Are You A Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur?
Have you ever felt like maybe you just aren’t cut out to cope with the emotional demands of being an entrepreneur? Or perhaps you’ve wondered if you can be successful AND spiritual? You might sometimes think to yourself that you’re “too sensitive” to make it in business. As it turns out, you might be a highly sensitive entrepreneur (HSE). In this episode, I talk with Heather Dominick – a woman who is impressively successful and highly sensitive.
She’s appeared on Lifetime Television and was published in several books including, Stepping Stones to Success alongside Deepak Chopra. She’s been recognized with the 2015 Best of Manhattan Coaching Award and she’s the creator of the 2014 Stevie Award-winning event A Course In Business Miracles®: 21-Day Discovery Series.
Heather is also the founder and leader of the Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur® movement. She helps the 20% of us who are born “highly sensitive” to make sense of our feelings, strong intuition, empathy, deep thoughts, and feelings when it comes to self-employment. She has helped thousands of clients create solid, sustainable, high-level financial success building on the personality traits they once thought of as weaknesses. We talk about:
- the coping mechanisms HSEs use – pushing and/or hiding
- the HSE coping cycle
- how HSEs are different than entrepreneurs who are not highly sensitive
- the unique strengths HSEs possess
“What that means is that if you are highly sensitive, then basically you take in or interpret stimulation at a much higher level, to a much higher degree than, again, someone who’s not highly sensitive. The important parts there are you’re born with it so I always like to say your parents didn’t do it to you, you didn’t pick it up on the playground in elementary school, and it’s not because of those drinks that you had in college. It’s literally biologically how you are wired. It really changes everything in terms of how you process and how you then are able to interact within the world.”
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JM: Hi, Heather. How are you?
HD: Hey, I’m so good. How are you?
JM: I’m great.
HD: I’m so glad to be talking to you.
JM: I know, me too. I am really, really excited because we are talking about something that is so important and really near and dear to my heart. You have created workaround which you call the Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur and I just think it’s so incredibly important so I’m excited to talk to you and to share this work. Talk a little bit about what that means, give us a little primer.
HD: Yeah. Absolutely. The real simple answer to what is a Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur is it’s a person who’s highly sensitive who’s chosen to be self-employed. Obviously, there is a much bigger, deeper answer, and definition of what that is. I think, probably, first, it’s most important to understand what the phrase highly sensitive means. I know when I first discovered that I was highly sensitive—I had never heard that phrase before—but once I heard it and understood what it meant, then I was like, “Oh, my gosh,” and it really just ended up changing so much for me.
The term highly sensitive comes from psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron. This is work that she started back in the mid-90s. Through her research, she identified that there are 20% of us who are born into the world highly sensitive. What that means is that your nervous system is wired differently than someone who’s not highly sensitive. What that means is that if you are highly sensitive, then basically you take in or interpret stimulation at a much higher level, to a much higher degree than, again, someone who’s not highly sensitive. The important parts there are you’re born with it so I always like to say your parents didn’t do it to you, you didn’t pick it up on the playground in elementary school, and it’s not because of those drinks that you had in college. It’s literally biologically how you are wired. It really changes everything in terms of how you process and how you then are able to interact within the world.
Where my work comes in is taking the work of Dr. Elaine Aron and building on that in terms of what that means for a person who’s chosen to be self-employed and really it means everything because it changes everything.
JM: It’s amazing. A little disclaimer, I know a lot about your work because I have taken your program and it really was a huge change for me. That’s why I was so interested in talking with you for the podcast because I really think so many people are going to listen to this and they’re going to hear and say, “Oh, that’s what’s going on, highly-sensitive, that’s me, I was born like this. There’s nothing wrong with me. I didn’t catch something. I didn’t do it to myself.” It’s just going to give people this new outlook. I think a lot of people are going to hear this.
That said, how did this concept come together for you being highly sensitive and being a Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur? How did you end up putting those things together? How would somebody go about identifying themselves as a Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur?
