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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ambition, High Sensitivity, Too Many Interests and Having "Enough"

I've been spending a few days recently trying to get my work life organized.

I work from home. I run three "micro businesses" from the house, and help out with two more. When people ask what it is I "do," I usually tell them-- only half-facetiously-- that "I play with my hobbies for a living." How that came to be is a long story I'll write about some other time. Anyway...

On paper, that probably all sounds rather lovely and bucolic. In practice? Not so much.

Aside from the fact that I am an adult HSP living with ADHD, I tend to not get nearly as much done as I would like to, or as I need to. After all, there are "bills and things" to be taken care of!

Part of the problem (or "challenge") is that I am genuinely interested in a lot of different things, and I have always struggled with prioritizing appropriately. It's not so much because I am "scatterbrained" as it is because I see the potential of many different things, and what they could become... if developed properly. And even though I am often able to develop these things, the ongoing grind of running and tending to them soon wears me down.

Some people struggle to get "from idea to reality," but that's not me. I struggle more with "ongoing" reality. I've always attributed this to a self-perception that I am inherently lazy. I have never been a very "active" person, nor what I (or other people) would consider a "hard worker." And I have certainly never felt "driven."

As such, one of my greaest problems with being self-employed (as well as one of the "answers" to my laziness life dilemma?) is that I lack ambition. I have previously written about the issue of ambition and achievement as an HSP... and it's a topic I continue to struggle with in a world that often feels like it operates on a "work hard, or perish" value set.

What I mean by that is that I will do exactly "enough" to get by and no more. I am not lazy in the sense that I will not do my very best work, because I believe that's just "right action." I am also not lazy in the sense that I believe I should be "served" or that I deserve "money for nothing," nor that the world "owes me" anything.

However, I have no inherent ambition to "strive" and "be greater," beyond my basic ambition to just "be enough." And it's a very old feeling, for me. I remember being at University and thinking about what I was going to do and be, after graduation. At 20-something, everyone around me seemed like they wanted to "take over the world" and become the next industrial magnate, or whatever.

I looked ahead and I just wanted to be able to afford a house, a car and food-- without having to work too damn hard for it.

In years gone by, my perceived "laziness dilemma" always seemed to get in my way when I worked "real" jobs. I was never "driven," so I struggled to do well in work situations that required me be to be highly competitive. I even lost jobs because I was not interested in the work load that came with a promotion to a higher level of responsibility. I expect that may be part of my HSP nature.

Bottom line, though, was that someone whose essential sense of self was around simply "being satisfied" did not seem to fit into a world eternally focused "more, bigger, taller, richer."

Upon reflection, I have come to realize that one of the potential downsides to living by a paradigm of "doing enough" is that I often have ideas for things that "might work out well," but I lack the inspiration and ambition to put them into action, especially when things are "going OK."  If the bills have been paid, I feel no particular desire to "get moving," however good an idea might be.

Yet, many of these ideas are definitely things I want to "do later." But by the time "later" rolls around, I often discover that someone else (aka "someone more ambitious") has already taken my idea and run with it, so I can't even USE the opportunity any more.

I don't say this to have some sort of personal pity party, but to point out one of the downsides... namely the frequency with which what seemed like a potential to get "enough" gets transmuted into "nothing at all."

Anyway, this post is a bit of a precursor to more writing on the ongoing topic of HSPs, work and ambition... and how to carve out our niches in life, without getting overwhelmed and stressed out in the process.

There is also a new book that has just been released, about HSPs and careers-- more about that in an upcoming post!

What do YOU think? Does it come naturally to you to "strive" for greatness? Or are you more of an "enough to get by" sort of person? Is work a challenge for you? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Time Traveling Through My Past

For the past couple of weeks, Sarah and I have been on holiday in Denmark. Denmark is where I was born and raised; where I mostly lived till I took a trip across the "pond" in 1981 to go to University in the US, and ended up staying there.

The summerhouse; the thatched roof was newly replaced this spring
We have been staying at my family's summerhouse; a quaint "fairy tale cottage" in the woods north of Copenhagen. The house has been in the family since 1939, and now serves as a sort of "family timeshare" for several generations of great- and great-great-grandchildren of the people who originally built the place... as a summer retreat in the country where people could come to relax and forget about their troubles.

Yesterday, we had lunch with my cousin... and as we talked, we got into sharing respective memories of what this place-- the house named "Tofte"-- represented in our lives. Later in the day, I continued to think about the pieces of life we carry around with us... in the form of memories... pieces of the past we either embrace or long for, or desperately try to forget and/or run away from.

