How to Trade Hustle Culture for a Healthy One

December 16, 2021

It seems like everywhere we look, people are hustling hard these days. We see t-shirts with “respect the grind” and “hustle hard” on them. We watch people work loooong days over and over again while claiming that’s the only path to success. And even in our personal lives, it feels like most of us are […]

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It seems like everywhere we look, people are hustling hard these days. We see t-shirts with “respect the grind” and “hustle hard” on them. We watch people work loooong days over and over again while claiming that’s the only path to success. And even in our personal lives, it feels like most of us are having a competition over who is busiest, whether we realize it or not.

It’s crazy out there, especially when you’re trying to run your own company. Believe me, I get it. But hustle culture isn’t the only way to do it. And the more I think about it, I believe it might actually be one of the worst ways to work. Its time to trade hustle culture for a healthy one.

Just take it from this actual medical doctor: “Hustle culture is about being a human doing rather than a human being, which is dangerous in many ways.” Yep, she said it. And I couldn’t agree more! Productivity is amaaaazing, but there’s such a thing as taking it too far. And of course, I’ll always advocate for women building a brand or a business, but only when we remember that we are more than just our brand. We are whole people, and we need to hold ourselves accountable to balancing the business and the human behind it. 

How you got it is how you’ll keep it. 

This seems counterproductive when you’re just launching a business or a new service, but it’s actually the most important rule as you’re embarking on something new. If you say yes to every inquiry, you’re setting a bad precedent. If you decide against shooting engagements, don’t say yes to engagements. If you can only travel 10 weekends this year, don’t book 14 out-of-town weddings. If you create a business based on running around like a madwoman, guess how you’ll be expected to keep things up and running? Yep, you guessed it—by continuing to hustle, overwork, and burn out. When we say yes to all of it, no matter what “it” might be, a couple of things happen. 

We get out of our niche, so we aren’t truly doing our best work. 

And we overwork ourselves ‘til we hate everything—even photography, which we actually love

Why are we motivated to be “yes” women? Because we’re living with that pesky ol’ scarcity mindset. We’re afraid that we book enough work inside our niche, so we take gigs that are waaay outside of it. We’re afraid that we’ll need more money than expected, so we overbook ourselves until we’re totally exhausted. We have to change that internal narrative. When we run our business the way we want to, we’re putting our best foot forward, which is going to give us the most success and the most peace. And that right there is what we call a win-win. 

Put fences around the crazy times. 

Look, I know there are times when it’s completely and totally impossible to keep our systems and schedules in place. We should probably all mark ourselves safe from “Holiday Photo Craziness” on Facebook, because whew, it’s a storm every single year. It’s okay to allow for crazy seasons, long days, or faraway work travels—as long as you know they’re coming, and know when they’ll end

For example, maybe you book twice as many shoots in November and December as you would in a typical month, knowing that lots of your clients will need holiday photos. Do it—get paid for the holidays, girl! But in January, go back to your typical number of photo shoots. In fact, maybe you even want to take a couple of weeks in January totally off as a time to reset, set goals for the coming year, and enjoy being at home, deadline-free. 

When you mark off the times you know will be “hustle-ish,” you’ll feel much less stressed, because you’ll see the end date on your calendar. That’s the difference—productivity knows that seasons matter. Hustle culture never ends. 

Keep doing your thang—not everyone else’s. 

Sometimes, my business is clicking along. Everything’s good, income is steady, and clients are happy. But then, I look over at another photographer and see them doing something completely different, and I go into a temporary tailspin. I think totally casual, un-crazy thoughts like, “Should I restructure my whole business? Should I double my client base? Should I pivot into a totally different niche?”

Thankfully, I’ve learned by now that this panic always passes, and I remember that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in my business. I trust myself and my choices—and I hope you feel the same way when you look within yourself. The great thing about owning a business is that you don’t have to do things like everyone else! You get to structure your work and your life in a way that makes sense for you. So don’t worry about how everyone else runs their business. You just keep doing your thang and watch the work keep comin’. 

Rewire your thinking. 

Some of us have been rushing around frantically for so long, we’ve misunderstood the assignment. But “productive” and “rushed” are not synonyms, my friend. Here’s what I mean: if you’ve decided to work hard until 4:00, at which point you’ve gotta get up, make dinner, see your family or friends, and live your life, then be done at 4:00pm. 

Yes, even if your to-do list is not totally finished. 

Yes, even if it’ll only take 30 more minutes. 

See, when we consistently push past our own boundaries and deadlines, 4:30 turns into the new 4:00, and 5:00 turns into the new 4:30. Before we know it, we’re spending all of our time on work and forgetting to invest in the other, equally important parts of our lives. Plus, if we don’t respect our own boundaries, how can we ask others to?! *cue GIF of people screaming because yes, I did just drop that bomb.* We teach others how to treat us by what we allow and what we demonstrate. Honor your own limits, and you’ll have something solid to point back to when someone makes a request.

Another more subtle way we fall into this trap: let’s say you’d planned to edit a gallery for 3 hours, but it only took 2. Girl, that’s amazing! You did it! You can—deep breath—take a break now. Of course, sometimes it’s in our best interest to plow ahead on other tasks. But I wouldn’t recommend doing that every time! Sometimes, when we finish a task early, we need to pat ourselves on the back, call it a day, and bask in a job well done. Remember that feeling you’d get when there was an early dismissal at school? Pure joy. Give yourself that same feeling sometimes. It’s a gift.

I hope reading this post inspires you to congratulate yourself on a job well done—because you are doing the dang thing. You’re running a photography business! No matter how much you still hope to achieve, no matter how small things may seem today, you’re already a success for following your dream. People pay you to do what you love. How lucky are you?! Adjust boundaries along the way, take rest when you need to, and keep running in your lane. Because when you do, you’re unstoppable.


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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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