I thought starting a company would be an HSP’s nightmare. Turns out, we’re great at it.
I never wanted to own my own business. I’ve worked closely with business owners, and I know the amount of work involved. But my hesitation involved so much more than effort. As a highly sensitive person (HSP) — someone who gets overwhelmed easily and feels the world deeply — I also know how hard it can be to work with clients or customers who are difficult, insensitive, and demanding. That trifecta can be an HSP’s worst nightmare.
Yet, despite those concerns, I ended up starting my own business after leaving my job as content director of a digital marketing agency. At the time, I was approached by an attorney to handle marketing for his law firm. Things started off well enough, and I enjoyed being my own boss. However, in spite of the successful marketing results I achieved for his firm, this client became demanding and critical. I began to dread our meetings and began avoiding communicating with him. Finally, we ended the contract, and like most HPSs, I actually felt some relief to be done with this emotional roller coaster that stifled my creative energy.
As rough an experience as it was, I saw what great business owners HSPs make. We have so many great attributes due to our concern for their clients, desire to do our best, and inborn creativity. But I knew there needed to be some clear-cut rules to help HSPs navigate an experience that can easily leave them overwhelmed and flooded.
I developed five tips to help HSP business owners succeed, and I’m happy to share that three years later, my marketing business continues to grow and is highly profitable. I will never be your typical CEO or entrepreneur because I am an HSP that has learned to love and appreciate who I am.
5 Rules for HSP Business Owners
1. Surround yourself with non-HSPs.
Because HSPs feel things so strongly, it is vital as a business owner that you have non-HSPs in your life. At least once a week, I call upon my non-HSP husband to help me think through an email or phone call regarding a difficult decision or client. Because he doesn’t feel things as strongly, he can usually help me see through a situation in a more matter-of-fact way of reasoning.
While other HSPs are great for understanding specific problems and even venting, I have found that non-HSPs cut to the chase when making hard choices or dealing with difficult people. However, always trust your instincts because, as an HSP, we need to feel good about the decisions we make, and sometimes that means going the extra mile with a client (even though the whole world would agree that they don’t deserve it).
2. Trust your instincts.
One of the really great things about being an HSP business owner is that your sensitivity will allow you to recognize things others might miss. If you have a call with a prospective client that feels “off,” you can trust your instincts and ask more questions or even walk away.
We have to be careful because our sensitive, empathetic nature doesn’t want to offend anyone, but listening to your instincts is vital to avoiding bad business decisions and can save you from so many problems. You can enjoy the freedom to work with whomever you choose, and that means turning away people who have the potential to be difficult or demanding.
3. Never respond right away.
Because HSPs feel things so strongly, we can have a tendency to be very responsive to clear the air or answer questions. Whether it’s an email, a phone call, or a real person-to-person meeting, we will pick up on nuances and underlying tones very quickly, and we want to make sure everything is okay.
It’s easy to overthink the situation and analyze every word, which can result in ruminating and anxiety. You can learn, however, to walk away from it all, and amazingly, our subconscious often solves the problem for us if we give it time.
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4. Turn off electronic devices.
We live in a busy, overloaded, noisy world. Cell phones, emails, and messages surround us 24/7. I was reminded of my sensitivity when my husband and daughter bought smartwatches. I jumped on the bandwagon thinking that it would be a fun way to keep track of exercise and even answer calls without my cellphone. However, I quickly learned that it was just too much for me. We can walk away from cell phones and computers, but we wear watches all day long. I learned to take the watch off when it became irritating or overwhelming.
At night, it’s good to put your cell phone on airplane mode so that you don’t get any emails or messages. For example, if you wake up at 5 a.m., you may be tempted to check for messages or emails. One bad email can prevent you from getting back to sleep, and even if you drift off, you probably won’t sleep very soundly. Turning off these devices and even leaving your phone at home sometimes will provide you relief from the noise and constant bombardment of information, complaints, and questions from clients or employees.
5. Take days off.
As a business owner and HSP, you are going to need to take days off to recuperate from stressful days and clients. After a recent move to a new house in a new city, I found that I needed many days off to just rest and be kind to myself. Other times, you might feel very emotional over a client conflict, and it can wear you out physically and emotionally.
Taking a day off to do whatever you want is very therapeutic and necessary. It’s important that you always remember this option so you won’t be forced to push yourself too hard and become overburdened.
Looking back over my first three years as a CEO, I have to say that I’ve learned so much about myself and many of the right and wrong ways to do business as an HSP. It has changed my perspective on life in general, and I am more competitive now than I’ve ever been before, a trait I didn’t previously have.
Most importantly, having your own business will likely also give you a lot of joy as it has for me. Helping others by providing a service or product begins to feel that their win is yours as well. I encourage you to follow your intuition and always be kind to yourself.