1. Work environment and structure matter.
Work environment makes a huge difference. (For instance, HSPs are quite affected by physical environments.) And it’s more than the physical aspects.
You might have work you love, but struggle with the environmental psychology of the place: loud environment, the people you have to deal with, or the amount of people time. (After all, HSPs need alone time to decompress.)
Based on my own work experience and what my highly sensitive clients have discovered, I’ve found some common features that help HSPs thrive in their work environments. These include:
Time and space to work alone.
Being able to organize your own time.
The ability to single-task.
Time to think deeply and have enough quiet time to think.
Clear and logical systems.
Time in nature or views of nature.
An empathetic work culture that values authenticity, kindness, respect, and your sensitivity to others’ needs.
A place where you can prioritize quality of life.
On the other hand, some work environments can be particularly draining. I would avoid:
Salesy energy or jobs that require a lot of people time.
Environments where you don’t have much control over your time.
Loud and highly stimulating environments.
Poorly organized meetings or systems.
Windowless work areas.
Cutthroat, unkind work cultures, or cultures that are gossipy or judgmental.
But what can you do about that? Too many people haven’t even considered what would be the best work environment for them because they have assumed it’s impossible.
So start here: Let yourself imagine your ideal work environment, even if you’re sure it’s impossible. What would it be like? Make a wish list.
I find that when I create a wish list (even if it seems far-fetched), it becomes much easier to see more possibilities, and to ask for what I want. Until you know more of what you want, it’s going to be very hard to find it or ask for it.
2. Make work more enjoyable… without leaving your job.
One time, I had a highly sensitive client who was feeling overstimulated and drained at work. She was utterly convinced her boss wouldn’t let her have a different office setup, different hours, and a few changes in her responsibilities.
After she got more clear on what she actually wanted to change, she was amazed that her boss was ready to say yes to most of what she wanted. (These boundary-setting tips for HSPs are useful if you want help to try something similar.)
She even found that it made such a difference in her happiness that she decided to stay in the job that she was once sure she had to leave. Plus, she gained the extra energy she needed for her creative side gig. (I ran into her recently and she looked so happy.)
I’ve seen that same story happen many more times.
Changing careers — or just changing workplaces — can be daunting. As an alternative (or at least in the meantime), you might be able to make things more tolerable, and maybe more enjoyable, in the job you have.
Making a few changes might actually make you like your work life better than you thought — or it may make things feel better while you explore other options. You’ll need that extra energy for working toward something new.
From your wish list of what you want in a work environment, what could be possible in the current workplace?
Could you work from home sometimes?
Could you build in some bigger blocks without people time?
Are there meetings you don’t have to go to?
Could you use the conference room sometimes (alone) to escape cubicle clatter?
Could you switch to a different team?
Could you finally tell that chatty coworker to give you some quiet?
Could you create a mental HSP sanctuary to mitigate stimulating environments?
Another approach to making work feel better is to go through a typical day or week. What energizes you in your day? What makes you feel drained?
All of this can help you figure out what you really want (or don’t) in your career, but it can also give hints about changes that could make things more manageable in the meantime.
If you’re unsure whether or not you’re on the right path, or if this job could be doable for now, this might help you know: How to sense when it’s the right career path or not.
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3. Your next step doesn’t have to be forever.
It is daunting to think about how to move toward something new — after all, HSPs don’t like change. Or maybe you’re even considering creating your own self-employment venture. That transition can feel like a job in and of itself and can be draining at times. Gosh, it’s humbling. I’ve been there a few times.
Sometimes you need to step away from a draining situation to figure out what would be a better fit, whether that is a new job or starting your own business. Yes, self-employment is a viable option for HSPs — I know from experience and from all the other self-employed HSPs I know. One way to do that is what I call a “bridge job.”
You could look for a bridge job that uses some of your strengths and draws on your values, but that doesn’t rely on skills that drain you. A bridge job that allows you to meet people, or learn more about a field of interest, is a plus. I used consulting as a bridge, but that isn’t the only way.
You may realize your bridge job is a good fit, even if you go into it thinking of it as a short-term solution. An HSP-aware career coach can help you discover bridge job options, as well as longer-term solutions.
4. You can get help figuring it all out — at any age or stage.
Ever feel like you should know what you want to do already? Or like you’ve put so much into what you’re doing that you should stick with it?
You’d be surprised how many people think they should know what they want but don’t, or think something is wrong with them because they don’t know. That’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with you if you feel that way, too.
You can find clarity, whether you are starting your career, approaching retirement, or anywhere in between. It’s never too late.
Working with an HSP career coach is a great way to get clarity on your highly sensitive superpowers (like compassion and reading body language), your other talents, your values, what energizes you, and what drains you. All of this can help you find the best use of you (as you are) and discover a career path where you find meaning and a sense of calm and balance. It made a big difference for me.