A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about “art for art’s sake” as a healer. I talked about the problems with society not valuing what we do. That healers and artists not asking for their worth was in part because society was telling them that they weren’t worth much. I wanted to give radical, wild and abundant permission for us all to ask for what we were worth.
When I sent my article to a friend for an opinion, they suggested I edit out a paragraph. I did, and I regret it.
The paragraph was specifically about something I see in both the art and healing world and I found it, a perfect example, less than a week after my blog post:
This is wearing “starving artist” as a badge of honor. It’s a problem. It's a subtle and dangerous mindset that is taking our healing community down a dangerous path. And maybe it’s a good thing I edited out that paragraph because this cannot be addressed in a few sentences.
You’re not wrong
First off, I would like to say that you’re not wrong. I think if the past year has shown us anything it’s that greed, especially in the medical industry, is a huge problem. When you’re just in it for the money, you do lose out.
But here’s the thing: the Shkrelis and Bresches of the world? They didn’t get into healthcare for the heart. They went into business, it just happened to be healthcare. Martin Shkreli graduated from Baruch College with a bachelor’s in Business Administration. Heather Bresch graduated from West Virgina University with a bachelor’s in political science and international relations. Her claim to have an MBA has been disputed by WVU.
They literally are doing what they went to school to do - make their companies money, hand over fist and they are goddamned good at their jobs. In fact, to more directly address your point:
One of the main tenants of running any business is to exclude or repel undesired clientele as much as you attract desired clientele. For you and me (and your classmates), this means “I suck at treating headaches so you should go see this other person, but I’m great at fertility so see me for that!”
For the Shkrelis and Breches it means repelling people with no money. That’s a problem for everybody who uses the medical system, but it is literally why they were hired.
I would argue that this is the problem with rising healthcare costs and why the poor are being pushed out of appropriate care: we don’t have medical people running the medical field. Hospital administration isn’t made up of doctors and nurses - it’s made up of people who know admin - business majors, PR people, managers.
People shouldn’t just be able to afford preventative medicine. People should be able to afford all medicine regardless of economic status or income. But until medical personnel are in the board rooms, I don’t see that on the horizon. The healthcare revolution starts with us in admin.
The same problem exists with insurance companies; rising healthcare costs are directly related to the fact that the people who work for insurance companies have one job - to make that company money. It’s gross. It’s bullshit. And it’s a blog post for another time.
But your classmates aren’t Shkrelis or Bresches. You don’t choose acupuncture to make bank. You chose it because you want to help people. They chose it because they have heart.
Your business isn’t you
One of the main problems with this mindset is over-identification of people to business. A business model does not ever reflect all of an owner’s philosophy. It may reflect some, true, but it can’t possibly tell the whole story.
What I mean to say is that your business isn’t you. Your business is and should be a separate entity. I am not Balance Point Bodywork, nor am I The Reverie Alone. I am a healer and a writer. What you do is not your business, it’s just part of it. How you run your business doesn't completely represent who you are as a person.
Some of your philosophy should be part of your business model. For instance, I believe in freely sharing information. But I also intend to write a book and charge for it. That doesn’t make me greedy or corporate, it just means I’m assigning a higher value to things that take more of my time.
Your business runs off different things than you. You run off water, food, and air. Your business, in part, runs off your philosophy. A business based off a good philosophy runs fantastically. A good philosophy is a bit like organic food, a good exercise regimen and a regular meditation practice.
A business can run on a bad philosophy too; it may not run well but it can run just like you can run on McDonald’s and a desk job.
Money is it’s oxygen. Businesses cannot be sustained without money - they will suffocate and die.
To continue this analogy, business models are care plans. Community acupuncture is a viable business model! Its underlying philosophy is like veganism; it takes into account the suffering of other beings and our impact on our communities and the planet.
But the vegan diet doesn’t work well for everyone. Sometimes people don’t supplement appropriately. Some people argue about what veganism actually looks like. Some vegans think others don’t take it far enough and should eat raw or make it political. And some people’s bodies just can’t handle veganism, even when everything is done right.
