Yes, I AM a real doctor, and my oldest friends call me "Cheese," which became Dr. Cheese after medical school. In my mid-40s, I started a T-shirt company, a 180 degree turn from my day job.
"What happened?" you ask.
I'm not sure I would call it a mid-life crisis, but I began receiving and reading articles about physician burnout. Medicine is gratifying, but becoming increasingly regulated. I was working harder. My patient load continued to increase, and I was miserable. My spirit was sinking. I desperately needed a fun and creative outlet. I put that request out to the universe and began to look within.
"What do you like to do?" one of my friends asked me. I have always been a huge sports fan, but a quick Google search did not yield any promising career leads. I noticed that even in my forties, I still have a lot of T-shirts. I wear T-shirts under my scrubs every day. For several years, I went without a T-shirt under the scrub top. While no one really complained, my chest hair and gold chain was probably not the best look.
My personal T-shirts are an eclectic collection of memories from my past. They include a Hall of Fame of defunct sports teams: Montreal Expos, Michigan Panthers, Detroit Drive, Kansas City Scouts,and California Golden Seals. The wheels in my mind began to turn.
What is it about sports that are so memorable and powerful? I began to focus on famous calls, moments, quotes, and catchphrases.
I learned about intellectual property attorneys, fair use, licensing, trademark law, and copyright law and forged ahead. I began to tell my inner circle about my crazy plan and found an artist to design shirts. Even though they might have been thinking it, no one said, "Cheese, you're crazy. Stick to your day job." Thank you inner circle!
The nostalgia connection is powerful (and looked great on a T-shirt!). It is a dose of retro that connects people together through shared memory and experience. The T-shirt is the platform to make the connection. We still appreciate a cool comfortable T-shirt no matter our age. We always appreciate a fun reference from our past. The vibe would be simple, subtle, slightly sophisticated, and sometimes silly. This would be the essence of Dr. Cheese Tees.
May 5, 2017, I officially launched (because nothing says mid-life crisis like Cinco de Mayo). Growth has been steady. Random non-acquaintance people have bought Dr. Cheese Tees, and new designs have been added to The Original Six. I even made it into a retail store. My energy and spirit became more positive by leaps and bounds. I switched to a different health system to decrease the daily stress and grind of my day job.
However, the previous negative energy and work-life imbalance had exacted a toll. At the age of 48 (despite being in what I thought was good health), I underwent a quintuple bypass, which is still hard for me to grasp. Surgery was successful, and I have fully recovered to continue working as a physician.
My perspectives have definitely changed. I look at each day a little differently. Dr. Cheese Tees continues to be a creative outlet that I am extremely proud of. I’m not sure where the journey will take me, but my goal is to create a recognized brand that inspires others like myself to follow their passions and infuse a little more fun into their lives. There are many measuring sticks for success. Some are objective and financial, while some are subjective and spiritual.
The shirts are fun, cool, and super comfortable, but they represent more than simple apparel. They are a vessel of positive energy, nostalgia, and fun. This has been my success.
I am grateful for those of you that have actually read to this point (and it would be even better if you bought a shirt!).-- Dr. Cheese, physician and funtrepeneur.