Saturday, November 14, 2009

An HSP's Survival Guide to the Business World's Vanilla Vortex

The pursuit of a business career holds many promises. After all, if you find the right people to suck up to, you could become the next guy or gal with that brand new BMW, mansion in the "Hollywood Hills," the trophy "arm candy" partner and the gold plated bank account. Mind you, the real reason I found my somewhat naive nineteen year old self suddenly switching her major to business was because it has long been recommended for those who wish to go into the film industry. Yes, it's true. Sometimes you need to combine art and passion with the practical and boring in order to succeed.

The problem with being sucked into this "vanilla vortex" of a world is that if you're highly sensitive, you may find yourself in a long episode of "I'm not sure I fit in here." Chances are, you too may find yourself in this modern man's version of hell, either by curiosity, choice or force. Here's some tips on how I've learned to scrape by on my toenails!:

1. Don't resist the sudden development of the ability to quantify, reason with logic, and categorize. These skills can come in handy, but don't leave the world of emotion, curiosity and intuition behind. Just remember that it may take you a little longer than your completely emotionless counterparts to grasp these new concepts. This doesn't mean you're clueless and can't do it. You can, because HSP's are well known for being able to eventually outpace those hares.

2. If you come across someone (and you will) who thinks you are "too sensitive" to play in the corporate world, act like you are listening to their feedback, but immediately move it to the trash bin. Your sensitivity is an invaluable asset when it comes to dealing with customers, co-workers and coming up with creative solutions to your organization's problems. And yes, every organization has them; even the arrogant ones.

3. You will find yourself overwhelmed by the fast paced nature of this world. You will frequently find yourself overstimulated, unable to think on your feet and just plain frazzled. Allow yourself to say "I'll get back to you on that", take many 5-10 minute breaks, and many, many deep breaths. It will take some practice, but don't let those "thick-skinned" counterparts make you feel guilty for doing so.

4. Develop the ability to "shield out" all the energy of those around you. Yes, you will still absorb it, feel it and want to scream. Remind yourself that these emotions are not yours, they are not directed at you and imagine them flowing through and then out of your physicality. Some days will be better than others. If you find yourself getting irritated, take a break.

5. Speaking of breaks, sometimes those will have to be "mental" only. Develop the picture of a soothing escape that your mind can drift to for a few minutes. My personal favorite is sitting under palm trees listening to the sound of the ocean's tide crash against the beach. Due to time constraints, the tropical cocktails and cabana boys are not included.

6. Realize and accept that you will have a general feeling of boredom and unfulfillment while staring in this "show." One way to make up for this is to use your empathy to get to know your customers very well. If you're a writer, you'll often find your next character, storyline or plot enhancement somewhere in there. Just don't tell them what you're doing. They'll read about it later.

7. You can also use your empathy to be an advocate for your customer. They'll love that you're their new bartender and seem to want to roll out the red carpet for their needs. If you're in the sales sector, this will eventually lead to being able to sneak (I mean "sell") in just about anything.

8. When you have to play politics (something us HSP's find revolting), pretend you're someone else. Yes, that's right, make up an alternate identity for yourself. Pretend you're a "character." Your real self can observe, learn and then pretend like they weren't that total suck up.

9. Small talk. It's the way things get done here. In fact, it's the only way the players in this show know how to communicate. So, yes, you're gonna have to learn to fake it with a smile. Playing a "character" works in this arena too. You'll soon find yourself schmoozing with the best of them. When your mind draws a blank and you can't think of anything to say, pretend you're really interested in what they had to say, smile, nod and laugh a little. Others probably won't notice, since they're usually absorbed in thoughts of how to massage the numbers to make themselves look good.

10. You'll find yourself more concerned with improving things in a qualitative rather than quantitative sense. Expect to be treated as though you are from another planet for possessing this ideology. Smile and realize that it's the qualitative improvements and focus that eventually lead to the quantitative results. Don't expect to convince anybody of that though. Act like you are focused on the numbers and the numbers only.

11. Know that this world is not as complex as it's made out to be. In fact, it really is quite simple. Don't take it or yourself too seriously. Develop a sense of humor. After all, it's just "vanilla." It's up to you to add the chocolate syrup and sprinkles.

*A piece I wrote on surviving life as a highly sensitive person provides additional tips on how someone with high sensitivity can learn to cope with life's general demands, that can often be found to be overwhelming.


