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Navigating many (most?) conventional career paths is a tall order for highly sensitive people. Overstimulating work environments… Time pressure… Deadlines… Lack of flexibility… Conflict… Bottom line over human impact…

You know how it goes.

So self-employment often comes up as the obvious alternative. Most of us do want to work and contribute. We just want to do it in a way that doesn’t overtax our sensitive nervous systems. And when you are your own boss, you can control what you expose yourself to when and how. Pure bliss, right?

Well, as an HSP with several years of self-employment under my belt, let’s just say there have been quite a few moments that I wouldn’t exactly call blissful. 🙂 Just like any other employment option, self-employment has its advantages and disadvantages.

To help you start thinking about whether self-employment might be the right option for you, let’s take a look at some of these potential downsides and upsides and how they tend to play out for highly sensitive people.

The downsides of being self-employed for HSPs

1. You may need to do a good bit of work before seeing any money

Most of us don’t turn into money-making entrepreneurs overnight. Obviously, the amount of time and effort it takes to start making money through self-employment varies greatly depending on the kind of work you decide to pursue. If you want to be a freelancer, you might be able to get going pretty quickly if you decide to do something that you are already skilled at and you already have clients lined up ready to sign up.  But if you are creating something to sell, that creation process will take time and effort. It also takes time and effort to spread the word about what you are offering and to build a clientele. 

WHY THIS IS HARD FOR HSPs: HSPs must prioritize self care and downtime in order to stay healthy. So burning the midnight oil in order to start your own business isn’t exactly advisable. Therefore, the transition into self-employment can take us even longer than other people. And then we need to manage our busy brains that like to throw all kinds of doubts at us and tell us that we are failing and not moving fast enough.

2. When you start seeing money, it probably won’t be “steady”

If you like to know in advance exactly how big your paycheck is going to be every month down to the penny, that’s not likely to happen when you are self-employed. At least not at first. 

WHY THIS IS HARD FOR HSPs: Some people are okay with income fluctuations, but many HSPs really like the predictability of a “steady” paycheck. We like to plan ahead and be prepared, and not knowing exactly “how business will be this month” is difficult for many of us to deal with.

3. It’s all on you

Another thing that some people relish, but many people don’t like is the feeling that “it’s all on you”.  When you are self-employed, there’s nobody breathing down your neck telling you what to do, so you have to take responsibility for all the decisions and you have to figure out what to do when.

WHY THIS IS HARD FOR HSPs: HSPs tend to be careful and risk averse people. And yeah, it’s nice when nobody is breathing down your neck, but it can feel scary and risky to have to make decisions all on your own.  

4. You have to “put yourself out there”

When you make a living by selling products or services, you have to put yourself out there and constantly try to convince people to buy whatever it is that you’re selling. 

WHY THIS IS HARD FOR HSPs: Putting yourself out there is stimulating. And for HSPs who are prone to overstimulation, putting yourself out there and exposing yourself to potential rejection or negative feedback can feel extremely uncomfortable. 

The upsides of being self-employed for HSPs

1. You have more control over your lifestyle

When you are self-employed, you have pretty much complete control over what kinds of tasks you complete, when, where, and with whom. You can decide when and for how long you work and when and for how long you rest. You can decide what you do yourself and what you outsource. You can set up your work environment exactly the way you like it. You can choose what kind of clientele you want to target.

WHY THIS IS GREAT FOR HSPs: HSPs have slightly different lifestyle needs than non-HSPs. But because HSPs are a minority, most workplaces are set up with the needs of the non-HSP majority in mind, with HSP needs being ignored. Self-employment makes it possible for HSPs to let go of the rigid requirements and standards of the rest of the world and design a lifestyle that allows them to thrive. Bye-bye hustle and bustle.

And speaking of hustle and bustle…

2. You CAN GO AT YOUR OWN PACE

When you are self-employed, nobody’s breathing down your neck and nobody’s pressuring you to meet unrealistic deadlines. You can work at whatever pace feels comfortable to you. You can structure your days and weeks however you want. You can complete tasks in whatever order makes sense to you.

WHY THIS IS GREAT FOR HSPs: 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.  Having control over the pace of work allows HSPs to listen to their bodies and avoid the physical stress that comes with constant time pressure and the go-go-go mindset that is often characteristic of conventional workplaces.

3. YOU have more freedom to follow your passions AND PURPOSE

Some people equate “having a business” with only wanting to make money. But having a business can be about so much more. Your business can be the channel through which you do work that is exciting to you and serve people in a way that is meaningful to you.

WHY THIS IS GREAT FOR HSPs: HSPs tend to be imaginative and compassionate people who care deeply about the world and the wellbeing of other people. Conventional work environments where performance and profits are valued above all else are likely to depress HSPs. Tasks that are repetitive and meaningless are likely to squelch HSPs’ creative spirits. On the other hand, self-employed HSPs have the freedom to follow their passions and purpose and use their creativity to benefit others.

4. You can easily add variety

Many conventional occupations have a fairly narrow focus. Whatever your area of expertise is, you are expected to devote yourself to that area all day every day. Some people like it that way, but others crave more variety. And self-employment is one way to create that variety. It’s often easier for self-employed people to experiment and indulge varied interests. Instead of building a business strictly focused on one endeavor, some self-employed people intentionally develop multiple income streams.

WHY THIS IS GREAT FOR HSPs: While HSPs are easily overstimulated physically, they are just easily understimulated mentally. HSP brains are built for deep processing and analysis. Many HSPs love learning and have a hard time choosing just one from their many interests to focus on. Self-employed HSPs have the freedom to design careers that allow for continuous learning and following a variety of passions.

WHat’S THE RIGHT OPTION FOR YOU?

For some HSPs, the downsides of self-employment are too great and they would rather pursue conventional employment. And that can be a great choice! Although meeting your HSP needs in the conventional career world may take some legwork to find just the right fit, it’s by no means impossible.

For other HSPs, the upsides of self-employment are simply too sweet to pass up. The good news for these HSPs is that every single one of the downsides can be addressed and managed to make them more tolerable.

If you’d like help figuring out the right career options for YOU, I regularly serve as a mentor coach for my fellow HSPs who are trying to make up their minds regarding self-employment or who are already in the beginning stages of building their own business. Click here for more info on my HSP business coaching packages. My coaching services are location-independent with all sessions conducted online via Zoom.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Anni! I'm a life and career coach for stressed out highly sensitive people. My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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