HD: Yeah, for sure. For myself, coming to a place of understanding that I was highly sensitive really came out of a very dark time in my business. I can look back and really honestly say a dark night of the soul without using that phrase casually. First of all, I’ve been self-employed for 16 years now. At the time I was about five years into my business, I had brought my business across the million-dollar mark for the first time and I would love to say that it was this amazing celebratory moment and streamers came down from the sky and balloons bounced around. But that is not what happened. Actually, I really found myself in a space of being massively overwhelmed, absolutely overworked, and also very over exhausted.
I really was questioning everything. I was questioning what I was doing, how I was doing it. If I was meant to be self-employed, if I wasn’t, what does that mean. I really went into a space of deep self-inquiry. What came out of that was being connected to Dr. Aron and discovering that I was highly sensitive. Like I had mentioned, when I discovered that I was highly sensitive — again, first, I didn’t really know what that meant — but once I did, I was like, “Oh, that does not surprise me.” But what did surprise me was how highly sensitive I was, really, off the charts highly sensitive according to one of Dr. Aron’s assessments.
I really started to realize I had to begin to look at things differently through this new lens, this new perspective. As a sidebar, that is why the work that I do is called A Course In Business Miracles because I’ve been a student of the psychological and spiritual curriculum, A Course in Miracles for many, many years now since I was a teenager when my mother passed away suddenly from being in a bicycle accident. That spiritual teaching, according to the course, defines a miracle as a shift in perception.
Back to that moment when I realized how highly sensitive I was, it was really like a lightbulb moment where I was like, “Oh, I really need to start looking at things differently.” That was really the beginning of the work for myself and then beginning to share it with others.
In regards to your question of how can others know if they’re highly sensitive, I have built upon Dr. Aron’s work, I have an assessment that I’ve created that helps others to understand if they’re highly sensitive and also if they’re highly sensitive and want to be self-employed or are highly sensitive and already are self-employed, how to really begin to work with that and have it working for them rather than against them.
JM: That’s awesome. We’ll make sure at the end and in the show notes that we’ve got that information so that anyone who’s listening that wants to take that assessment or get that information can. One thing I do want to say that I found so interesting about your work was as I begin to learn about it and I would hear more of the signs, the behaviors, the way that we process things, it did start to make more sense to me for myself.
But in the beginning, I think I equate the word sensitive sometimes as being maybe sort of critical because growing up, I would hear things like, “Oh, don’t be sensitive,” “Oh, you’re being overemotional,” “Oh, you’re overreacting,” and then to hear now you’re highly sensitive, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, what’s wrong with me?” But I loved within your work that I started to learn that. Actually, there are some really unique strengths to being highly sensitive and that it’s not a bad thing. How is a highly sensitive entrepreneur different than someone who’s not highly sensitive as an entrepreneur?
HD: For sure. First and foremost, absolutely, to speak to your point of really having that programming, the cultural programming that being sensitive means there’s something wrong with you. I would say, first and foremost, that’s what the majority of highly sensitives carry with them and that programming, that belief, the meaning that has been created really ends up working against each person who’s highly sensitive. Therefore, if you are a Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur, it ends up working against your business as well.
That was really the primary motivation for me in doing the work that I do because, again, back when I first discovered that I was highly sensitive, I have forever been a believer and a teacher of the understanding that your ideal client is a version of you. I took one of Dr. Aron’s assessments into a group of 25 women entrepreneurs that I was working with in person, and at that time, had them all take the assessment. Lo and behold, every single woman in that room was highly sensitive. Not one woman in that room wanted to be highly sensitive just like you clearly spoke to, they really saw it as a weakness, as a detriment, as a negative label. That was really the impetus.
That was the start of what is now the Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur Movement because I was looking at this room of incredibly talented women and thought, “Wait a minute, if we try to deny this part of ourselves because we have equated it as meaning something negative, then we’re really limiting what we’re able to create through our businesses and just how we’re able to show up authentically.”
All of that said, through my work, I have really come to identify what I refer to as 12 top HSE Shadows and 12 top HSE Strengths. To speak to the strengths aspect, being highly sensitive, really again, has us processing differently, it has us relating to the world differently. What that includes from a strengths perspective is, first and foremost, one of our top HSE Strengths is that we are extremely intuitive. From there, an additional strength is that we are extremely empathetic and also, we happen to be very deep listeners, deep thinkers, and deep feelers, all HSE Strengths.