For the past couple of weeks, I have experienced the rare luxury of being able to "forget" about my daily life and not live in a state where every waking moment is filled with the eternal demands and obligations of modern life in the US of A. Instead, I have been able to spend hours and days, doing little more than "contemplating" and thinking about life and "things."

As I kept wandering around these 12 acres of woodland and garden, attempting to connect with the land and nature around me, I realized that a large part of what brings me back here is a subtle desire to "time travel;" to re-experience how "something felt" in some distant part of my past. A search for "lost innocence?" No, not really... although there are elements of remembering life before it felt exhausting and filled with demands and complexity. That said, my yearning feels more like a search for something "solid;" a touchstone with a measure of permanence in a life otherwise shaped mostly by movement, instability and uncertainty. But, as the days passed, I had this growing sense that certain things didn't feel quite "right." After a while, I realized I was wrestling with the way things change... and yet they don't; and how things can be both the same, and yet never the same again.

In the broadest sense, this "place" I return to is exactly as it has always been. As I had determined, it is one of the few places on this planet I can return to as a "touchpoint" that somehow connects me to all times in my life. No matter how screwed up my reality otherwise was, this place simply "existed;" it had a permanence that was otherwise lacking.

The dining table on which my laptop now sits is the same table where I would eat salami sandwiches when I was five years old. Even the smell in the room is the same. The brown wooden wall clock is still on the wall-- and even though it no longer runs-- I can still hear its ticking in my mind's eye, as my 8-year old self would stand at one of the half-doors looking outside at a sunny day.

And yet? Even though this "place" is still here, part of it is "missing" because much of its character was shaped by my Aunt Ulla, who lived here every summer as the house's only "permanent" resident until her death in 1997. The "place" remains the same, but what is here now feels like a strangely "sanitized" version of what it used to be; or an "image" the same way a photograph of an event is never going to bring to life the event, itself. It is here, but parts of it have drifted away on the mists of time...

The lawn outside is beautiful and mowed... but the "old" lawn, filled with random bumps and weeds and occasional mole hills... ending in a meadow filled with wildflowers, butterflies and grasshoppers... no longer exists. Old garden furniture in varied stages of age and repair has given way to uniform modern replacements. Storms have taken down many of the trees I remember; others have grown up in their place. Many colorful flowerbeds have given way to grass, in the interest of easy maintenance... because, after all, nobody lives here permanently anymore. And there is absolutely nothing "wrong" with that... aside from the fact that it doesn't "match" my memories of a time that has been and gone and never will return.

These small differences notwithstanding, the "place" hasn't really changed... as much as I have.

A butterfly in the woods... just like 50 years ago
So I started contemplating what it really is I try to "time travel" here to find. The other day, I remarked to Sarah-- and later to my cousin-- that it feels more like I come here to visit memories of summers in the Denmark of my past, rather than the Denmark that exists in the present. In a sense, when I "go to Denmark," I am not really going to Denmark... I am visiting my own past... or at least trying to.

There is something mildly ironic about that, because my past-- that is, my childhood, in general-- was really not that much of a great or happy place that it should warrant retrieval and reliving. So what is the "allure" of this place?

When I was a child, visiting this summerhouse was a strange dichotomy, in and of itself.

I grew up in a very old-fashioned family, with very old-fashioned and often narrow-minded views on the world and how "one" were to conduct oneself in the world. In a sense, my cousin was exactly right yesterday when she remarked that "the family" would have been perfectly OK if it had been the year 1900 when we grew up... problem was, they were trying to live an early 1900's life with early 1900's values... in the 1960's and 1970's.

So I end up characterizing my visits to this summerhouse-- as a child-- as dichotomous, because on one hand these visits were lovely and filled with the "freedom" to be a kid and run around in the woods, climb trees and be outside... and get away from school, and the normal strict family life. On the other hand, this same "freedom" came wrapped in a very tightly defined "box" where I knew everything that was expected of me, when it was expected, how it was expected... which offered me a great sense of comfort from the perspective that it allowed me to completely "disconnect" from any kind of thinking... my existence was completely "mapped out" and no thinking of my own was required... let alone allowed. At home, this same kind of restrictiveness felt stifling, repressive and depressing-- yet here, it felt like "freedom."

The dichotomous feeling remains, but it has a different "flavor," in 2015.

In my 1970's experience of my family, children were not "allowed" to have any kinds of thoughts or opinions of their own, let alone any kind of "identity" (aside from coming when their name was called)... but now I come back to this place and experience it through the filter of 35+ intervening years of being "elsewhere;" of "becoming someone," in the sense of truly knowing myself rather than just needing to comply with someone else's perception of "what a young boy should be."

I left here with no "identity;" I went into the world and found one... and now I have returned.

And the effect is strange: Although I came here as "me," version 2015, I feel an odd "tug" at the corners of my being... pulling me back towards that place and time where I was "without identity;" where the desired state (and the state that would earn praise from the adults) was essentially that of "blending into the woodwork" as much as possible.

Although few of the people originally associated with this house are still alive and none of them would tell me "who to be,"... I still experience little pieces of myself; of my adult self-identity, "fading," like a reverse version of one of those old Polaroid photos where the image would slowly appear with exposure to light... I observe the arising of a subtle sense of needing to preface anything I say with an apology for "daring" to have an opinion or feeling about something... just like I did, all those years ago.

On this rainy morning, I sit here in this vault of memories and consider the strange allure of the past in all of our lives... and how it can "trap" us; keep us locked in stagnant places we seem unable to grow beyond. It's not an "evil" trap... but it holds us, nonetheless. The past can exert great power over us-- in many and strange ways-- yet we are powerless to "do anything" to change that past or to go back to it. And the naked truth is that there is no going back. It doesn't matter whether our pasts were joyful or traumatic... they are "back there," around a corner we can never get to, and no matter what we may do or want, those pasts can never be "here." Yet... we often give the past outrageous amounts of power and influence over our present choices and actions, typically to our detriment... because of the way it interferes with our ability to experience the present with our eyes as they are... in this moment.

And so-- two weeks into this journey to a past from which I am not even 100% sure what I was seeking-- I decide to leave the past where it belongs, in the past... and try to look at this place with my "Present Eyes:" A house in the woods where I once came to visit; a place that-- objectively speaking-- represented a feeling of "not AS distressed" in a world where I generally felt lost and disconnected. But this house? It is just here, as it has always been. The memories of the past are not... those only live inside my head.

A tiny blue butterfly from a distant past...
It was a sunny day and I walked across the bottom half of the lawn in front of the house, where the meadow used to be. I was looking for something familiar, although I was not sure what... but it had something to do with finding a "sign of the past;" of the past I was looking for but since came to realize no longer exists.

The meadow that no-longer-is used to have a wealth of butterflies, grasshoppers and other small creatures-- including lots and lots of tiny blue butterflies. Now... that acre  is nothing but neatly mowed lawn.

Then I saw a small blue speck flutter across the expanse of green and-- just for the briefest of moments-- settle on a single yellow flower that had somehow escaped the mower's blades. By some miracle, I was carrying my camera and was able to snap a picture before the little guy moved on.

And I realized that much of the allure of this place lies not so much in triggering the traces of personal memories I have been chasing, as in its ability to make all of outside existence fade into the background, allowing me (and anyone else who visits) to truly BE with themselves and their memories, and the sounds of birds singing and wind in the trees... and the sight of small blue butterflies fluttering across a flowery meadow of yesteryear. In some ways, this place feels as ancient and timeless as the land itself and the breeze in the leaves softly shares whispered memories from endless summer evenings of my distant past.

And that's as it should be. They are memories; they are not "now." And I'm OK with that...

Monday, May 18, 2015

HSPs and the Challenges of Ambition and Achievement

This morning, I was reading a post about HSPs and Achievement by fellow HSP blogger Cliff Harwin. Cliff asked his HSP readers: "What are the biggest obstacles to Achievement?"

I sent off my answer (below), but the question really made me think and realize that it's an issue with many "layers" of meaning.

Now, let me preface what follows by saying that these impressions apply to me, and are-- by no means-- intended to serve as some kind of broader summary of "How HSPs feel about Achievement." That said, I will also add that I have encountered a great many who could deeply relate to how I feel.

First, here's how I originally replied to the blog post:

My major obstacle is that I am just not ambitious. The concept of "achievement" isn't something that shows up on my radar. I want to "achieve" paying my bills... which is not to say that there aren't things I'm passionate about-- there are-- I greatly enjoy nature photography, beach combing, writing and other things... I just have never felt much compulsion to "do" anything with that. So I end up at the crossroads of HAVING to do "something" in order to have a "realistically functioning" life and just being a "stationary object." 
Thankfully, I have made it to where my life revolves around my basically "playing with my hobbies" for a living, which is quite enjoyable... but it doesn't afford me any more than the fundamental ability to "pay my bills." Which I am not sure where fits on the "achievement" scale. 
So then I can close my own circular reasoning with the answer "My biggest obstacles to achievement are that I don't care about achievement."

Now, whereas I stand by those words, they do beg some deeper exploration. Specifically, they bring to mind discussions I have had with fellow HSPs concerning how we define "success."

I have been asked the question whether I am "avoiding" or am "in denial" about something relating to achievement and success, and that's a valid concern,

Many moons ago, I spent several years in therapy-- and one topic that came up along the way was whether or not I was being "avoidant" of certain aspects of life, and specifically whether I was suffering from the (not uncommon) psychological condition referred to as "Fear of Success," which plagues many who are perceived by the greater world as "underachievers."

In the course of some pretty rigorous self inquiry work, I did manage to sort out the parts of my psyche that avoided "striving" out of a fear-- old "programming"-- centered on the negative thought pattern "as soon as I have anything, it will just be taken away from me, so why bother in the first place."

With that out of the way, I am still left with my "core values attitude" towards the meaning of "success" and "achievement." So let's poke around in that.

"Achievement"-- which we might consider a branch or cousin of "success"-- generally comes about as a consequence of our motivations. And this is an area in which many HSPs find that their personal life philosophies radically differ from those of the Greater World. When you're highly Sensitive, you're often not motivated by the things the greater world uses as measuring sticks for success. And I'm not just talking about work, here.

To narrow down what I was trying to arrive at, here are a bunch of things I can honestly say I am not motivated by:

Fame? Who cares...

Power? Not the slightest interest.

Material objects? I could see myself collecting art, but that's about it.

Money? Only to the extent that I'd definitely prefer to just PAY my electric bill, rather than deal with the stress of negotiating payments through a bill collector.

Winning? Being "number one?" Not really. "Doing my best," definitely... but not as a function of "ranking" myself; rather, to get a sense of satisfaction from "a job well done."

Of course, now we've taking most of the conventional measures of achievement and success off the table-- so what does that leave us with?

To some degree, I am motivated by wanting to "be happy." Of course, that opens up a whole new bag of worms... because what does "happy" mean? I won't explore that at length-- the shortest version (for me) amounts to some combination of "feeling secure" and "having enough" that I don't have to worry about whether I can afford the rent, electricity and food in the most basic of ways. Nothing fancy.

I am also motivated by a desire to maintain inner peace... and "being left in peace." I am also motivated by my enjoyment of exploring ideas; examining mountains of unrelated facts and data... and then pulling together common threads that turn relative "chaos" into a meaningful and more readily "digestable" summany.

Then there's that rather nebulous concept called "making the world a better place," which rings true in the idealistic natures of many HSPs. Again, it's something I can't generalize about because we each have our own interpretation of what that means.

For me, it means that if my presence or input can somehow lessen others' concerns and suffering, then I have "done right." But I am a fairly "passive" person, in the sense that I have no ambition to go forth and "wave abnners," or teach, or be a counselor or coach, or give lectures or workshops... in an ideal world, change for the better would happen because someone reads words like these and get an insight that helps them on their path; helps them navigate life a little easier.

But that's an outcome that's difficult to measure in terms of "Achievement." In fact, it's an outcome that's probably impossible to "measure" in any terms... and part of why the term achievement is more or less meaningless to me... and to a good number of other HSPs.

But now something else has arisen here-- a paradox, of sorts. As I have closed in on defining my motivations-- and let's, just for grins, call them things I would like to "achieve"-- I am opening up the interesting paradox that one of my "biggest obstacles to achievement" has almost always been "the need to make a living."

Perception? Or reality? Or excuse?

Maybe the truth is that I just haven't yet figured out how to turn a desire to... put the information in front of people that would inspire them to examine their lives and reduce their own pain and suffering... into something that pays for groceries and electricity, here in 3D reality.

So... my "ambition," and-- ultimately-- the "achievement" I strive for-- is bridging the gap between "doing what I want" and "I need to eat."

Until then?

I'll continue "playing with my hobbies for a living," because it's the best substitute I have.

If you've read this far, congratulations! And thank you!

What was the point of this article, really? In a sense, an exercise in thinking about the layers of deeper meaning behind words we see every day. There's that trite saying that "change comes from within." Whereas it's true, many people miss something in translation of "within." Within doesn't just mean that it starts with ourselves, it means that we need to get to the "center of the onion layers" of our being in order to gain real understanding and then make real changes.

What do YOU think? In closing, I'd like to rephrase Cliff Harwin's original question and instead ask "What does Achievement mean, to YOU?" Have you done the inner work to truly define-- "from the center of the onion"-- what your ambitions are? If not, is something keeping you from that? If so, what? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Thursday, May 07, 2015

HSP Derailed! Overstimulation... or ADHD?

From time to time, I find myself examining just where being a Highly Sensitive Person "ends" and where "other issues" begin.

Personally, I believe that thoroughly "understanding ourselves" is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, as HSPs.


