Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is a book I wrote in 2015 to provide all highly sensitive people with a broad look at the all critical issue of career. We already know what it means to be a highly sensitive person if we look at the four key aspects, as identified by clinical psychologist and researcher, Dr. Elaine AronDr. Elaine Aron:
Depth of processing of all experience and stimulation – we process everything that happens in a more elaborate way in our minds.
Overstimulation to certain, highly individualized types of stimulation – some HSPs feel overstimulated/irritated by certain noises, smells, types of fabrics, social situations. It is crucial here to note that we must refrain from homogenizing all HSPs as one group. What bothers one may not register with another as an issue. Some HSPs have largely learned to ignore overstimulation in fact.
Emotional responsiveness and High empathy – highly sensitive people have a broader possible range of emotional expression than in those without the trait. This more expansive range is akin to looking at a rainbow after a storm where we typically see red, blue, green, yellow, maybe some violet; with HSPs the colors of our emotional range include every variation in between: red-violet, blue-violet, yellow, orange, red-orange, etc. Because of this greater possible range of emotions, we typically spend much more time processing those emotions, which are often intense emotions meaning we also spend a goo deal of time in self-care and boundary setting/monitoring to avoid overstimulation. Highly sensitive people are also typically high in empathy, meaning we may readily enter the experiences of other people and see the world from their viewpoints. Again, it is essential to not lump all HSPs together as a supremely empathetic group of saints and healers; there are HSPs who may be quite dysfunctional, angry, violent, and manipulative. By acknowledging that we HSPs comprise a cross-section of vastly differing types of people we allow for that diversity to exist and resist the all too human urge/need to group what we perceive as like things together, when, in fact, they are only somewhat alike.
Sensitivity to subtleties – highly sensitive people tend to pick up on subtle details others overlook or miss entirely. One study found that those with Sensory Processing Sensitivity spent more time studying visual scenes when asked to examine photos. We are also, obviously, more sensitive to smells, sounds, and energetic forces around us. However, this does not mean HSPs have “super” anything; we simply process the stimulation of a subtle smell more elaborately and with greater emotional activation. Historically, this may have had great benefit; simply imagine being able to pick up on a slight foul odor from food a group was about to eat, or a slight rustle in the leaves could have indicated a predator about (four and two legged). Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a personality trait (like all traits) that developed as a result of a need for such a trait in survival circumstances.
A trait need not have provided a vast advantage to remain in the genome; simply a slight advantage in terms of survival and reproduction would have worked well enough to cause it to pass down in the population. On average, if SPS provided a survival advantage it simply continued. The process of natural selection, in its sieving process, would have retained SPS as a useful trait. SPS is till around today (in fact, Sensory Processing Sensitivity has been with us for perhaps a million years or more) because we still face dangers of all types and SPS still provides that advantage, though now its utility to groups is less evident since our society is so highly individualized and dominated by a preference for extreme extraversion. Those who are capable of thinking more deeply; who are creative (capable of generating alternatives, options, and divergent possibilities and directions); and who are meticulous in planning and execution are, ironically, less valued, in many circumstances than they perhaps should be. This situation is no more evident than in the workplace, where we spend such a great deal of our time, energy, and life force.
The titanic task of evaluating and explicating the modern workplace and how highly sensitive people experience it was the focus of the study underpinning Thrive. Through following strict research protocols and semi-structured interviews, I was able to glean the experiences of a sample of our population. When conducting interviews there is a point that arises where the people being interviewed begin to repeat themselves. Once the point happens (and this line is different in every study) where they are basically saying similar things the researcher knows he has reached a saturation point. That number was 35 in this particular study. Some people less familiar with the way scientific research is conducted might say,” why not interview 500 people?” That’s not how research is done; at some point we have our representative sample, and typically a wealth of information to work with, and must move on to analysis and interpretation. Thrive, however, goes farther than one study; it also contains the results of a large survey given to HSPs numbering over 1,500 people. In that survey, people were asked questions derived from the interviews to better understand if what I had been told in the interviews applied across a wider range of random HSPs. I also took the opportunity to have HSPs take a sensation seeking questionnaire to determine how many high sensation seekers were in the group of survey-takers. This was of special interest (and could have skewed the results) if a disproportionate number of high sensation seekers were also the survey-takers. As it turns out, the number was about roughly the same as was previously surmised (about one third).
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and CareerThrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career examines the issue of work and career from many angles (as you might expect being written by an HSP). Perhaps that is what separates Thrive from other books and articles written on the topic of career; it is a book written for HSPs by an HSP. My experiences with career and the workplace have been varied and always deeply impacted by my sensitivity. My journey to find greater meaning in a career, greater autonomy, working conditions that are conducive to allowing me to function at my best, and work that meshed with my need to be a servant-leader all propelled the writing of Thrive.
You might expect such a book to be filled with ultimate answers to your dilemma regarding career but, in truth, the best any researcher or author can hope for is to shine the light of illumination on the subject, thereby enabling you to forge ahead on your unique path. I do not know what the best answer is for your career issues because each of us is quite different. If I were to talk with you for an hour and learn about your life, goals, and passions, I would have a good idea about specific recommendations but not knowing that information authors must write in certain general terms and trust that deep-thinking HSPs will reflect on the information presented in service to their current situations. I do provide one on one consulting to HSPs regarding career, and regarding the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person (drtracycooper.com/consulting) but Thrive is a very good broad-based survey of the topic of HSPs and career that anyone seriously interested in understanding the myriad of issues HSPs face with regards to career will find useful and informative.
Thrive is something else too: it is flexible and will be updated about every five years to address the changing economy and workforce. Thrive is a commitment by me to continue learning, studying, and researching so I can bring you the best possible advice for that time period. Unlike traditional books by traditional publishers where books are written for sensational value (to get you to buy a lot of copies in a short time) Thrive is fully integrated with a number of print on demand platforms where copies are only produced as customers buy them. In this way, I am not out to sell a million copies all at once; I can patiently allow Thrive to make its way throughout the HSP communities on social media and otherwise through word of mouth.
One buys a book of this nature, and with the long-term vision of its author, because it will be a valuable asset to an overall library of material related to Sensory Processing Sensitivity. As lifelong learners (and I very much believe that is what we HSPs best embody), we will have many books on our bookshelves. Few are the type of sensationalism, poor science, or outright “fluff” that fill too many books aimed at HSPs. Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is one book you will read and reread over the years as you reflect on the narratives presented, the scientific data, and the opportunities for greater self-awareness and action in the world contained in its covers.
Tracy Cooper, Ph.D., is an author, researcher, and higher education professional. His website may be found at drtracycooper.comdrtracycooper.com where you may purchase Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, a second book: Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, view his ever-changing blog, or book time for a one on one consulting session for personalized guidance on your unique path in life. Dr. Cooper also appeared in the documentary for HSPs: Sensitive-The Untold Story