For most of my life I have felt mildly misfitting. As if I was not truly fitting where I was, I felt I was different without knowing exactly how. Round pig in a square hole, and it took me a long time to figure out why. Only until I realized that I was a Introverted, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and a Sensation Seeker (HSS), that things started to make sense to me.
In most of my jobs I felt unauthentic to some extent, even in the ones I studied for, not just in the occasional in-between jobs. I felt like I needed to pretend to like it, to fake excitement in the tasks that were expected of me, and this faking actually took a lot of energy. In the beginning of my career I didn’t know any better. I just went along, faking away, thinking everyone must fake it a bit. I always felt somewhat left out when people showed a lot of excitement towards their profession, since I never could really match the enthusiasm some of my colleagues were showing. In the end, I often felt left out because of it.
What’s your personality code?
I am 37 years old, and only recently learned some vital aspects and acronyms about myself that have a big influence on everything. I always knew I was an introvert (INFJ to be exact), but since I was very good with people and especially enjoyed pleasing people, I ended up in many Customer Relations roles or Project Management positions that required someone to play the coordinator and good-cop.
Being an introvert was never an issue at work. Sure, I detested the open plan offices, but for the rest I could manage my energy without feeling disturbed by my working life. I loved being alone, sometimes over-planned my schedule and had some anxiety about that, but for the most part I did well. So I never thought I should take the introvert -issue into a special consideration when searching for jobs.
Whats HSPs all about?
During the last year I learned more about the concept of Highly Sensitive Person (HSPs) and found some puzzling aspects of myself defined. There are obviously different scales and grades of HSPs out there, and whereas I don’t consider myself to be on the highest point of the sensitivity scale, this does explain my high sensitivity to noises, smells, bright lights and in general the vibe around me. I can sense emotions, needs and general motives of people, which I suppose was one of the reasons I was such a brilliant good-cop at work and hated conflict (because of the bad vibes it caused).
Scientist Elaine Aron is considered to be the ‘founder’ of the HSP term and the research around it. Highly Sensitive People are not weepy or weak in any way, rather their nervous system is wired differently. They are more tuned into the environment, they take on more sensory information, which in turn can overwhelm an HSP easier than someone who does not have this trait.
Approximately 15-20% of the population is Highly Sensitive, which is actually quite a lot considering how we still idealize the noise, small talk and feel the need to huddle together in team work and open plan offices. Luckily the movement against this group mentality has started, since for many this is hindering creative thinking and productivity at the workplace. Although majority of HSPs tend to be Introverts, there are also extroverts who identify themselves as HSPs.
Mixing in the High Sensation Seeker
Ok, so HSPs are one thing, but to make matters more contradicting, I found that a small percentage of HSPs are also High Sensation Seekers (HSS). At first it does seem incredibly contradicting, how can one person be both HSP and a Sensation seeker? But it’s true, and I am living proof of it. This discovery made me clap my hands and do a little happy dance. Finally my odd ways were actually researched and explained! I was allowed to NOT make sense with science backing me up!
A person who is a High Sensation Seeker is not chasing extreme risks or living on the edge, rather this trait is about seeking out new experiences, new things to do, and craving excitement, novelty, and change in their lives (source). With the combination it means that your HSP side craves for quiet, pleasant environments where you are in charge and where you don’t have to interact too much with others. At the same time your Sensation seeker craves for new experiences on a regular basis. The obvious challenge this brings is that the optimum arousal level becomes very narrow – you easily feel overstimulated by the external world, but if you are not stimulated enough, boredom sets in and feels like the end of the world (to me at least).
How to the mix and match these traits?
For me this was great news! It explains my constant need for change, new experiences and adventures, while I identify myself as being highly Introverted and an HSP. How have I solved this dilemma so far? Although I haven’t been living in Finland, my home country for about 15 years, I actually don’t particularly like traveling. I find it exhausting after a while, and I start craving for my own little corner where to retreat and be left alone. So instead I tend to live in other countries. Ten years in the Netherlands, a few back in Finland, some years in the Philippines… I have noticed a pattern of about 2-3 years, after which I need to change something – my job or the country I live to keep things fresh and interesting. But that’s OK, now I know why this is the case, and there is nothing wrong with folks like us!
But the daily struggle is there. My inner Sensation seeker is always getting me into new situations and it craves excitement, which often tends to be too much for my sensitive side. Then again, if my sensitive side would take the lead, my sensation seeker would be seriously bored, which also tends to lessen my joy in life (in fact boredom, the feeling of being limited in growth from the outside, is one of the worst feelings I know). I have to be very careful and regulate these two opposing forces in my life, and finding this balance is hard. I cannot say I have often been able to stay exactly in the middle, but instead I tend to see-saw from one side to the other occasionally hitting the sweet spot of equilibrium.
Read also: The benefits of Yin Yoga for sensitive souls
Personality and career choices
How does this all relate to our choices in finding the perfect career path? I found out that it matters a great deal actually, more than I had given it credit for. Only when I ended up with a job that was actually completely wrong for me in terms of my personality type, I started my somewhat desperate search which lead me here.
So there I was, INFJ, HSP/HSS in a job that required me to be ‘on‘ basically 24/7, hospitality management tends to do this to you. You are living for your guests, and although I love making people happy, this got to be a bit much. New people in your face continuously and an almost non-existent level of privacy. My Highly Sensitive self was going nuts to say the least. Then, to make matters worse, being on a small tropical island meant that my High Sensation Seeker was bored out of her wits after about 2 years, and I found myself in this strange circle of being over-stimulated and under-stimulated on a daily basis!
At first I thought I was losing my mind. Honestly. I told my partner I was losing it, because it felt like I was. I had no control over my emotions, and I fell into a dark hole for some months, being borderline depressive without any answers or ways to truly explain my feelings. On the bottom of my dark hole I started to research my way out of it, and luckily I did, because my current understanding of the mixture that is me will surely make me take these traits seriously when looking for the next adventures in life.
This combo of HSP/HSS makes it challenging to find the optimum career path, for sure. Whereas an HSP might crave a comfortable, familiar routine in their job, an HSS will be bored doing the same thing every day! (source: hsperson.com) I’ll tell you, the struggle is real, but fortunately there are equally many answers out there! Being aware of your pain points and things that make you tick -one way or the other- is worth taking seriously in career planning.
Since I learned these new traits about myself, I have become more aware of my wellbeing and how to protect it. I accept less and less compromises, and invite less and less B.S. into my life. I feel somehow more grounded in my search of truth and freedom.
Want to know if you are a Highly Sensitive Person or High Sensation Seeker? Take the test on Dr. Elaine Aron’s website and start discovering new sides of yourself!
Here is one interesting article about HSPs at work, and some helpful books (no affiliate links, just love):