Does it make me a glutton for punishment that I want to tackle HSP-HSS careers in this article? 🙂
Finding the right career is no small feat for anyone. But the mismatch between HSP needs and the conventional career world make finding the right career extra tricky for highly sensitive people. Now throw in an opposing characteristic and we have ourselves a real challenge! Highly sensitive people who also identify as high sensation seekers often feel like they just can’t win in life or in career. If they satisfy their sensation seeking side, they risk overstimulation and burnout. If they satisfy their sensitive side, they often wind up bored and dejected.
It can feel like an impossible puzzle to solve when you’re living it, but I want to assure you that I’ve seen quite a few HSP-HSS (including myself) figure it out and find a career path that works. So let me share what I have learned about job satisfaction and highly sensitive high sensation seekers.
OVERCOMING HSP-HSS CAREER STRUGGLES
TYPICAL HSP CAREER PROBLEMS
My HSP Career Guide lists seven typical HSP career problems:
- Physical overload (ie. a physically uncomfortable work environment)
- Emotional overload (ie. being around conflict and/or negativity)
- Time pressure
- Meaningless work
- Workplace cultures that take advantage of conscientious people
- A work situation that’s not a good fit with your personal life (ie. lack of balance)
While HSP-HSS are prone to experiencing the same gamut of career problems that the larger HSP population is facing, they often experience number #6 on steroids.
THE #1 HSP-HSS CAREER STRUGGLE: NEED FOR NEW AND NOVEL STIMULATION
According to Tracy M. Cooper, Ph.D. and author of Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, sensation seeking “can be thought of as a greater willingness (and openness) to approach new stimuli and new situations.” Cooper says that high sensation seeking manifests itself in four ways:
- Thrill and adventure seeking – think physical thrills, like snowboarding or roller coaster rides.
- Experience or novelty seeking – traveling, trying new restaurants and the like.
- Disinhibition – being open to breaking social conventions and getting a little wild. 😉
- Boredom susceptibility – easily getting into an understimulated state.
The issue that many HSP-HSS run into in the career world is that they not just have a greater willingness to approach new stimuli, but they have a greater need for new stimuli. Simply stated, if there’s no new learning and we have to keep repeating the same tasks for years and years, we get so bored we can’t deal.
When Cooper surveyed highly sensitive people and high sensation seekers, he found that 66 percent of them said they have a need to work on new projects. He also writes that “struggles with boredom susceptibility were mentioned more frequently than almost any other issue.”
In my own experience as an HSP career coach, I have found that a large share of the HSP-HSS who end up in my zoom meeting room identify as multipotentialites or those “with many interests and creative pursuits”. That’s one of the reasons they end up seeking career coaching – it’s difficult to commit to just one thing when you have a broad array of interests and you don’t like repetition.
5 ways to increase job satisfaction as an HSP-HSS
Highly sensitive high sensation seekers are a diverse bunch so there isn’t a single career solution that’s going to cut it for all of us. We are not just highly sensitive and high sensation seeking. We each have a unique mix of other characteristics, needs, and preferences that factor into what we want out of our careers. And we are even different from each other in terms of sensitivity and sensation seeking. These traits present on a continuum, so even within the HSP-HSS population, we have different degrees and mixes of the two traits.
But even if it’s impossible to point to one solution that will work for all of us, here are some things that work for many HSP-HSS who are looking to up their job satisfaction level:
1. SEEKING OUT OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING AND GROWTH
Many HSP-HSS are chronic job hoppers. They enjoy a role while it’s still new and exciting, but when things become too routine, they start browsing job ads. If you’d like to stick it out for a longer term, one way to ensure lasting engagement is to look for opportunities for learning and growth. Some HSP-HSS are able to add this component wherever they are currently working. For others, it’s necessary to look for a different organization and/or a role that allows for continued development. Some fields like education and technology kind of have this expectation built in.
Another option is to simply embrace the identity of a job hopper. Sure, the ideal for our grandparents’ generation may have been to retire from the same job you held for 40 years, but who says we have to follow their ideals? Some people like to collect a variety of experiences in life and one way to do that is by trying out a whole bunch of different jobs!
2. SEEKING OUT VARIETY IN TERMS OF ROLES AND TASKS
Speaking of variety… Something that helps many HSP-HSS thrive is variety in roles and/or tasks. For me personally, this is an absolute must. No matter how engaging I find a given task, I simply cannot do one type of task for eight hours straight, five days a week. It makes my chest tight just to write that down. 😉
If this sounds like you, let me share a couple of concrete examples of how I’ve been able to satisfy my variety-loving side in my own career.
