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!

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  1. I have this exact same experience with ambition. I am a self diagnosed HSP. I feel like what I consider hobbies are not interesting to other people. I was just broken up with over the fact that I am not assertive enough everyday. I just went with the flow.

  2. Well written! I too am a self diagnosed HSP. The words in your article resonate perfectly with my thoughts. Thank you for the wonderful post!


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