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  • Diana Schneidman

Freelance and consulting: You may be “highly sensitive” without realizing it

Some people have always been more sensitive than others. This trait can be either good or bad depending on how you interpret the word.

However, the phrase “highly sensitive person” has come to have a specific definition since the 1996 publication of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron.

On page ix, Aron attributes the characteristic to about a fifth of the population or less and says it may be inherited. She explains highly sensitive as being “aware of subtleties in your surroundings . . . It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long.” Of course, the book includes a quiz to self-administer to determine if you are HSP.

I relate to a few of the criteria but not sufficiently to apply the book to my life. However, I recently stumbled upon another book that applies the designation to the workplace, and this second book resonates with me much more strongly.

Of course the book has its own self-administered quiz, and here I score extremely high.

Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person by Barrie Jaeger (2004) uses the word “drudgery” to describe unpleasant work experiences for the HSP. Too much drudgery leads to stress, burnout and depression—it can even be traumatic—and it takes time to recover.

A sense of drudgery may occur when we have too much work to do, but it also can occur when we have too little work and are bored to death. A lack of challenge, seeing no meaning in the job, and interpersonal issues in the office also torment HSPs.

That describes my worst episodes in regular jobs, although I also had periods of dedication, enthusiasm, inspiration, and Effort.

The book recommends several solutions. One is to communicate more effectively with management and coworkers to define for ourselves a job that fits us better while resolving misunderstandings with others.

Another is to get out of bad jobs as quickly as possible before we sink too deeply into depression. Sounds good and I tried, but I found it difficult to land new jobs quickly so I could continue to meet my financial obligations.

Jaeger also prominently suggests self-employment. Freelancing and consulting enable HSPs to develop careers that suit our interests and strengths. We can choose our own work settings with the quiet or amenities we desire, such as working from home or from the library. By dividing our time among multiple clients and spending more limited time onsite with each, we can minimize aggravation when situations turn difficult. We can readily redefine our services and our niches to match our changing preferences and evolving market conditions while warding off boredom and stress.

Many self-employment coaches on the internet offer dreams of extreme flexibility and untold freedom for big, big bucks. Some freelancers and consultants achieve this to varying degrees, though in real life it’s never quite like Roger Daltrey singing “I’m Free” in Tommy.

In real life there is the upside of better working conditions and greater self-fulfillment. But it’s more than that.

Freelancing and consulting can dig us out of the rut of miserable jobs that kill our spirit. Simply put, they can relieve us of DRUDGERY.

Furthermore, when you finish the day’s work, you can turn off the computer and go do something else. You don’t have to stick around till 5:00 because that’s the rule. Nor do you have to put in soul-deadening facetime at the end of the day to make a good impression.

If you have had “issues” during your career and have hung on to corporate jobs you have hated, I suggest you explore Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person. It just may be the self-help book you have searched out for years.

Originally posted 2-9-15

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