If you care about the needs and feelings of others, you might be praised for being “sensitive.” If you’re easily overwhelmed, hurt, or overstimulated, you might be censured for being “too sensitive.”
But a highly sensitive person (HSP) has a finely tuned nervous system, and this kind of sensitivity is just who they are. It can even be a strength, helping them to empathize with others, be aware of subtleties in their environment, and pick up on subtle cues that others miss. HSPs are often kind, creative, intuitive, and original.
Their ingrained sensitivity can also make life – and work – challenging, because the everyday sights, sounds, smells and emotions that other people can partly tune out often feel blaring, overwhelming, even physically painful to an HSP.
For a highly sensitive person, finding the best career involves a two-pronged approach:
- Play to your strengths. Your empathy for others and awareness of subtle cues can be a real asset in many careers, from the helping professions to the arts.
- Make provisions for your sensory needs. Since you become more easily overwhelmed by sensory or emotional stimulation, you’ll want to find a job that allows you some “time out” when you need it, rather than one that requires you to be constantly “on.” And you’ll likely want to avoid work that regularly subjects you to extreme noise, hectic schedules, or other sensory overload.
Let’s look at a few careers that might be an especially good choice for a highly sensitive person.
Most HSPs have a highly developed sense of empathy and care deeply about the needs and feelings of others. They pick up on subtle, nonverbal cues that help them tune into someone’s emotions and approach that person in a non-threatening manner.
These talents mean you could make a real difference as a counselor, psychotherapist or psychologist, and feel comfortable in that role. Some kinds of personal coaching, which take a similar form to counseling, may also fit well into this category.
And, since you would usually work with one client (or couple) at a time, and have breaks in between appointments, this provides some of the necessary conditions for you to be able to take care of your needs as well and avoid overstimulation.
You will probably have some control over the physical space you work in, so you can arrange the sights, sounds, textures, etc. that feel pleasant and calming to you – something that is important for HSPs.
The recent popularity of remote counseling sessions could provide an especially accommodating work environment for an HSP counselor.
2. College Professor
Unlike an elementary classroom teacher, who has to “perform” for hours on end, most college teachers just teach for an hour or two at a time, with breaks in between.
Like with counseling, this structure provides the quiet time so vital for HSPs. And the type of classroom you’ll be working in will likely be quieter and the mood and pace more under your control.
Other benefits include getting to impart your love for and knowledge of a subject you’re passionate about to others, and working with people who are interested and choose to be there.
A highly sensitive person can make a great artist because of how closely they are tuned into the sensory world as well as their imagination. They tend to have a deeply developed sense of beauty and the ability and desire to share their vision with others through their creative work.
Whether you paint on canvas, use a computer screen as a graphic artist, design your own clothing line, or whatever other way you express your creativity through artistic creation, your sensitivity can be a real advantage.
Artistic work lends itself well to allowing you to set a manageable pace and have some control over your environment.
4. Health Practitioner
Starting to see a pattern by now? You get to use your special gifts to nurture and care for the needs of others, while providing a nurturing environment for yourself as well.
Some kind of holistic health practice, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, or massage therapy may be a good direction in which to aim your efforts to care for the health needs of your clients.
You might even do well as a doctor or other conventional practitioner, depending on the setting. You might thrive in a private practice you design with your strengths in mind. Being an ER doctor or nurse, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t be a great choice.
As with the other arts, the literary and editorial arts allow you to use your creative sensibilities, as well as your quiet attention to detail, to your advantage in a way that also enriches others.
This type of work can be done in settings – often alone in your own workspace – that are a good fit for a highly sensitive person.
The exact nature and pace of the particular job you choose in this field is important. For example, you might want to steer clear of working in a noisy, hard-edged newsroom with short deadlines.
Instead, working from home or in a quieter, slower paced environment, with more thoughtful, creative types of projects would probably work better.
6. Librarian/Museum Curator
This kind of work allows you to work in a generally calm, quiet environment, and to share your love of art, literature, history, or whatever your thing is, with others.
You could have a good mix of time spent working with people – in a low-key setting – and working behind the scenes. This will allow you to use your special gifts in engaging people, but also to spend some of your time working alone, allowing for some needed quiet, solitude, and reflection.
Being surrounded by books or art will meet the need for beauty in your life that is another trait of the highly sensitive person.
7. Freelance anything
The downside of freelancing or self-employment is that you have to put yourself out there to get clients, and you often face rejection. These can be difficult for HSPs who are, after all, sensitive.
One way to mitigate this stress is to do your marketing online, so you don’t feel the anxiety of phone calls or in-person visits. You may choose to start with a combination of part-time employment and part-time freelancing to help you build your client base without as much pressure.
Once you’re more established, your reputation may do much of the outreach for you, enabling you to transition to full-time self employment.
The upside of freelancing is that you can choose the clients and projects that are just right for you.
And, although overstimulation is an HSP’s enemy, variety, when you get to choose what that variety looks like, can be your friend.
By working with more than one client or more than one kind of project, you can continually use your talents in ways that help you feel like you’re making a difference and keep you interested and satisfied, with less likelihood of burning out.
Whatever your professional talent, passion, or expertise, if you can do it in your own space, on your own schedule, and for the type of people you want to work with, you have the ideal HSP combination of doing something meaningful and having control over how you manage your workday.
8. Animal trainer/groomer/sitter
Animals tend not to be as demanding or overstimulating as humans, and in these jobs you’d probably be working with just one or maybe a few pets at a time. You can arrange to have time in between clients, so you can decompress.
HSPs are often attuned to animals and able to calm them and gain their trust. In turn, time with animals can be soothing and less stressful than work that requires human interaction.
Like in the caring professions with humans, HSPs can make good use of their gentleness, insight and ability to tune into the needs of others in their work with animals.
9. Working with your hands
This could mean building something, making artisan crafts, interior decorating, or even cleaning houses.
If you’re good with your hands, and enjoy interacting with the physical world, then creating something beautiful or making an environment more pleasant may be up your alley. It could also allow you to work in solitude and at your own pace.
You’ll just need to find an HSP-friendly fit. For example, you'll likely do better crafting custom furniture in your own studio than building cookie-cutter houses at a noisy construction site. And if you’re sensitive to chemicals, you might specialize in green-friendly cleaning for others who also want to avoid harsh smells and substances.
For a highly sensitive person, the details truly matter. But if you find the right niche, this could also be a “handy” choice for the right HSP.
HSPs have a lot to offer. They also have more to contend with in the workplace than the average person. If they can find a type of work that plays to their strengths and accommodates their special needs, they can use their talents to make a meaningful difference, and find satisfaction and joy in their work.
The nine career types listed above may be a good fit for you if you’re a highly sensitive person. If your interests lie elsewhere, you will likely be able to use your unique insights, as well as the guidelines discussed, to find your own perfect fit.