Through the work that I do, the teachings, the trainings, the tools that I’ve developed is when you learn how to really utilize your highly sensitive abilities as strengths, it really positions you to really be able to be an excellent service-based business provider. The key is that so much of the more traditional training that’s out there, in regards to self-employment marketing, self-employment selling, etc., even operations, is designed for the other 80%. To be able to access those strengths, first and foremost, there’s an internal and personal retraining aspect to the work that we do in the Business Miracles mentoring programs — again, back to that shift in perception, back to that Business Miracles — you have to be willing to see yourself differently, not as a person of weakness, but actually as a person of strength.
Then there’s the aspect of how to really begin to apply those strengths like the ones I listed as well as others into the work that you do in your business — the marketing, the selling, the delivery of the service, operations, all of it. Once you do, oh, my gosh, it changes everything. Everything becomes so much easier and so much more enjoyable and therefore so much more profitable and productive as well.
JM: It’s so true, enjoyable, really and truly. That is something that I could speak to because I spent so many years, I started my first business in 2005. For a while, I really embraced that and some of this is just me. But I didn’t like that type-A, you have to be hard-driving, you have to be high-energy, you got to get in there and do things that aren’t comfortable. I just started to burn out because it wasn’t me. I felt like that really was just entrepreneurship, it’s uncomfortable — and it is, there are things that all of us don’t want to do and that have to be done, there are responsibilities — but there are ways to do things differently so that we can be excited, we can enjoy them, and we can utilize our strengths and it doesn’t have to be this exercise in misery doing it the way that 80% of the world does it.
I have really found that I used to equate busyness, strife, and frustration with the “no pain no gain” and it’s like, “Nope, that’s actually not true at all. You can enjoy it, and in fact, enjoying it is a sign that you’re going in the right direction.” That was one of the things that I really appreciated from the work very much. In terms of those differences and those strengths, tell me a little bit about some of those challenges that maybe are unique to the Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur.
HD: Absolutely. I think just what you were sharing in terms of your own personal experience speaks to those challenges. First and foremost, there’s the challenge of looking outside you and seeing what the majority of other people are doing. Then there’s the process of recognizing, “Wow, I can do that but it’s really going to take a lot out of me.” Then the choice to be willing to take the risk to do it differently.
Now most — before they come to the Business Miracles mentoring programs — stop at that second point which is “I can do this but it’s going to take a lot out of me.” That really speaks to what I have come to identify as the HSE Coping Mechanisms. There are three mechanisms that I’ve identified. There’s a coping mechanism of pushing, hiding, and then combo-plattering. I’ll just briefly speak to these.
The coping mechanism of pushing, I think you described really well. I can definitely identify to the coping mechanism of pushing also and that is definitely what brought me to that dark night of the soul. Typically, for those of us who are highly sensitive who tend to gravitate towards the coping mechanism of pushing is, again, we look outside of us and we go, “Okay, this is what you have to do. This is what’s needed. This is what being an entrepreneur is about so I will rise to the occasion and I will do this,” and we will and we will get it done. But it will come at an absolutely high cost and typically it will come in the form of cost in regards to crisis, either within health or relationships. Other areas as well, but those tend to be the two primaries. For an 80-percenter, they’re doing it and they’re fine. That’s like one of the primary differences and that is the challenge of accessing that coping mechanism as literally doing that coping through pushing.
Then you have the coping mechanism of hiding or being a hider as an HSE. You’ll look outside yourself and you’ll be like, “Wow, okay, this is what needs to be done. This is what is required to make it as an entrepreneur.” Then suddenly, you will find yourself doing anything and everything else but that. Typically, an HSE who tends toward the coping mechanism of hiding, they’re the entrepreneur who has the perfect programs mapped out, they have the most beautiful website, they have awesome gorgeous marketing materials. They probably have also beautiful social media accounts and at the end of the day, there really isn’t a lot of business happening and that is directly reflected in the bank account. Because again, they’re getting a lot done but it is not the actions that actually have them out there in the world, taking the steps that need to be taken in order to be able to generate income. Typically, for the hider as well but this is also part of the pushing coping mechanism is they’re also taking care of everyone and everything else in their life as a priority over what’s needed in the business.
