Freelancing and the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

A reader of my past work on how to market freelance services commented that she was tuning to freelance because it is a better match with her HSP state of mind.

She motivated me to take another look at Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person by Barrie Jaeger, Ph.D. (The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. is also a helpful book.)

Who is HSP?

According to Jaeger, Highly Sensitive People have a hard time with work because we’re “exquisitely sensitive in a variety of ways,” with traits ranging from intense emotions and acute sensory awareness to restless minds and vivid imaginations.

In broader internet research, definitions vary, as do self-administered quizzes to assess if we are HSP.

It’s a problem. Reading Aron’s book, I wasn’t sure if the concept applied to me. However, in Jaeger’s book, her workplace-oriented descriptions and case studies more surely identify me as HSP.

HSPs tend to categorize work in one of three ways (though we may not be in so articulate in identifying our work issues).

HSPs categorize work among three classifications: drudgery, craft, or calling. The more drudgery work is, the more intolerable. The more it feels like a calling, the happier we are. Craft status falls somewhere in the middle.

HSPs are exceptionally sensitive to office politics and troubling situations, which adds to work misery. About 20 percent of the population is estimated to be HSP.

At its worse, the HSP suffers post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yes, just like war veterans.

When I read HSP books in the past, I was not comfortable with the PTSD label. How presumptuous to compare myself, although still dealing with work issues from decades past, with someone who has experienced life-and-death challenges on the battlefield.

I’m still not right claiming PTSD, but I’ll go with the term for now since that’s Jaeger’s usage and I don’t have a better term at the moment.

Sometimes HSPs flee the crap at work that torments them towards a seemingly safer, more routine job with less stress. Big mistake!

They soon are just as miserable due to acute boredom. The job chosen to make life easier soon becomes unbearable. Plus they have the added stress of insufficient income.

My HSP career experience

My so-called PTSD resulted from some miserable work situations. I should have quit sooner, but I needed the income. Despite vigorous job searches, there I was, stuck.

I’ve had a messy divorce with child custody battles and cancer, too, but I have been much more brought down to this day by my career traumas. (In part because my ex passed away two decades ago and my cancer was not diagnosed as metastatic.)

I turned to freelance writing, first as a temporary measure between full-time jobs and then as a more permanent commitment. (Jaeger, it turns out, often recommends that HSPs freelance.)

Freelancing was hard because I was so traumatized in dealing with office work and bosses (now called “clients” in the freelance world). I’ve had an impressive list of freelance corporate clients and many well-paid assignments, but it’s been challenging.

Tips for the HSP considering freelancing

If you know you are HSP, prepare yourself for the future, whatever comes career wise. Savor jobs that are rewarding, but get ready for possible problems. Here’s how:

Prepare to escape work situations that drive you crazy. Save yourself. You probably can’t turn the situation around. So get out now.

On the other hand, it’s hard to get a new job, especially past a certain age. It’s even harder when you are unemployed.

Getting the hell out of there is the best solution but problematic as well.

Remember that jobs can change at any time. Your great boss may be transferred to the Poughkeepsie office and the new boss may be an ass. Or someone decides to cut unnecessary staff and you’re on the list.

Set aside F-You money to tide you over if you ever feel the acute need to resign. You may need it.

Live below your means. Back when I bought my first home in 1979, they recommended buying the most house you can afford. “It’s an investment. It will always increase in value,” went the reasoning. But marble countertops and three extra bedrooms won’t do squat for you as you embark on freelancing. Paying for all this will stress you out more.

Avoid anything bought on time. Take cars, for instance. If you write at home, you won’t be driving as much anyway. A used car will do.

Skip the designer heels. You won’t wear them at your home desk anyway.

When we have jobs we hate, we are likely to make up for our misery at work by justifying luxury purchases to compensate. “We deserve it,” we tell ourselves. It’s better to save the money to fund your getaway if needed.

Study how you can build up bragging rights from the job to establish your future credibility as a freelancer. Look for activities and accomplishments to list on LinkedIn and your website. The best ones are funded by work: Professional memberships, certifications, published articles with your byline, attendance at prestige conferences, master’s degrees, etc.

Take work samples and printed publications home promptly. Every single day. You don’t want to try to remember this stuff if the security guard shows up with the cardboard box.

Identify your niche, especially your industry. Learn as much as possible. Ask questions. Stay on top of jargon and developments. One good niche, ideally with significant income potential, is better than several unrelated ones. Maybe something complex, like medical or finance.

Nurture relationships with friends, family, social life, hobbies. Don’t let work totally take over your life. It isn’t worth it.

HSP is a lifelong personal orientation. . .

but the vicissitudes of the workplace have a trajectory all their own. Even when work is good, it can change at any time. Furthermore, work that was once fun can quickly degenerate into horrendous boredom.

So be prepared to flee your job to become a freelancer if necessary.

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment