The new book by Dr. Tracy Cooper, with a foreword by Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person and originator of the Sensory Processing Sensitivity personality trait.
This short article is part of a series of stops on a “blog tour” in support of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career.
Blog Tour - Stop #2
What is different about this book compared to others on the market?
Thrive is based on original research that has been conducted to rigorous academic standards by someone with the appropriate research credentials (a Ph.D.) and, perhaps most importantly, is also endorsed by the leading expert in the field, Dr. Elaine Aron. Dr. Aron has written the foreword for the book to differentiate it as a book she has read and approves of. It is important for HSPs who are learning about the trait to have access to accurate information.
Thrive is based on two qualitative studies conducted in 2014. The first included interviews with 35 highly sensitive people who volunteered to share their lived experiences. The second was a large survey given to 1,551 HSPs and helps to confirm the results of the first study. Those numbers and results are included throughout the book. Being able to read the results of new research written in an accessible way connects us to the experiences of other HSPs and lets us know we are not alone. Furthermore, it informs us that certain aspects of being an HSP are probably common experiences.
Why did you write Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career?
I wrote Thrive because we highly sensitive people (HSPs) seem to experience significant problems with finding a career that actually works for us. I experienced this difficulty firsthand through my adult life as I sought, like everyone does, to build an adult life with an interesting and rewarding career. I had many, many bad jobs where I felt underutilized, bored, robotic, and downright depressed after a period of time. There were a few where I felt certain aspects of the job worked well for me (like autonomy). Later, I was able to hold better positions, including teaching college and executive level work, which exposed me to the professional side of work. These experiences, though more interesting and challenging in some ways, come with unique new issues for HSPs.
I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in 2011 and as part of that journey I had to choose a topic that had personal meaning and could make a viable, useful study. Through much research I found that little existed with regards to literature addressing HSPs and career. There was one book, Barrie Jaeger’s Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person, a very good book in my opinion, but it seemed to overly romanticize the notion of what is practical and possible by pushing HSPs to “find their calling.” The reality is many people are stuck in what they’re doing (for various reasons) or fear having to look for new work. In some cases they are so battered and beaten by our exploitive system as to have nearly given up the struggle. I wanted to craft a book, based on the study I conducted for that Ph.D. and augmented by a larger survey I conducted later, that would take a practical look at the workplace in 2015 and see what kinds of opportunities might exist for HSPs that didn’t perhaps exist in 2004 when Jaeger’s book was written. As it turns out there are some new opportunities worthy of consideration for HSPs, which I cover in Thrive.
Writing Thrive was a personal journey that began with my decision to study how we HSPs experience careers and transformed into a book that contains an encapsulation of that initial study, backed up by a much larger sample of the HSP population, and bolstered by powerful narratives expressed by HSPs and a frank, pragmatic view of work for HSPs. I wrote Thrive to be a testament for all HSPs who have no voice or who do not feel safe enough to express themselves. We are a beautiful, passionate, creative 20% of the total population and it is time we emerge into our full flowering. The world needs us.
Thrive seems to be a book that covers a broad range of topics. Can you explain why?
Conducting research that encompasses a full one-fifth of the world’s population of necessity means that we must embrace the inherent complexities associated with over a billion people. None of us are the same, we all come from different cultures, different educational and familial backgrounds, and differing social classes with very different worldviews and expectations of life. For instance, if I ask the question “what is life about?” I’m going to receive very different answers based on all of the above factors. For that reason a book such as Thrive must deal in generalities, while aiming to be specific enough to be useful and interesting.
One of the ways I lessened the feel of the complexity was to include actual narrative quotes from many of the HSPs in my study. Throughout the book you will find short quotes from HSPs expressing their experiences and feelings on topics like empathy, childhood’s influence, self-care, and more. The last chapter in the book is entirely stories from HSPs and, while quite varied, is an interesting section because it’s like sitting with a group of very reflective, considerate, and passionate individuals as they tell you something of their lives. I really believe that HSPs need to be around other HSPs to be able to, first, understand that they are not alone (which many of us feel quite acutely), and second, to get some sense of the experiences of other HSPs. Learning what life has been like for others can help us put our own experiences in context, which is always good because it takes us a step further from subjectivity to objectivity. When we so keenly focus on our problems we limit our ability to expand and grow from the experiences, but when we see that others have experienced similar issues (many times much worse) we are able to put our own lived experiences in a context where we can lessen their emotional prominence and move forward.
We HSPs are an introspective group and, as such, at times we need to have ways to categorize our experiences so they don’t dominate our lives. Thrive attempts, and I think succeeds at, providing context within which HSPs live and experience work.