It's an easy "out" to simply attribute everything we struggle with to the blanket statement "because I'm an HSP, that's why" and thereby shut ourselves off to genuine avenues towards living better and more fulfilling lives. Let's face it, not everything we experience is because of high sensitivity.

Issue at hand: I work from home, and yesterday I was working on a fairly large "catch-up project" I've been avoiding (a bunch of fairly dull paperwork sorting related to business taxes) when something unrelated "came up."

Even though I was only "distracted" for about 20 minutes, I found it almost impossible to get back to being productive, and the more I tried to pick up where I had left off, the more irritable and overstimulated I felt. Eventually, I just gave up and moved on to doing something completely different. Even so, I remained kind of annoyed with my own inability to resume where I'd broken off and the remainder of the day ended up pretty much being a loss. Ever experience something like that?

So what's really going on?

Whereas I am an HSP, I am also an adult with ADHD. I am easily distracted, and I have issues with concentration. And that's not "because I'm an HSP." Now, the "overstimulation" part? That's more likely where the sensitivity kicks in.

And the fact that was sitting here "processing deeply" and overanalyzing the whole thing? That's probably also related to my being an HSP...

OK, So that last bit was a joke. At least sort of. We HSPs do ruminate a lot...

It's not always easy to get these distinctions to fit neatly into one category or another, but I do find it useful to pause and examine what's really going on when distressing situations arise. I realized that part of my anger with myself stemmed from very old memories from school where my parents were often told that "Peter would do really well if he'd only apply himself more." I would get angry because nobody seemed willing to consider that I just couldn't "apply myself" any more. I tried... I really did.

So why do I care "what's what" and why do I feel that it matters... and why should it matter to you?

Life as an HSP can be challenging, and since we are living with an inborn trait all we can do is "manage" our lives to run as smoothly as possible. You can't "treat" being an HSP and there's no "cure" for it (It's not even a "diagnosis") but often we can apply certain techniques and "helping tools" to help smooth the bumps. But to do so correctly, it's important we understand the nature of the bumps we encounter and precisely what caused them.

As a simple metaphor, "allergies" and "a cold" both cause your nose to run and it would be an easy out to say they were "the same"... but from a healing perspective, it makes little sense to treat them like that because they are actually two quite different things.

So it is with being Highly Sensitive, and dealing with things that are not high sensitivity... but still cause us distress. We mustn't allow our trait to become a convenient "catch all" to explain away all our difficulties.... be informed! Know yourself!

What do YOU think? Do you usually have a clear understanding of what happens "because you're an HSP" and what happens for other reasons? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Being a Highly Sensitive Person and the "It was MY Fault!" Trap

In our hallway, we have a couple of whiteboards that serve as the "Information and Nerve Center" of the household.

Aside from calendars and upcoming events, we also use the space for mind mapping and developing creative ventures. Inevitably, as few quotes and sayings get written up there, as well-- ranging from "this would be a great band name!" to "revised" (or "improved," as we like to think) versions principles outlined in the 1000's of self-development books we own.

This being an HSP/HSP household, clear communication between Sarah and myself is of the essence. Along the way, we have adopted various "tools" to help us, including the principles from Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" At some point-- partly as a joke-- we made up a sixth "Love Language" which we've named "Statements of Unfault."

As I said, it was just a joke...

... but it has its roots in a reality that plagues many Highly Sensitive Persons: A tendency to "assume responsibility" for events and outcomes that aren't actually ours to "own," especially when they are somewhat negative in nature.

How often have you found yourself saying "I'm sorry!" in situations where whatever you are proclaiming to be "sorry" about had absolutely nothing to do with you? How often have you-- in work, or family, or social situations-- been tempted to "assume responsibility" for something that didn't go as expected? Maybe it was an outdoor party, and you found yourself "taking ownership" of the fact that there were inadequate preparations in case of rain. Maybe you were even apologizing for the rain, as if YOU made it happen.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that part of what we deal with in these situations is an HSPs natural tendency towards being empathic, helpful and wanting people to feel good and be happy. It seems to be part and parcel of this gig to want to make things right for others. Nothing wrong with that!

But there's a big difference between merely "caring," and actually taking responsibility for screw-ups that weren't our doing.

Caring is great... but "assuming fault" can be damaging not only to our self-esteem, but if it's a pervasive pattern, it can even lead to depression and health problems because we deliberately take on "feeling bad about ourselves." Let's face it-- nobody likes feeling guilty and like they failed, right?

I certainly don't. But here's a confession... I used to, many moons ago.

In some cases, we actually can become "addicted" to not feeling good about ourselves-- which is why the habit can be very hard to break.

So why do we do this? And how do we break free?