Then you have the coping mechanism of combo-plattering and that is where you tend to flip-flop back and forth between the two, between pushing and hiding and pushing and hiding. I like to say that is the HSE definition of insanity because you will literally drive yourself crazy.
JM: I laugh because I can relate.
HD: Challenges, those are absolutely everything that we face in regards to challenges within our businesses, although also, within day-to-day life is going to show up within those coping mechanisms. The work that I’ve created first of all takes the coping mechanism further into identification of the coping cycle that we tend to get caught in and then the process that one has to go through to dismantle that cycle, to dismantle the automatic reaction that you have programmed with inside yourself to access coping, literally, as a way to get through.
Again, whether it’s pushing, hiding, or combo-plattering, whatever it is, it’s probably served you literally to cope in the world as a person who’s highly sensitive. However, if you are interested in being self-employed and being self-employed in a way that’s going to create you ongoing solid, sustainable financial success, we have to learn how to shift from coping into creating and that’s where the power in regards to that process really lies.
JM: Absolutely. Can you give an example of what it would look like if there is something common that you see in terms of that cycle pattern? If somebody is listening and they’re starting to relate to some of these coping mechanisms, what might that look like if they’ve got that coping cycle happening in their lives?
HD: The cycle always starts with a trigger. The trigger is going to look different for each and every one of us, yet it’s going to trigger the pattern of the cycle. Whatever the trigger is, it will trigger the highly sensitive into a sense and emotional state of fear. From that fear, or as part of that fear, anxiety, and from that anxiety, a sense of lack of safety. That part of the cycle can literally happen in nanoseconds. Because of the fear, the anxiety, and a sense of lack of safety, that will kick into the coping mechanism.
Again, most likely, it’s how you unconsciously learned to make your way in the world that’s not designed for you, it’s designed for the 80%. Anyone who’s listening, and so far is really identifying with our conversation, knows that you’ve had situations, you’ve had moments in your life where you really felt like the odd one out. It might be like, “Wow, why does everyone else really seem to totally enjoy tailgating?” I don’t know, I’m not saying you don’t like tailgating if you’re highly sensitive, maybe, you do. I’m just using that as an example. You look around you and you’re like, “Everyone is loving this.”
JM: Or you feel completely overwhelmed by everything happening.
HD: Yeah, and then you’re like, “Why would I rather be home on the couch reading a book?” or whatever it might be. Those moments of feeling so much like the odd one out, you’ve learned how to cope with that. It’s all been unconscious and it’s all been programmed into yourself. When that gets triggered in the business, you go into, again, fear, anxiety, lack of safety into the coping. Then what happens is you start to come out of the coping. That is when you wake up and you realize, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve totally been pushing.” Usually, again, your body or your relationships will get your attention in regards to being a pusher.
As a hider, there’s enough of a sense of like, “Wow, I’m really not doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” and that’s when we go into the place of beating ourselves up like recognizing what we’re doing is really not serving us even if we can’t fully recognize exactly the full depths of how and why. But we know that, again, if we’re pushing, we’re exhausted, we’re overwhelmed. If we’re hiding, we are guilty, we are overwhelmed and then we go into a period of soothing. You try to soothe yourself and you make yourself feel better that can show up in all different kinds of ways for all of us. Maybe you eat more than your body really needs to eat, maybe you’re drinking more than your body really needs to drink, or maybe it’s even showing up as “self-care”. That can really happen for a lot of hiders is they’re doing a lot of bath therapy or like, “Oh, I just can’t really make it to this networking meeting because I really need to meditate for three hours instead.”
