We can talk about the benefits of being a highly sensitive person and embracing our true selves all day long, but that doesn’t negate the fact that navigating life as an HSP in a non-HSP world is hard.
And it’s especially hard when it comes to navigating the world of work.
Most work places and work cultures aren’t set up to accommodate sensitive people. So you almost inevitably end up spending a huge chunk of your waking hours in a setting that’s not a good match for your temperament. Which in turn means excessive stress slowly wearing you down, day after day after day…
But I want to give you hope that it IS possible to achieve career satisfaction as a highly sensitive person if you know what to look for and you’re willing to put in some effort and keep searching for just the right fit for you. The HSP career problem may be more challenging to solve than most, but it’s still solvable! And that’s why I wrote this article. I wanted to put in one place everything I know about finding career satisfaction as a highly sensitive person.
Highly Sensitive Person Careers: What You Need To Know
What Kinds of Jobs To Avoid As A Highly Sensitive Person
Highly sensitive people are not clones of each other and we each have our own unique combination of sensitivities and preferences. But there are a few specific job requirements that MANY highly sensitive people struggle with. So when looking for the ideal career or work setting, here are some red flags that might give you reason to pause and consider whether this is something you want to commit to tolerating in the long term:
- Physically Taxing Work Environment: Physical triggers are probably the most obvious culprit of HSP workplace misery. Constant exposure to noise, smells, or flickering lights will irritate most HSPs both mentally and physically.
- Emotionally Taxing Work Environment: HSPs tend to be high in empathy and very in tune with the moods of everyone around them. They literally feel other people’s feelings in their own bodies. Even for HSPs who have learned techniques for keeping other people’s emotions separate from their own, spending extended periods of time around people who relish conflict and aggression or people exuding negativity might turn out to be an exhausting endeavor.
- Time Pressure: HSPs process information deeply and like to think things through. We also need more downtime than non-HSPs to give our sensitive nervous system time to recover from overstimulation. This is why any career that requires fast action or constantly being “on” is likely to cause excessive stress for HSPs. We are not go-go-go people.
- Meaningless Work: While the business world mostly focuses on the bottom line, HSPs tend to be caring and compassionate people, who obviously want to make a living, but who also seek to make a difference and make the world a better place. They want their work to be personally meaningful and to have a higher purpose. This is why an environment where performance and profits are valued above all else is likely to depress HSPs.
- Workplace Culture That Takes Advantage of Conscientious People: HSPs are naturally conscientious people who often fall in the “people pleaser” and “rule follower” camps. They like to do the right thing and meet expectations. While these qualities are beneficial in some situations, possessing them also means that HSPs who don’t have good personal boundaries are easily taken advantage of. They will pick up the slack and burn themselves out. And even for HSPs with good boundaries, constantly battling a workplace culture that’s founded on unreasonable expectations can prove to be extremely taxing.
What To Look For In A Career As A Highly Sensitive Person
So what should highly sensitive people look for in a career instead? Well, here are some signs that a career or work setting has excellent potential to provide a good fit for a highly sensitive person:
- Calm And Peaceful Work Environment: An overstimulating work environment will suck the energy out of HSPs. A calm and peaceful setting, on the other hand, will ensure that HSPs have plenty of physical stamina to deal with actual work.
- Flexible Schedule: Most HSPs will benefit from the ability to take breaks as needed and from having autonomy to arrange their work schedules to align with their natural energy fluctuations.
- Complete Tasks At A Reasonable Pace: To accommodate their need for deep processing, HSPs do best when they are allowed to think things through and complete tasks carefully without someone breathing down their necks.
- Working Alone Or With Compassionate Co-Workers: Most introvert HSPs will enjoy spending a majority of their work time engaging in solitary tasks. When working with others, it’s best to search for a team that prioritizes caring and consideration for others.
- Working For A Cause: To stay motivated, most HSPs need to know that they are working for something. They want to help and feel like they are making a difference.
The Best Careers For Highly Sensitive People
Given the above requirements, what careers are there that might fit the bill? Well, let me emphasize that there isn’t any one career that is suitable for ALL highly sensitive people. Again, we are not clones of each other and we all have additional personality traits and preferences that have nothing to do with our sensitivity. But I want to give you a few examples of careers that might work for some highly sensitive people depending on their individual mix of talents, interests, and preferences.
- One-On-One Counselors: For HSPs with good boundaries and the ability to keep other people’s emotions separate from their own, serving as a one-on-one counselor, such as a therapist or life coach, ticks many boxes. Especially in private practice, you can have lots of control over the work environment, schedule, and the kinds of people you choose to work with.
- One-On-One Health Care Professionals: Similarly, self-employed one-on-one health care professionals, such as nutritionists, massage therapists, and physical therapists can set their own schedule and align their work environment and clientele to suit their preferences.
- Academics: Academia is another viable option for HSPs who have a deep enough interest in a particular subject matter to devote many years to studying it and who are able to find a university or organization where they can apply their expertise in a low-drama setting.
- Writers: Writers, editors, and proofreaders can often work remotely with lots of control over their schedules. So fields such as blogging, copywriting, freelance writing, and online content production hold lots of potential for HSPs.
- Creative Professionals: In addition to writers, a multitude of other creative professionals – graphic designers, web designers, interior decorators, landscape architects, artists, and artisans – can work as freelancers, maintaining control over their work environment and hours.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it’s enough to get your mind churning. I think one key to keep in mind is that often the work environment – an organization’s culture and the ways it’s managed – matters just as much (if not more) as the work itself.
If you can think of other good fits (or terrible ones!), please help your fellow HSPs out and leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
Three Career Mistakes Not To Make As A Highly Sensitive Person
Lots of opportunities to thrive professionally exist for highly sensitive people and sometimes I still feel pangs of regret over the fact that it took me, personally, so long to find those opportunities.
It took me so long because of three mistakes I used to make that I want to share with you so you can be wiser. 🙂
1. Ignoring Your Sensitivities
Before I learned about high sensitivity or understood what it meant, I would brush off my distress as “irrational” or “unreasonable”. Instead of doing something about the things that were stressing me out (like work), I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be so affected.
Of course chiding myself for feeling the way I was feeling actually did nothing to alleviate the way I was feeling.
It was only after I stopped trying to ignore my sensitivities, accepted them as a part of me, and looked for work that didn’t overload my nervous system with unhealthy amounts of stimulation and stress that I found career satisfaction.
2. Ignoring Your Other Personality Traits
Not only was I ignorant of my sensitivity, but I also didn’t understand other parts of my personality. This lack of understanding along with poorly defined core values led me down a path in life that was a terrible match with who I was holistically as a person.
In order to find the right career path for me, I needed to go beyond investigating high sensitivity and increase my self awareness in other ways as well. It’s this additional self awareness that tells me online content creation is the best fit for me right now and that I would make a terrible massage therapist or landscape architect. 😉
3. Not Making Changes Because Change Is Hard
You know what makes navigating the world of work EXTRA hard for highly sensitive people? It’s that we are naturally cautious and careful and apprehensive about rocking the boat.
It’s this cautiousness that kept me dragging my feet for way too many years of bad career match misery.
And yet, when I’ve finally made those changes, I’ve never once regretted them. I’ve only regretted not making changes sooner!
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