What advice do you have for HSPs who may feel defeated by their career difficulties?
Highly sensitive people experience everything more deeply, including disappointments and negativity. That’s why we are also prone to anxiety, depression, and, potentially, a pessimistic explanatory style. For HSPs who feel beaten by the harshness of the workplace or the people they work for or with I think it is still possible to find ways to experience fulfillment in work. One of the unifying concepts I decided on for Thrive was the concept of flow. Flow was originated by psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and taps into the same vein as Jung’s individuation concept or Maslow’s self-actualization. Flow is a way anyone can experience real satisfaction from a challenging task at any level of work. A roofer and a professor may both experience flow. This unifying concept is one of the really practical points I make in Thrive and one I have experienced personally and seek out often. Interestingly, I have also been a roofer and a professor and been completely absorbed in challenging tasks in both.
For an HSP who feels defeated by career issues I offer flow as a hopeful way to move forward. If you are unemployed it is still possible to experience flow. Though that may sound counterintuitive, as I stated, one may find any task to be completely absorbing, challenging (but not too much so), and that may impart a sense of potential control. An HSP who is really at the bottom needs to work on rebuilding self-confidence and gaining a sense of potential control, even if by pruning a bush, mowing the grass, or some small job that is challenging, requires complete focus, provides immediate feedback, and that takes you out of the moment to moment reality for a period of time. This respite can be immensely satisfying and serve to rebuild one’s confidence. This new confidence may be built further by seeking out flow experiences often, thereby, creating new possibilities. The only point at which a person, HSP or not, is defeated is when that person thinks defeat is real and ceases trying. Failing is a natural part of life and must be taken as educational. Only by failing do we know what doesn’t work and learn how resilient we can be.
Highly sensitive people are innately creative and are fully capable of many divergent paths at any given time. An HSP who feels defeated may be feeling that very deeply, but it is also possible to find new energy and new direction. Sensory processing sensitivity developed as a survival trait for the entire species. It is a strength and that is how I present it in Thrive, though I freely and openly acknowledge the challenges. In fact, my motto has become “highly sensitive = strength.” You’ll find it on my web site at drtracycooper.com and on Thrive’s back cover.
What is the core message of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career?
Many of us HSPs suffer a great deal in trying to fit ourselves to one career or another. This can cause a great deal of trauma throughout our lives as our families suffer, or relationships suffer, and our entire self-concept comes into constant question. The world isn’t making it any easier for those of us who are highly sensitive, but there are some new, interesting possibilities forming and some existing possibilities that we should take a look at as well. Life in one sense is very much about surviving. There are things we must earn money for: a place to live, food, transportation, energy, clothing, and all the other things we need to meet our basic bodily needs. The problem is that many HSPs, though not all, may find themselves stuck in a seemingly never-ending cycle of moving from one position to another in search of just one that is actually tolerable. When we are stuck in this cycle we exist in a scarcity mindset and are never able to access the better, higher parts of ourselves that is capable of so much more. To move beyond survival we must master the basics. We must find a way or ways to earn what we need to satisfy those essential requirements of life. Only then can we thrive.
By thriving I mean we have an effective self-care practice that incorporates a contemplative practice. This could be walking, prayer, meditation, or anything that quiets the mind. Self-care also means a diet that works for you. I do not subscribe to any one diet as we are all very different. Self-care is holistic and means we pay attention to our physical, social, spiritual, and emotional needs in a way that becomes so fluid its second nature. Thriving means we acknowledge our challenges, while embracing our potentialities. We engage in activities that allow, even encourage our growth and development. Many of us are gifted and capable of much more than we have achieved to date. To thrive implies that we access and develop the higher parts of ourselves, which benefits us, our families, and our communities.
There is no secret to thriving. There are no “ten steps to thriving,” or “Eight simple rules.” Rather, it is hard work. Work that must be done to address the damage done to us in many of our childhoods, school experiences, and in our social worlds. When we become more self-aware of our trait and its many implications in our lives we can then work on accepting who we are and adapt our lives to meet our needs. This may be a lengthy process requiring years of careful effort and reflection. Thrive will help you with all of these issues and many more.
Dr. Cooper’s web site may be found at drtracycooper.com where, in addition to being the primary point of purchase for Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, he offers one-on-one consulting and mentoring services for the HSP and career, the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person, and mentoring/dissertation writing and development services for Ph.D. students.
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career is available through:
www.createspace.com/5518468 ISBN-13: 978-1514693230
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Blog - drtracycooper.wordpress.com