What Happens When the Daily Hustle Gets Out of Control
Surprisingly, my world didn’t fall apart when I stopped putting so much pressure on myself
I often scroll through Facebook memes from moms who confess they haven’t done laundry in weeks, gave their kids snacks for dinner again, and forgot to put the trash out. One day this week I didn’t wear underwear because I, too, failed with the laundry. My secret: I don’t even have kids, unless you count our 10-pound orange tabby that we call “bad cat,” who sometimes eats only snacks for his meals too.
When I lived in L.A., I had it all together. Shortly after entering my 30s, I had a list of accomplishments I was proud of: I had overcome a debilitating illness, published a wildly successful self-help book for those who were struggling, and prided myself on consistently making dinner from scratch for my new wife, a dream partner, with a British accent to boot.
I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to score this life. Each night, I put on the music, cut up the vegetables, marinated the fish, and danced through the kitchen with ease. In the mornings, I made my own green juice. Even as my career took off at a high speed and the book deals kept coming, I kept it all up. I taught classes to hundreds of students eager to learn the healing protocol I had created to heal myself. I sat at my desk writing for hours, hardly able to uncoil myself at the end of the day.
After eight years, when the good weather lost its hold on us and the hour of traffic to travel seven miles became harder to tolerate, we jumped coasts to New York City. With our cat carrier and half of our furniture, we set off for a new life.
What if how hard you push doesn’t matter as much as it seems? What if the world doesn’t end if you order takeout every single night?
By this time, I was heading into a new decade: my 40s. I was still writing and teaching classes, all even more than before. But by then, things had changed. Wiser or more tired, I don’t know, I recommitted to further taming the perfectionist traits I’d worked on when I was so ill for so long: because it was readily apparent that all the pressure wasn’t good for my body.
In New York City, busy people bought prepared foods for dinner and drank coffee instead of celery juice (gasp!). No one seemed to care. No points seemed to be added or deducted. I decided to embrace this ethos fully. What if how hard you push doesn’t matter as much as it seems? What if the world doesn’t end if you order takeout every single night?
Just over a decade prior, I was close to dying. Because of that, I was obsessive about taking my medications and supplements, struggling to follow an insanely complex self-care routine to keep myself alive. Exhausted, I asked my doctor what would happen if I took a break from some of it. Without thought, he said, “Probably nothing. It’s hard to measure what even really works.” Nothing? Even with a terrifying illness, letting up on things a little might not make a difference between life and death?
At a recent event, and after being completely healthy for years, I was talking to an author friend about how hard it is to sell books, and how tired we were. “So what do we do, just stop trying?” she asked. It felt so familiar: same question, different topic.
I thought back to my doctor’s words. I wondered if the difference between killing ourselves with hustle and letting a few things slide is, well, hard to measure. So maybe we don’t stop trying but we stop trying so hard. We skip the late night here or there, take a chance that sleeping an extra hour won’t make everything we’ve worked hard for fall to the ground. We might sell a few less books, I guess. Although there’s no way to prove that going all-out will lead to selling more.
I have underwear on today, which means it’s a good day. The dishes may be in the sink, and I probably haven’t eaten anything green for a week, but I’m happier for it. I imagine it’s not just me and my sweet friend having these conversations. I bet a lot of other women we know are harboring similar secrets. And if so, I’d say that mediocrity lives in good company and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Amy B. Scher is the bestselling and award-winning author of 4 books including This Is How I Save My Life (Simon and Schuster, 2018; 1st place winner of Book Pipeline’s Adaptation contest), How To Heal Yourself When No One Else Can (2016, Llewellyn Worldwide), How To Heal Yourself From Anxiety When No One Else Can (2019, Llewellyn Worldwide), and How To Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can (2021, Sounds True Publishing). She writes and teaches on the topics of healing, human-ing, writing, and creativity.
Amy’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Thrillist, CBS, CNN, Los Angeles Review of Books, New York Daily News, Good Morning America, and more.