It can be very nebulous but there’s some sense of soothing that’s going on, then you start to feel better until you’re triggered again and you’re right back in the cycle and around and around and around and around we go. It will get you through but it is not a pleasant way to live. It is actually very quite painful and it, for sure, is a very, very difficult place to try to build or be in a business from because you are literally running yourself around and around and around the cycle until you are ragged. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s pushing, if it’s coping, or if it’s combo-plattering, it’s going to have that same energetic pull on you, leaving you with a sense of “Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I do this business thing? Why does this have to feel so hard for me? What am I doing wrong?” and of course, that doesn’t help in terms of this cycle. It just continues to feed the cycle and so then we, again, have to learn how to make our way out of it.
JM: It’s really so sad to me, too, because I think so many people who would otherwise have amazing gifts that they could be sharing find themselves in this cycle and really just talk themselves right out of being entrepreneurs that really they just can’t handle it. It becomes such an unfulfilling and such a destructive pattern. I know, for me, I’m not at all surprised to hear these things, because I think back to “I’m definitely a pusher” with maybe a small side of hiding, would probably be my combo-plattering. But in terms of the pushing, I think back and it’s like, “Now, I have an autoimmune disorder. I have rheumatoid arthritis and feeling tired all the time.” Luckily, I’ve got a husband who’s my ride-or-die. But holy Lord, I know I’ve put him through so much over the years. It’s pretty crazy when you think about how many people really are Highly Sensitive Entrepreneurs that have so much value they could be sharing but they get caught up in the cycle and they get to a place where you just start — for me anyway, speaking for myself — I started to look for ways to minimize those triggers, just starting to circumvent things in life and it really is a difficult way to live, it’s a really tough way to live.
I do have one other question for you just on a side note, something that I was observing as we were talking. When you talk about someone who is highly sensitive and maybe not really being into the tailgating party or some of those other those qualities, they almost sound like someone who’s an introvert. Are Highly Sensitive Entrepreneurs always introverts or not necessarily?
HD: Yeah, it’s a great question, and not necessarily. They don’t necessarily go hand in hand, although they also sometimes do. But there are lots of highly sensitive who are extroverts. Then also, the new research had shown that introversion and extraversion aren’t necessarily so black-and-white but there can be various combinations as well. Being a highly sensitive all goes back to how it is that you process stimulation. You might really be fed through extroverted activities yet you’re still very impacted by a lot of noise stimulation, smell stimulation, sensory stimulation, or just information. They can but they don’t have to.
Then just to briefly speak to your point about that there are so many who are very, very talented, who are really called to be in business but do find themselves in that cycle, I would really agree with you on that because that is everything that motivated me to really begin what is now the HSE Movement and to really stay with it every single day. Again, I went back to that very first room of women and I was like, “Whoa, this is not okay. If there’s one woman in this room who stops doing what they feel called to bring into the world just because they’re seeing that there’s only one way to be in business, that’s not okay.” That means that there’s a lot of people out there who are going to deprive themselves of being served by this particular HSE. It really truly is a motivation.
Also to speak to something that you said earlier as well which is that it’s not so much about the “what” in terms of the actions that are needed to be taken. Because if you are interested in being self-employed, you need to market yourself. If you’re interested in being self-employed, you need to have selling conversations. If you’re interested in being self-employed, you have to manage your time. It’s not the “what” but it is the way. That is so much of the key is that there is a different way but you have to be willing to step into that. It doesn’t mean that you have to be willing to forego who you are which is the training that so many HSEs try to operate from, but it actually means that you have to be willing to embrace who you are and then to build from there.
Honestly, ironically, that is sometimes more challenging for a lot of HSEs because the ways that we have set up coping have worked to a degree and you begin to relinquish them in place of something that will have you operating in your business and your life, and again, that much more enjoyable way is still a process of change. I like to say that everyone wants transformation but no one actually wants to change.
JM: I love that. It is the longer I live, the more I know it to be true and you can find yourself in these patterns and in these behaviors and you can know that they’re destructive. Going through your program, it’s like you even becoming aware of it and knowing that it’s something that can be different. Change is hard, making the change that something that you’ve been programmed to do that you’ve conditioned yourself over a lifetime is so difficult.
What would your top tips be for women entrepreneurs listening who are Highly Sensitive Entrepreneurs? Do you have some tips you could share?