So I have solved this variety-problem by running my own business where I wear all the hats. Here are just a few of the jobs I do in an average week:
- Career & life coach
- Graphic designer
- Online course creator
- SEO manager
- Web designer
Granted, this is a pretty unconventional solution, but it is possible to find variety in the conventional career world as well if you know what you are looking for. In my first job out of college, I worked for a small company where job responsibilities were not very strictly defined. While this setup definitely wasn’t without downsides, it did create another environment where I was free (and expected) to take on a number of different roles and engage in a variety of tasks on a day-to-day basis, from programming, statistical analysis, and report writing to communicating with subcontractors around the world and managing other people’s task-lists. All in one job.
3. LOOKING FOR PROJECT-BASED WORK
Another way to add variety and newness is by looking for project-based work. I think the reason I was able to stick it out in my first career for as long as I did (15+ years) was because my title was literally Project Director. 🙂 Projects have a beginning and an end, which means that they are eventually replaced by NEW projects. In some project-based positions, you might even be working on more than one project at the same time.
I always have several projects going on in my current job as well, each with different foci and somewhat different energy requirements. As an HSP, my energy levels and creative capacity fluctuate a good bit and I like being able to choose from a variety of projects and work on ones that match whatever state I happen to be in. I often hear new coaching clients beat themselves up because they feel like they should be able to put all of their focus on one project at a time. But most of them find that they are actually much more productive when they start working with their nature rather than against it. Being able to shift your focus between a few different projects can be the key to keeping your brain energized and engaged.
4. SEEKING OUT OPPORTUNITIES TO BE CREATIVE
Creativity is the process of forming something NEW. Because of our love of the new and novel, it’s not terribly surprising that HSP-HSS are often drawn toward creative endeavors.
Many people associate creativity with artistry and some HSP-HSS definitely have musical or visual-spatial talents. But for the rest of us, it can be helpful to broaden our idea of creativity. Here are a couple of dictionary definitions of creativity:
“The use of imagination or original ideas to create something.”
“The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”
So at its most basic, creativity is simply the act of creating something that didn’t exist before.
Where and how and with what materials you apply creativity is up to you. Yes, it could be creating a piece of art to hang on the wall. But it could also be creating a more streamlined process for completing a series of tasks. It could be creating a new approach to handle a difficult team dynamic. It could be creating a re-design of your company’s marketing materials. It could be anything. There are no limits to the areas where creativity can be employed.
Just like with learning and growth, sometimes it’s possible to tweak an existing job to incorporate more creativity. But if not, opportunities to use creativity are often a must-have on HSP-HSS wish lists when thinking about applying for a new job or when thinking about transitioning to a completely different career path.
Which brings us to…
5. CONSIDERING UNCONVENTIONAL CAREER PATHS
While it’s not impossible for HSP-HSS to find career satisfaction in the conventional career world, striking out and doing your own thing is an appealing option for many of us. In an inspiring article on Rethinking “Career” for HSPs and HSS/HSPs, Tracy Cooper gives us the advice to “CREATE work that works for YOU folks!!”
An unconventional career path can take many forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as embracing the job hopper identity. But it can also mean establishing multiple income streams, combining two or more part-time jobs, becoming a freelancer, or starting your own business. Or maybe starting several businesses over time! It’s your career and I hope you feel empowered to make it into something that excites and inspires your highly sensitive high sensation seeking self. 🙂
NEED MORE SUPPORT?
I hope this article has given you some ideas for how to potentially tweak your current job or what to look for in the next one.
If you’d like to complete an even broader and deeper exploration of your career needs and wants, please check out my HSP Career Discovery Online Course. This course is for you if you are starting with a completely blank slate with no ideas for career options at all, or if you already have some ideas, but you want to fully consider all your options and reflect deeply on what you want before moving forward. The course is self-paced, you can enroll anytime, and you receive immediate access to a series of short videos and workbook assignments.
If you are interested in formal career assessments like the MBTI® or the Strong Interest Inventory®, please see the info page for my 1:1 Career Coaching services.
I also invite you to read more about 1:1 Career Coaching if you are stuck in analysis paralysis and need help overcoming doubts and fears that are holding you back from taking action or if you keep procrastinating because the whole career change process just feels too overwhelming. My services are location-independent with all sessions conducted online via Zoom.
And finally… I also mentor HSP-HSS who want to become self-employed. If that’s you, please see my info page on HSP Business Mentoring.