Friday, August 12, 2011

HSPs, Authenticity, Work... and Negative Perceptions of Money

One of the most frequently discussed topics in groups of HSPs-- be it online, at a local group meeting, or at an HSP Gathering-- tends to revolve around work, and around how to make a living while also living authentically.

In her book "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person," author Barrie Jaeger talks about the type of work she classifies as "drudgery," and how soul-crushing it can be for HSPs to be stuck in types of work that feels out of step with their sense of idealism. Jaeger then recommends that we identify and search for the work that represents our true Calling. Sadly, an awful lot of HSPs are stuck in drudgery work. Also sadly, a lot also identify with a somewhat toxic belief system centered around the notion that pursuing one's True Calling somehow requires taking a vow of poverty.

Finding one's Calling, of course, is easier said than done. And it often involves looking at certain secondary-- and very practical issues: How do we make money at our ostensible Callings? Dr. Elaine Aron writes-- in "The Highly Sensitive Person"-- that while HSPs are often highly educated and qualified, they tend to gravitate towards jobs that are generally low paying, in our society: Artist, writer, teacher, musician, librarian...

But there's more to it than that.

Whether it's actually part of the HSP trait or not, I've also often run into what I have come to think of as a form of "counterproductive idealism," when it comes to HSPs, work and making money. This belief centers around the (largely false!) notion that it's "impossible" or "wrong" to claim that you're living authentically unless you turn your back on all things material and monetary.

Frankly, I'm not convinced it's very healthy (or "evolved," for that matter) to be attached to the idea that if you're making money, "you're not living authentically."

Think about it, for a moment...

To my way of thinking, it's a rather unbalanced perspective. To think that "authenticity" can only come through embracing an ascetic lifestyle is actually as "extremist" in nature as the practices of those who subscribe to the idea that "success" can only be reached through the relentless pursuit of material wealth at all costs... you're really just looking at the flip side of the same coin.

So if you hold this belief that money is somehow "evil" and even an "obstacle" on your path to authentic happiness, I invite you to pause and consider WHY you hold this belief? What is your real "issue" with money, making money and having money? And then I invite you to consider the inherent paradox within your beliefs: You are rejecting money as being "important," even while "money/wealth" (the rejection of) is actually the centerpiece of your belief system about working and authenticity. So what you're really saying is that money actually IS important to you....?

But... "Money is the root of all evil"... right?

Actually, no. That's probably one of the most misquoted quotes of all time. The actual quote (from the Bible, 1 Timothy, 6:10) is "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (emphasis added).

By now, some of you might be asking "Why are you making such a big deal out of this?" Because I've met a surprising number of HSPs who've actively rejected their Calling with reasoning such as "I love the creativity of developing marketing campaigns for charities, but I'm not doing it because that industry is all about money!" It is almost as if the fact that we get paid somehow reduces the "worth" of the work. When I hear a statement like that, I find myself thinking "So you've rejected doing what you love because the field has a financial orientation, and instead you choose to work as a retail sales clerk, living at poverty level, hating what you're doing... while trying to convince me, the world and yourself that at least your life is authentic?"

Bullshit, says I!

As an HSP, my own work history has run the range from the relentless pursuit of material success and chasing the Almighty Dollar, to actually rejecting the need to make money and have anything material (I actually once voluntarily took an 80% pay cut in service of pursuing "my authenticity!"), to my current state of balance, in which I feel a deep gratitude for being able to make a pretty good living doing things I really love to do. And I am not ashamed (which I would have been, at one time) of the fact that I am probably better compensated for what I do than 90% of self-employed HSPs.

Now, if that sounds like it's being "boastful" or somehow "insensitive," I will hurry to point out that I share this information only for the purpose of getting others to think about their own relationships with work and money. Specifically, I invite you to consider whether or not part of your difficulties with work, money and living authentically are caused by your beliefs "getting in your own way." Let me assure you that keeping yourself broke neither assures authenticity, nor is it "noble;" choosing to deliberately struggle and suffer is more self-destructive than a path to "glory." If you have a dislike of money (and "making money") ask yourself if that's really you... or perhaps a subtle case of sour grapes: a subconscious statement of "because it's always so hard for me to make a living, I'm going to pretend money doesn't matter to me."

Originally, I had planned to write a bit about work for HSPs and finding our Calling... but I got sidetracked when I started to consider this fairly common obstacle many HSPs face, on their path of self-discovery.

Talk back: As an HSP, how is your "relationship" with money? Does materialism disgust you? Do you regard money from a primarily practical perspective, or do you also have a "philosophical" relationship with wealth? Do you believe one needs to reject material things in order to live authentically? If you got involved in your True Calling and it paid extremely well, would you feel grateful, or rather appalled and uncomfortable? Leave and comment and help start a discussion!


