the time is done, move on to the next task. With this method, you will complete everything you have on your calendar and feel accomplished every day.

2. Minimize distractions: Distractions can often lead to a frenzy and prevent you from staying focused. Try to minimize distractions by turning off notifications on your phone, closing unnecessary tabs on your computer, and finding a quiet workspace to get into the zone.

3.Use a productivity tool: There are several productivity tools available to help you manage your workload and stay focused. Some popular tools are Trello, Asana, and Evernote.

4.Take breaksTaking regular breaks can help you stay focused and avoid burnout. Use your break time to get up, walk around, do some light stretches, do yoga, or breathing exercises, or just simply step away from your work to refresh your mind and body. 5. Set achievable goals: Instead of trying to do everything at once, set achievable goals for yourself. Use the SMART framework to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals that will help you stay focused and motivated.

What is a work paradigm that is a viable alternative to Hustle Culture?

 One viable alternative to hustle culture is a concept called “slow work.”  Slow work is all about taking the time to work deliberately and thoughtfully, rather than rushing from one task to another. It involves approaching your work with mindfulness and intention and focusing on quality over quantity. Here are some principles of slow work that can be practiced and implemented with this paradigm: 1) Prioritizing deep work: Instead of multitasking and trying to get as much done as possible, slow work emphasizes the importance of setting aside uninterrupted blocks of time to focus on one task at a time. This allows you to go deep on a project and produce higher-quality work; 2) Creating boundaries: Slow work involves setting boundaries around your work, such as limiting your work hours, taking regular breaks, and taking time off to recharge. By creating these boundaries, you can ensure that you maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout; 3) Emphasizing relationships: Slow work places a premium on building relationships and connecting with others in your field. This can help you build a strong network of colleagues who can support and mentor you throughout your career. By embracing the principles of slow work, you can shift your focus from hustling to engaging with your work, developing deeper connections, and achieving long-term success, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

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About the Author: Melissa Bennett Heinz
Melissa Bennett-Heinz obtained her master’s degree in clinical social work from Columbia University (Class of 2002) and is a graduate of Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy in New York City, NY. In addition to her background in Gestalt Therapy, she obtained her bachelor and master’s degrees from the esteemed conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, in New York City where she majored in Oboe Performance. Melissa completed cognitive behavioral studies under the tutelage of Dr. William Sanderson. She is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in the states of New York, Texas, Washington and North Carolina and has 20 years of specialized training and experience in the treatment of addiction, PTSD, sexual trauma, childhood abuse, chronic mental illness, and mood and anxiety disorders. Melissa brings her background as a professional classical musician and deep spirituality together in her unique approach to treatment in the creative and experiential therapy of Gestalt.

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