There are numerous reasons, and they are mostly too complex to explain in a blog post. Often, we are dealing with "stories" from our families of origin or relationships where we felt powerless and out of control, and the only way we could gain a measure of control was through "taking responsibility" for things gone wrong. We may also have been extensively "scapegoated," so being "the guilty party" feels-- if not exactly "good"-- at least "natural." Maybe we have issues with feeling "unseen" (this was me!), and in being "responsible" for life's disasters, at least we got noticed and received a measure of gratitude and appreciation when we could put things right.

But seriously?

Who wants to spend a lifetime "righting disasters?" Whereas we might be good at it and feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment it is typically a thankless path... and it's very easy to end up in a place where we become disillusioned and bitter; missing out on joy and happiness.

There's no easy path out, but simple awareness that you're in this pattern is a great start!

We can also help ourselves by asking whether the "emotional script" we are running actually has anything to do with "Right Now,"or is it actually an outdated "remnant" from from a situation that no longer exists. We may be "reacting to a memory."

Personally, I was helped-- a LOT-- by a little known book called "When Misery is Company" by Anne Katherine (pictured at right-- link leads to its Amazon page). Not an easy read, mostly because I didn't "want" what was being said to be true-- even though it was. Have a look-- I highly recommend it!

Ultimately, we all deserve to be happy. But it's difficult to be happy if we are stuck in a pattern of making choices and taking actions that keep us in a place of feeling guilty and responsible.

Does any of this resonate with you? Do you find yourself "taking responsibility" for things that were not your doing? Is it an "active" thing, or do you just "fall into it?" Do you wish you could change things? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

HSP On The Road: Joshua Tree

I am not home, at the moment. I am typing these words from the funky living room of a small bungalow in Joshua Tree, California. It has been a while since I last traveled-- almost precisely two years.

This morning, I was having conversations with myself-- inside my head-- as to whether or not I have really missed the change of scenery.

Let me preface this by saying that I experience travel and adventures through the eyes of a LOW "sensation seeker" HSP. I am one of those who prefers routines and "the known" to adventures and the unknown. And I have never really felt compelled to "collect experiences," for their own sake.

Traveling is overwhelming. You go to a place you don't know, and you don't have your "stuff" and you're probably on a different schedule than you're used to. Things around you are unfamiliar, and (depending on where you are) maybe even the food is unfamiliar. These are all things that don't sit so well with many of us HSPs

What I do really like about traveling is that it offers me the chance to get away from the ever-present piles of "things I need to get done," and the attendant sense of stress and pressure that comes with knowing that no matter how hard I might try, there will always be more "things" in need of doing than there is "me."

As I sit here and look out across the back patio onto a yard filled with unfamiliar vegetation and wildlife, I feel a certain degree of relaxation come over me... from settling into the realization that there is not a thing I can do about all the stuff clamoring for my attention, back at home. I might as well just relax.

Of course, it has taken me some years to learn to "stop worrying" while I am away.

A tendency to "worry" seems to go hand-in-hand with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Maybe it's that sense of "conscientiousness" Elaine Aron talks about, in her books. I worry, because I feel like I am not being conscientious enough about my work, when I am away from that work. At least I used to. And I used to feel like I was "failing" people by "daring" to take time off. The irony of that is that I never thought anything negative about other people for taking time off...

I expect these feelings have been exacerbated by the fact that I am self-employed in a "company of one." The infamous "buck" stops with me.

Taking time off does give me the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: "sitting and thinking." And while engaged in sitting and thinking, I often feel my mind and body let go of all the tension and stress that has built up, as a result of normal daily life.

HSPs are often uncomfortable with the unfamiliar... so we tend to avoid it. I know I often have. There may be all sorts of truisms about "stretching your boundaries" and "stepping out of your comfort zone," but to what end do we do so? And is it really helpful... or is the very fact that we have-- and get to be in-- a comfort zone part of what makes us able to feel centered, as HSPs?

What do YOU think? First of all, do you enjoy travel, and the change of scenery? Or does it just stress you out? Do you find "unfamiliar territory" to be a good thing, or a bad thing? On a broader level than just travel, do you think that "pushing outside your comfort zone" is important for HSPs? Or do you feel more like the very fact that you have a comfort zone and stick to it, is what keeps you grounded? Do share and leave a comment!

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

HSPs and Finding Meaning in Life

It is a common refrain in the growing global HSP community that we desire to live life "authentically" and that we want our lives to "have meaning."

Regardless of whether these are HSP-specific desires or something all humans wrestle with, it's certainly true that we HSPs spend more time thinking about-- and discussing-- this topic. That only makes sense, given that "processing deeply" and the ability to introspect and live in our inner worlds are core attributes of being highly sensitive.