So too with business and community acupuncture. For some people, the community acupuncture model is perfect. For others, the private acupuncture model is better. Business models are as individual as pattern diagnoses.
It’s true, patients can either afford your rates or find somewhere else because there are more affordable places. They will either fit the private acupuncture model or the community acupuncture model. There is a place for every patient.
There is a world of difference between seeing your financial value as a practitioner and asking for that and hiking the price of EpiPens over 1000% in a decade and then giving yourself a raise. Between charging $70 a session versus $20 and upping the price of an HIV drug over 5000%.
One is recognizing your worth to your community and asking for it, the other is seeing dollar signs. Equating them is unfair at best.
We live in a society in which we need money
That sucks, but it’s our reality. It would be fantastic if it weren’t true. How much more comfortable and happy would life be if we didn’t have to consider selling our property just to make rent? How much less stress would we have if we didn’t have to worry about paying people to keep our cars in good repair? How lovely would it be not to worry about looking at bare pantry shelves and empty fridges when we get home?
But we don’t live in that world. We have rent to pay, cars to fix, groceries to buy and a mountain of student debt to repay.
Ignoring this and wearing the starving artist badge is a character you're playing. You put on the costume of a “humble servant of humanity, fighting romantically against the evil corporations and greedy charlatans of your profession.” You are loving the drama of lack and want because it puts you on a pedestal.
It’s cognitive dissonance. You can’t complain about people wanting to pay their bills while working in their chosen field in one breath and then complain about not having money in the next, especially when working in the same field.
By disparaging your classmates' approach, you are supporting society’s attitudes regarding healers and artists - you support the idea that we should be doing our art for "art’s sake." You take away our ability to declare the medical field’s value.
Our power in our profession is being able to say as a community: “$20 is ok for a service and so is $70. $700 is not and $3500 is ridiculous.” You are taking that power and putting it into the hands of political science and business majors. You betray us to the admins in the boardrooms, giving them the power to mess up acupuncture and massage as badly as they messed up the pharmaceutical industry.
Asking for money isn’t why society doesn’t take us seriously. You perpetuating the Victimized Starving Artist drama is.
You are taking away the control that people with heart have and giving it to the Shkrelis and the Bresches. You are telling the world, “It’s ok for you not to respect what I do because I think it has no value.” You give them the power to declare it, and they won't declare that value with heart - they'll declare it with the bottom line.
Your classmates’ hearts are in the medicine. Their hearts are in doing what they love and supporting themselves and their families while serving their communities. Their hearts are in getting enough income that their businesses can survive and they can keep serving those patients. Their hearts are in maybe, just maybe, growing their business so they can serve more.
Your classmates’ hearts are exactly where they should be. Have faith in your community. Have faith and love and hope that we can build this world into one where money won’t matter so much. Trust that our hearts are in the right place, because we didn’t get into this for the money. We got into for each other. And that’s how we’ll keep our power - as a community.
The individual who made this Facebook post will remain unnamed to protect their privacy.
Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor, lawyer or accountant. The information in this post is for general purposes only. Always check with your own accountant, lawyer, bookkeeper and/or business team before making big decisions. I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Related links and posts:
The Starving Artist and the Dirt Poor Healer
4 simple ways to build your patients' trust: propriety
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I'm currently reading "Big Magic"(affiliate link) by Elizabeth Gilbert. I picked it up at the bookstore and immediately had to put Sincero's "You are a Badass"(affiliate link) down. It's focus is creatives but as I harp on over and over again, healers are creatives. It's blowing my mind. I've totally rethought patient interactions. It's also really helped with my attitudes on the blog! I can't wait to tell you all about it next week!
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Jessica Gustafson, L.Ac.
I am an acupuncturist and a mama from the Twin Cities. I needed a place to talk about the nitty gritty of bootstrapping a clinic, parenting and freelancing so I made a blog. Hooray! It was never meant to become what it has, but blogs evolve. I've enjoyed the process and look forward to developing it more as I grow.
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