  1. These are some things that I wish I had known years ago. I have been trying to do some of the things you mentioned but haven't always been successful. Its easy to get caught up and not realize what you need to do differently in order to keep from getting overloaded. Keep up the writing. David S.

  2. David,

    I'm not always successful at these either. As I say, some days are better than others and it gets easier with practice. It took me a long time to start doing #2, because in true HSP fashion, I take everything personally, when it's not always that way. Just because you don't succeed every day isn't a reason to beat yourself up though. And sometimes the solution is that you need to get out of that situation. It's important to realize that it's not going to happen overnight and you need to formulate an action plan to get there. I know what you mean about "getting caught up." Happens so easily to us sensitives.

  3. I have been trying this for years and gritting my teeth behind my smiles. It is so exhausting to keep playing along and never getting to be truly honest and do what you know is right. I wanna scream till my head explodes.

    1. I fully understand how you feel

  4. Well,I had no idea what was wrong with me,I get angry,irritated with stress no matter how normal,in my life,migraines,hide in playstation online,well need I go on bout failed relationships coz I feel their feelings as my own causing circle running,makes me tired and seriously life drained :-(

  5. I disagree with the 8th point, how is that a hypersensitive person dislike politics? I think the concept of politics is misunderstood here. I strongly suspect myself to be hypersensitive, maybe too much for my own good (until I discover the concept and read blogs like yours). Politics not necessarily means conning the masses or I don't know what you have in mind. Politicians assume the brave duty to put themselves on the lines separating groups of people living blindly their own lives to make our society work. Maybe you say that considering how politic is presented today and exploited by the medias (and vice versa) but once again, don't make your judgement a generality.

  6. Dear Anonymous, you can disagree but please have the respect not to tell others how they should view the world. This was written several years ago and is based on research I did, plus my own perspective. As I mention on here, this blog is written from my perspective and is not meant to be all encompassing. Everyone may (HSP or not) have different perspectives and experiences, and that's OKAY. When I say "politics," I mean office politics. In other words, HSPs have a tendency (but not always) to prefer to be noticed for their actual work and integrity rather than solely relying on "schmoozing" to get ahead in the workplace. While that may not apply to every HSP, I have always found that it applies to me. My intention is not be general or make judgments at all on this blog. I am simply writing from my own perspective and experience. If you choose to be negative, then please do it elsewhere. Thanks.

  7. I often have had to use those very same tips when doing conferences or uncomfortable meetings but I of course have to withdraw or zone out for a bit so as to feel better. You absolutely hit the proverbial nail on the head. I'm fighting not to cry as I'm writing this because I'm at work and because this resonates with me, but what you described is exactly what HSPs have to go through and sometimes it is literally unbearable. My office is particularly toxic and there is drama literally daily. If feels like swimming through sludge or being punched in the gut on a regular basis. I know some persons don't realize that they have this effect like my supervisor who I'm convinced has OCD and Asperger's and OCPD and every other tension inducing disorder rolled into one. It's physically and emotionally painful. I envy those who aren't HSPs. I often honestly don't want to feel anything at all just to be able to have a normal day, because no matter what you're feeling on the inside, you wear a smile on your face which is exhausting. Anyhoo, thank you so much for posting this.

  8. Anonymous from Jan. 22, 2014:

    I really hope that you've left this workplace. That is EXACTLY what I dealt with in my last job and I had to quit. The management was all corrupt and toxic, director had OCPD while I was an HSP/HSS with ADHD. No one supported me or backed me up. I stayed too long and only figured how much I needed to leave sooner AFTER I left.

    It sucks, I know it's hard just resigning without a back-up plan. If you can wing it, just resign with the appropriate notice as soon as possible if it is still as bad as you described. If you can wait for another offer, that's good, but the longer you wait, the worse it could get. And if your work is anything like my last place, they did what they could to screw up my chances at getting one of my next jobs when supervisor references were required. So keep that in mind.

    Once you make that decision to resign, though, however long of notice you give, you already start feeling SO much better. You know you'll be free soon. You'll need time to recuperate after. The average person won't understand quitting esp. without a back-up, but you know that you are different and HSPs DO get it.

    It's just not worth it. Even my 4 months of struggling to pay bills without a job after quitting has been BETTER for me all around than continuing to work at that job! Life is not just a destination, it's a journey most esp. for HSPs. If we are miserable 40+ hrs/week, it will make us miserable in all other areas of our life. Until you're out. That's why it's SO important to focus on positive HSP self-care and healthy balance in all areas. ~ KB