But what exactly is this "meaning" we seek?

And are these really questions we can ask collectively, and hope to find an answer to?  Or is "meaning" such an independent and individual thing that each person's "meaning" is unique to them, only? Well, one common thread among HSPs seems to be that many of the "societal" values and ambitions of our world do not offer meaning in the lives of a Highly Sensitive Person.

Over a decade ago, I wrote here on this blog about Giftedness, Existential Depression and Being an HSP. I am not sure that I have personally progressed all that much, but at least I have a somewhat better understanding of my own processes... including answering the question "What is the MEANING of meaning?"

Perhaps one of the more important things I have learned is that "meaning" doesn't have to be Big. I think many people-- myself included, previously-- frequently labor under the weight of believing that our lives don't "matter" and are not "meaningful" unless we're-- figuratively speaking-- "inventing the cure for cancer" or "ending world hunger."

In fact, I have started calling such thinking "The Cure for Cancer Syndrome" because people seem to literally feel immobilized-- and doubly depressed-- as a result of feeling like their contributions are "too small" to matter.

But meaning can be quite Small. And the issue isn't the "size" of the meaning, but embracing that meaning comes in many forms and sizes, and recognizing that the small ways in which we find-- and give-- meaning are all important. We don't have to "invent a cure for cancer."

In an ideal world, we would find meaning in everything we do, from our work to what occupies our free time. Alas, we don't often live in an ideal world, so we have to find our meaning where we can, while striving to make our overall lives feel more meaningful.

For a Highly Sensitive Person, meaning is often found through some form of creative expression-- art, performing, writing, teaching, helping, volunteering. Some argue that most of these endeavors don't make a real difference in the world... which I usually counter with the statement "SOMEone had to be Einstein's teacher..."

An example of how we can change the world in small ways can be illustrated by my recent experience with writing this blog: I started up again-- after a 16-month hiatus-- as a result of reading someone else's words; a fellow blogger. By simply sharing her enthusiasm, I recognized how much meaning came to my life as a result of writing these pages... and that the meaning was "there," regardless of whether the writing actually touched others.

Even though that is a tiny thing, who is to say it didn't have meaning? And that it didn't "matter?"

In addition, I recognized that I had thrown away the metaphorical "meaningfulness score sheet" by which I had been judging my own efforts in terms of external feedback, instead of my own inner direction. In most cases, the sense of meaning comes from within, not from the outside.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to change the external world, and to find meaning in doing so... but if we can only derive "value" and "meaning" as a result of others' opinions, we put ourselves in a perilous place where our happiness stands and falls based on others' words, rather than our own endeavors.

So here's the question of the moment: Do YOU have deeper meaning in your life? Where do you get your meaning from? Is it an inner process, or an outer process? Objectively, have you sometimes fallen into the trap of feeling like life has "no meaning," as a result of the "Cure for Cancer Syndrome?" Leave a comment!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

HSPs and Resuming Abandoned Projects: HSP Notes Lives Again!

As human beings-- whether we're Highly Sensitive, or not-- we remain constant "works in progress."

Long term readers have probably noticed that "not much has been happening" on these pages, for quite a while. It's true. There's a long song-and-dance routine I could share with you to explain that, but the short version has two very simple parts:

Part one, I simply got "tired and bored with myself," when it came to writing, and so I stopped. In a sense, I followed my own advice to not keep doing things simply because "we're in the habit" and "other people expect us to."

Part two, I found myself mired down in a longer period in my existence where I seemed to feel perpetually overstimulated by the basic "demands of life."

Writing is basically a "diversion" for me, and one that has never paid for the light bill, rent or groceries. As such, it's a "luxury" in my life. When things are financially "tight" (as they have been for a couple of years, now) such diversions get cut from my personal "HSP energy budget." If it doesn't "pay the rent," it pretty much gets the ax.

That said, it isn't that I haven't had anything to "say," when it comes to "life as an HSP," but here's the fundamental shizzy: Just jotting down some quick ideas and insights in a "flow-of-consciousness" manner takes me less than 30 minutes. I type pretty fast, so the bones of a 1000-1500-word article easily flows out within a reasonable time frame. So what's the problem?

Taking that 1500-word article, fine tuning it, polishing it up, carefully considering it, adding pretty pictures and ruminating on (aka "processing deeply") whether or not it truly is "fit for public consumption" takes me hours, if not days to complete. And so, the underlying story is not that I have felt too exhausted "to write," but I have felt too exhausted "to publish." Because there's a huge difference between simply "writing" and actually "publishing," even when it comes to a simple blog like this.

