If you are a highly sensitive person on the wrong career path, then I want you to know that you are most definitely not alone! Click here to read about the three reasons why it’s way too common for HSPs to find themselves in job misery.
But – quite obviously – just realizing that you are in the wrong job isn’t the end of the story for most of us. Actually pulling off a career change can be various degrees of complicated. You are not starting with a blank slate. You don’t have “your whole life ahead of you”.
No, most of us come carrying baggage. Baggage like a mortgage and bills to pay and a spouse to consider and kids to feed.
My own career change happened in my late 30s and I remember very well the years of anxiety and indecision that preceded it. I knew I was headed down the wrong career path, but at the time, it seemed like there was nothing I could do about it. I just felt stuck.
While career change can be at least somewhat difficult for most people, I’ve since come to understand that there are unique reasons why it can be particularly challenging for highly sensitive people. If you’ve known that you are in the wrong career for a while, but have not been able to make a change, here are a few potential reasons why and some tips for getting unstuck.
5 REASONS WHY HSPs STAY STUCK ON THE WRONG CAREER PATH
1. you HAVE BEEN taught to ignore your needs rather than meet them
Before I learned about high sensitivity or understood what it meant, I would brush off my job-related 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. ADMITTING AND ACCEPTING THAT YOU ARE ON THE WRONG PATH FEELs EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE
Because our nervous systems are more “trigger-happy,” HSPs feel negative emotions more intensely than non-HSPs. And when you are facing career turmoil, there is lots of potential for negative emotions to sprout up.
I remember equating career change with failure. I would think back at all the schooling I had already acquired and the sweat and tears that had gone into getting where I was at. And then I would conclude that in order to prove to myself that it had all been worth it, I had to stick it out.
But eventually I understood that, instead of looking back, I wanted to look forward instead. I had many more decades of working life left. Did I really want to spend a majority of that time “sticking it out”? Or would I rather spend those decades doing something meaningful and engaging?
3. YOU ARE REALLY GOOD AT ANTICIPATING OBSTACLES
HSPs tend to be really good at anticipating obstacles. There are two reasons for this. First of all, we tend to process information deeply and really think things through. Second, we tend to be highly intuitive. Our brains pick up various pieces of information and then put them together into insights and conclusions without us even trying. This helps us easily see the potential consequences of an action.
While all of this is a gift in the right context, it can also slow us down when we are thinking about making a big life change, like transitioning into a new career. I remember thinking about a career option and then thinking about all the negatives associated with that option and all the ways things could go wrong and then I would ditch that option. And then I would repeat this process with every other career option until I would feel totally stuck, because “obviously” there were no good options!
The cure for this variety of stuckness was to stop looking for perfection. Looking for the perfect option is futile, because there are no perfect options. Every single career option in the world is going to come with some positives and some negatives. The trick here is to line up all your options (including the option of staying where you are) and then choose the one with the most pluses and the least minuses.
4. Change and newness FEELs extremely uncomfortable
Not only are HSPs good at anticipating obstacles in general, but there is one obstacle that is particularly pesky for many of us. And that obstacle is that we tend to be 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. Even when I was able to identify careers or professional projects that really sparked my interest and might have been a good fit in theory, there was always something holding me back.
And that something was the intense discomfort I would feel when thinking about actually taking action and “putting myself out there” in a new way.
This anticipation of discomfort would lead me to think:
- I can’t be a writer, because having people read what I have to say is uncomfortable.
- I can’t create online courses, because being on video is uncomfortable.
- I can’t be a life coach, because talking to strangers is uncomfortable.
- I’d better just stick with the status quo even though I’m miserable and dissatisfied and can’t stand what I’m doing currently.
Fast forward to today, I can now see how this line of thinking was deeply flawed. The deep flaw was that I was confusing beginner jitters with lasting discomfort. Starting something new and putting yourself out there can be nerve-wracking for anyone. But because highly sensitive people have a more reactive stress response system and because we feel everything more intensely, beginner jitters can easily seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb.
And if you’ve never had the experience of actually getting past the beginner jitters, you might assume that the jitters are permanent.
What I want you to know though is that they truly are BEGINNER jitters. I want you to know that with persistence and repetition, the discomfort will subside. Eventually, it DOES get better.
So nowadays, when presented with a new opportunity to expand, I literally visualize a mountain. The beginner jitters and the intense discomfort they entail are a mountain I need to climb. It’s hard work and it’s uncomfortable to climb that mountain. But when I get to the other side, I know that there are beautiful new experiences and adventures waiting for me. I know – because I’ve done it before – that it will have been worth it.
5. Nobody told you that it’s okay to do change at your own pace
One of the most common reasons why HSPs want to change careers is that they have too much on their plate. For one or more reasons, work has become a major stressor and the impetus for transitioning to a different career is to lessen the load.
That was me too. I was perpetually exhausted and constantly on the brink of burnout. So when I would think about transitioning into a different career, it felt like I would just be adding more weight onto a plate that was already cracking.
What helped me here was changing the way I was thinking about time. Yes, doing change at the pace non-HSPs tend to do it would have been unsustainable and just added to my stress. I wasn’t about to hold a full-time job, manage three toddlers, get another degree, and build my own business all in the span of a year or two.
Instead, I started thinking long-term. What if I let myself take it slow? As slow as I needed to to make it sustainable while still making progress? I had decades of working life left. Even if I spent years “in transition” before a full shift to a more fulfilling career, it would still be better than staying stuck forever.
And it was! My days of career misery are now firmly in the past. My work is deeply meaningful and I have the freedom to set my own hours. Instead of draining, my work recharges me!
And that’s what I want for you too!
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