Running a business as a highly sensitive person

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Today’s post is written by Andy Mort

Highly sensitive people process the world deeply. They desire intrinsic meaning in their life’s projects, and get more easily overstimulated by sensory input. As a result many of us may choose self-employment as a way to thrive in the world of work, doing something that brings us the freedom, control and purpose we desperately crave.

But there are some unique challenges that we need to acknowledge when embarking on the entrepreneurial journey.

Time and time again from my conversations with small business owners I hear the same kind of thing…”I’m not sure it was ever an ambition of mine to start a business. It just sort of happened.”

Perhaps the same is true for you too. It was for me.

I never envisioned myself as an entrepreneur or a solopreneur any kind of ‘preneur’ for that matter.

Frequently I heard the message growing up that I was ‘too quiet’ and that I needed to sell myself with more confidence. It didn’t take long for me to draw the conclusion that I didn’t have the right personality required to start a business.

These kinds of messages stick around. And even if like me you begin to realise that working for yourself is something you want to do, you can’t shake off certain limiting beliefs.

As an introvert and highly sensitive person I started to peel back all kinds of limits in my mind that had been cultivated through the years:

1. Selling
We have a collective mindset that business and art (my own background) is about pushing yourself into the spotlight, selling yourself and making yourself known. This is not where we want to be or what we feel comfortable doing as highly sensitive people. It can feel fake and insincere.

But what if business is not about you as a person but about your belief in an idea? It is about the impact something that you can provide has the potential to make in the lives of others.

2. People Pleasing
Highly sensitive people are often highly empathic and as such natural peacemakers. We have the ability to see the world from other perspectives.

This is a wonderful gift to any community. But it can also make it difficult for us to allow ourselves to dream and pursue goals that matter to us individually. We are often chronic people pleasers, wanting to keep everyone happy, which as you are probably aware by now is an impossible task.

This can make it hard to say ‘no’ to requests and to step away from situations and people that are draining us of energy in unhealthy ways. But if we’re serious about our business then we need to be wise with who and what we allow into our schedule.

3. All That Grey and Nuance
“It’s tough to make a living when you’re an artist. It’s even tougher when you’re socially conscious” – The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

For years I was skeptical of money. It was something I had seen ruin many great things. The perpetual pursuit of more had taken pure and wonderful ideas and turned them into greed machines. I didn’t want that to happen to my work or art.

Then I spoke with Danny Iny (Firepole Marketing) who encouraged me to see it in another way. He suggested that business is ‘not about making money, it’s about finding a sustainable way to make the impact you want to make’.

Money is an enabler. It is a necessary resource that you can use to give your gifts to the world. What matters is the heart, soul, and motive that you bring to the table.

4. Need for Down Time to Avoid Overwhelm (lots to do, short period of time)
One of the key filters for highly sensitive people and introverts to use when building business is personal sustainability. The decision to ‘plough on’ despite feeling overwhelmed and tired is going to contribute to a larger problem when you finally take a break. I know this from experience.

Schedule regular breaks, where you can re-connect with yourself and re-energise. Otherwise burnout is only just around the corner.

One of the reasons self-employment and small businesses really suit us is that we are calling the shots. But after a while it is easy to forget this. We can get swept up in the belief that we need to say yes to everything and fill every waking hour with ‘hustle’.

If you’re feeling pressure to work beyond capacity then ask yourself where that pressure is coming from and what you can do to alleviate it; ask for help, outsource certain tasks, and say ‘no’ to opportunities even when the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ is begging you to say ‘yes’.

5. Staying Focussed
HSPs are often highly creative and may spend a lot of time living in our heads/imaginations. As such we can get excitedly distracted by new ideas and interests we want to pursue. This can be a challenge when you’re trying to build a business, despite it also being a very useful attribute.

The key is to deal with ideas and not allow them to control you.

I find that dedicating myself to seasons works for me. i.e. for 3 months I’ll work on one area or project before moving onto something else. I know that the time will come for me to explore each new idea, but right now I’m committed to something else.

6. Criticism
Going it alone is scary, and it can be especially difficult when it feels like people aren’t on board. The truth is there are days when you feel dejected and deflated. There will be critical voices that make you feel like giving up. So it’s important to keep a keen sense of vision and purpose in mind at all times.

Highly sensitive people allow criticism to speak to them deeply. It enables us to adjust what we’re doing so that we can improve (we are by nature perfectionists). It is vital to keep positive voices around us to offset the critics and put them in perspective. I keep a folder of encouraging emails that I have received over the years that I draw on when I’m tempted to allow one negative voice to send me into a spiral of confusion and doubt.

Remember why you chose to start a business. For me it is the desire to help and support people, and to do so in a way that gives me the freedom to control my own schedule and make work fit around life, not the other way around. I know my audience, those who I am serving. Any criticism that comes from elsewhere is by the by because I don’t do what I do for them anyway. This is an important thing to recognise.

For highly sensitive people the freedom that comes from feeling in control is what motivates many of us to see self-employment as a really enticing option.

If you do decide to choose this path then don’t forget that you are always in control.

If things get overwhelming then give yourself permission to stop, step back and make the changes you need to get things moving in the direction you want.


my headshotAbout the author

Andy Mort is a UK based musician and writer. He is the founder of SheepDressedLikeWolves.com, which is a Blog and Podcast aimed at encouraging introverted and highly sensitive people to embrace their creativity and push against the expectations of an often overwhelming world. Download his FREE eBook “The Gentle Rebel Manifesto” here.

 

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