Now, maybe that sounds mystifying, so I'll expand a bit. One of the fairly common attributes of being an HSP is a sort of "elevated sense of conscientiousness." On the whole, that's a good thing. The "problem" with it can be that it's also the breeding ground for a sort of perfectionism that can keep us stuck-- in my case, not wanting to just "throw things out there" when I didn't feel were "good enough." Maybe that's just a personal philosophy for living: If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well.

Short version: I've been writing, just not publishing.

Anyway, this morning I found myself trying to answer the 427th email asking me if "I had stopped blogging" and if I "no longer wrote about HSPs."

As I said, the truth of the matter is that I never stopped writing, I just stopped publishing. As I write these words, I have 50-some half-baked posts/articles sitting in my "drafts" folder, waiting to be "set free." Actually, most of them are about 90% written. As I looked at them-- before answering the email-- I came face to face with one of my "demons" that has always plagued me, especially in work contexts: The eternal "inner conflict" between "hating busy-work" (which includes prepping, editing and fine-tuning writing for publication) and "being intolerant of imperfection" (And "imperfection" is what happens when I don't take time to do the busy work.)

This tendency has haunted me across many aspects of life... I'm OK with doing the "creative work" and can be extremely prolific, but my "drive" to "bring it to market" (so to speak) is almost non-existent.

All this "churning of thoughts" came about because I have been working on an article (I also write for the "Consciousness and Metaphysics" press) about "not having enough time" to do the things we want to. My own lament is that I "don't have time to write." Well, that's actually a lie. I have plenty of "time to write." I just lack the inclination (and time) to "create finished work." And because of my perfectionistic tendencies, I refuse to let anyone (clients, editors, customers) have "half-assed garbage," even if they would be perfectly content with it. I have to be content with it.

But that's not even the whole truth. As HSPs one dilemma we often face is that the things we most want to do are not income producing, and we end up in a struggle to find balance between our "idealism" and "functional reality." Sure, I want to write, but I can't afford to write.

Anyway, the holidays are almost here, and the days have gotten very short, and I am spending less time outside... meaning that I (technically speaking) have more time to be in front of the computer-- aside from just purely working. Hereunder, taking on the somewhat daunting prospect of finishing and "releasing" the 40-something "mostly written" posts and articles currently sitting in the "drafts" folder here at HSP Notes.

I did have to ask myself the question "why bother?"

Why not just delete them all and "start from here?"

Consideration number one: I never set forth to try to write "self-help" or "advice" or general insight articles for HSPs. When I started this blog, it was just a place for me to keep my own musings about what life was like, when you are an HS male living in Texas-- as I was, back in 2002. Frankly I was both surprised-- and slightly amused-- when I started to get "readers." Almost 13 years later, I'm now surprised by how many of these "random musings" have been read by 10,000 or more people. That's both startling... and a little scary.

Getting back to "why bother," I feel that part of my Calling has always been to "share information." Not in a "connect 'A' to 'B'" sort of sense, but in simply sharing something that made my walk through life easier... and maybe someone else's life could become easier as a result of reading and thinking "I could do that!" That's really my only ulterior motive, here... and that's as true now as it has ever been.

Consideration number two: I have never liked "unfinished business." It hangs over me like a dark "psychic cloud." Hence the idea of just deleting everything from the "drafts" folder seems just "wrong." After all, those insights and thoughts did happen, right? And they might be useful. Besides, deleting them feels like an even greater "loss" of time than taking/making the time to finish them. On top of which I'll be the first to admit that I am a bit lazy, and odds are I'd start writing some of the same things I've already written... and that's just a waste of effort!

"So why so many ruminations on this?" you might be thinking.

In part, getting back to the roots of this blog: It was here for me to explore my thought processes and "think out loud" about life as a Highly Sensitive Person. And that's precisely what you're witnessing me do... share my thought process. We all have our way of learning... some learn best by have something that looks mostly like an "instruction manual." Others-- I count myself among them-- learn best through "experiencing through someone else's experience."

And truth be known? "Ruminating" and "processing deeply" (and sometimes "overthinking things!") is part of what we HSPs DO, in life. And I'm no different.

So, "stay tuned" for a series of "the lost articles" to come to light, in the course of the next few weeks!

In the meantime, here's the "question(s) of the week:" Do you tend to deliberately STOP projects when they become "too much" for you, or are you more likely to quietly "let them slide?" And when you decide to resume them, do you just "start where you left off" or do you tend to put a lot of effort into "getting organized" and trying to resume from a place where things are as smooth and "complete" feeling as when you stopped? Leave a comment! Start a discussion!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please share it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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