  1. Well, since I'm the infamous queen of money issues, I feel like I should say something. :) Materialism doesn't disgust me, but it leaves me kind of cold and empty. On the other hand, there are some things I wish I could buy or have, that don't have a lot of value for anyone else. So maybe materialism is materialism when it's something we don't value.

    All that said, I like the work I do just fine, I like the freedoms of being self-employed, I've had an unusually good streak lately of clients who are great to work with and willing to pay, and I've increased my monthly income. (Not rich yet, but feeling less pinched.) My biggest issue is that I've hit a plateau of how many clients I can take on and what I can make with my hourly rate. So last week, I took a course in how to best price and package my services, and came out of that with a sense of what my value really is. That's so key for me, and I wonder if it might be true for other HSPs as well. I really can't expect others to pay me well, if, deep inside, I don't feel I provide value.

  2. I just learned of HSPs, and it explains a LOT about me and issues I've had over the years. I have looked at my job as a waste of my youth.

    I am very conscientious - in the past 18 years, I have rarely missed work, I work when I'm at work, and I do the best I can, but I've never, ever, cared about my job, or felt that I've contributed anything to the world through my job. I have seen it as a means to an end, and my viewpoint has been that everyone has to "grow up" because we can't all live our dreams.

    I am a banker, of all things, and I absolutely hate anything to do with the business world - isn't that ironic?

    On the other hand, though I don't necessarily love material things, I like and crave the comfort and freedom steady income can provide.

    I have always viewed my job as temporary and necessary and am biding time until I am able to do what makes me happy.

    Had I not married at a fairly young age, I'm quite positive I would have tried my hand at something more artistic and less secure.

  3. Hi,

    I've only just entered the career advising field but I will share what I have observed from my experience so far.

    I don't think it's always that HSPs think they need to be ascetics to live authentically, sometimes it is a misalignment of values.

    I haven't read Jaeger's book but I would agree that it tends to be important to HSPs to find work that aligns with, or at least doesn't conflict with, their personal values.

    I also think that HSPs may not necessarily think money is evil, but what they may think is evil is putting profit as ALWAYS taking #1 priority over human needs, sustainability, social responsibility, individual and community health, etc.

    I know, for myself, when workaholism was basically expected of me AND the primary value system of my employer was "make as much money as possible", I had insufficient motivation to work as hard as I needed to to succeed in that particular environment.

    Different people have different things that motivate them. And I think most of us expect when we start working somewhere that we will need to contribute to the goals of an organization which may not be exactly aligned with our own personal goals, but HSPs, I believe are either more aware of conflicts in values, or equally aware as others but less likely to brush it off as "oh well, gotta pay the bills".

    And no, I don't think you need to be an ascetic in order to be authentic.

  4. I know this was post awhile ago but I thought I would post regardless. I agree with careercreatrix which is not necessarily have to be related with money. It is definitely about priority over human needs or more specifically if we work at a place that is overstimulated, how can we continue to work at the place that make us exhausted along with affecting our health. The fact that we are highly sensitive, we are more likely to be affected by the work environment that is drudgery than those who don't. I, for one is aiming to be a physical therapist which will provide stable income beside my artistic side of things. As for being a physical therapist, I'm planning to be self-employ so I can still dance and or take the necessary break that I need in order for me to survive and thrive in this overwhelming world. In addition, having a meaningless job will not help HSP when it doesn't fit with their belief or calling. However, I'm pretty sure some of us has to make some sacrifice to take a meaningless jobs in order to get the job we desire to build from. Unfortunately, some can't stay on the job and have to take a different routes and it is usually best when it fit with their value and their belief and what they desire to do.

    Interesting that you mention about money. I recalled when I was in my teen, I think, I told my mom that I hated money and I got yelled for it. She was basically telling me not to say that without providing a reason. Now, I can understand why my mom said it but I just wish she was more understanding and not yelling because I was speaking from my heart because I personally was disgusted about money at young ages for lot of reasons. It isn't the fact that I don't like earning money for living although I did wish it didn't exist because it seem that it will cause less conflict for people. Though back then before the money come in, there is trade. Of course in modern time money will continue to exist. I think my main issues with money is related with the power one abuse the money and how it can affect us as a person depending on how we manage our money. In perspective for most people is usually about being rich, having everything (materialism), and unfortunately having power especially in the corporation world. Luckily there are some people who have make a goal of being rich but is being frugal in order to have a stable income and for them to inherit some of their money to their children in order to support them in their dream when they grow up. Since I'm in the welfare system due to my disability, it is easy to see how ones will abuse the system once they have sufficient support and could help themselves to have a better job and such beside some of the lack of support from the welfare organization. Well, they probably can't do everything for a person but why do many of them stay in the welfare system may take us back into the history. Sad and most American have trouble continue to contribute to their tax dollar for the welfare system which can cause another great depression in the future. So, I suppose it all come down to where is our values in the society and are we helping/supporting the community or are we hindering it making those on or below the poverty line becoming dependent and the middle/working class struggling to maintain their life?


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