HD: For sure. The first thing that I would say is as you are listening, if you have a sense that this might be you, pay attention to that sense. It can sound so simple and can sound so small but yet in truth, it’s actually really profound because of everything that we’ve been talking about, which is, again, most likely somewhere along the lines, you took in the belief that “I can’t actually really honor who I am”. If you have an inkling that this is you, pay attention to it and keep paying attention to it, really begin the process of knowing yourself. That’s number one.
Then number two is to really begin to take the steps to embrace who you are becoming and in terms of knowing who you are, to embrace it, to know yourself and to embrace it.
Three is then to really get support to actually be able to start to make the changes. Even though change is hard, it’s not impossible. It’s all about what you want at the end of the day. Do you want to continue to live and operate your business from a place which kind of has like a sense of misery running through it consistently or do you want to go through the process and really enter into the belief that you can actually 100% be operating your business, 100% be living your life in a way that honors who you are, and not only honors it, but again, really embraces it and puts it to work? Know, embrace, and get support.
JM: I love that. It’s such good, good advice. I will tell you that a big takeaway for me — and I know that you work with people of all different belief systems, so this is speaking from my experience — but being able to bring my spirituality into my business really saved me. I spent a lot of time being a different person at work than the person that was developing outside of work overtime. Doing business, as usual, was killing me, I mean, really, it was draining and it was unfulfilling. I was having such a hard time feeling like I was two different people. Then to have that permission to say, “Nope, I am this person all the time, 24 hours a day,” was really interesting because I thought, “Wow, if I start having these conversations as this highly sensitive intuitive person with my clients, they’re going to think I’m insane. They’re going to think I’m like woo-woo, airy-fairy, but it’s not true.
It’s interesting, when I started to give myself permission to say, “Nope, I’m allowed to bring this into my business, in fact, it’s what sets me apart, it makes me really, really good at what I am,” started attracting the people that were looking for that. It was really an eye-opening experience that I appreciate very much that I got from your work. It was amazing, really eye-opening stuff.
What are the next steps? If somebody is listening and they say, “Yeah, this is totally me,” what are the next steps for them?
HD: I definitely recommend that you take the assessment that we were speaking about earlier. You can find that at www.hsequiz.com. It’s really more of an assessment than a quiz because there’s no way you can pass or fail. But as you take the assessment, you will come to the end and you will discover if you are either somewhat of an HSE, super HSE, or if you are like me and you are a super uber HSE. Depending on where you fall—somewhat, super, super uber—you will receive then a free HSE success guide that will give you the first steps that you can start to take so that you can really begin that process of knowing who you are, embracing who you are, and receiving support through what the guide has to share with you. I definitely recommend that as a place to begin.
For all of the reasons that we’ve been talking about being in business and being in your life will be so much more enjoyable, but also to speak to the point that you are just sharing, Jenn, is that not only will you actually find that those people who really need you operating from your HSE Strengths will find you, that’s what I refer to as your sacred contracts in your business, but that by no longer compartmentalizing yourself, you’re actually moving in the direction of what the entire world needs.
Daniel Pink’s research really backs this up that trying to compartmentalize yourself or to have yourself look and act like everyone else really is so last century. The world is moving in a very new direction and it’s very much in need of those of us who are intuitive, empathic, deep listeners, deep thinkers, deep feelers, and all the other strengths that we have to bring into our business. You are needed in the world right now. For yourself, for others, for all of us, take the quiz, find out, and start to really work with who you are and how you’re meant to be in this world through your business.
JM: Absolutely, because you are so needed, I really want to reinforce that, you are so needed. Heather, thank you so much. I loved talking to you. I would talk to you all the time, every day. I want to do it again. I think you’re awesome. I love this topic. It’s so, so good. If someone listening wants to connect with you, where can they find you?
HD: I would really recommend, again, start with www.hsequiz.com and you can also always find me at businessmiracles.com and on social media, typically, Instagram and Facebook, Twitter is way too overwhelming for my highly sensitive self.
JM: Perfect, we’ll make sure that those URLs are in the show notes on the website as well. Heather, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.
HD: Thank you, Jenn. I so appreciate you and loved this conversation. Thank you.
JM: Me too. Thank you.