The Up Side of Reactivity

About 10 years ago I worked for a recruiter who stratified job candidates into “rockstars” and “b-players.” As I processed their resumés, I soon learned that distinction was more about appearances than skills.

But a polished persona wasn’t the only unwritten qualification. It was my responsibility to send out postcards to applicants’ references, asking them to rate their ex-employee on a laundry list of characteristics. “Stress resilience” was on that list. The moment I read it, I knew I’d found words for just what it was that I didn’t have much of.

Fast-forward 9 years, which I spent trying (not very successfully) to hide that “deficit” from bosses. Then I discovered I was an HSP. It’s taken awhile, but I now regard limited “stress resilience” matter-of-factly, as a condition of my well-being that I have to meet, rather than a shameful deficiency that I have to downplay.

This might not seem like much of a difference, but in daily life, it’s huge. I can look back on jobs that were nightmarish, and understand so much better why. To my past self, wondering why she was so inadequate to rise to challenges that other people breezed through, I think: “Oh, you poor thing, that couldn’t possibly have worked for you.” I have learned that “other people” is not nearly as universal as I thought. So I can skip ads for loud, time-pressured, or non-supportive job environments without internal hecklers calling me overly picky, or underly motivated.

I’m finally paying attention to my own feelings as if they matter.

But there’s more to come. Thanks to another HSP blogger, whose post inspired this one, it’s starting to dawn on me that sensory processing sensitivity, for all of its challenges, really might be an awesome gift.

It never occurred to me those same “other people” who can multi-task without breaking a sweat may not thrill to beauty the way that I do. Do they ever find pure silence sublime? Do they soar to the exquisite heights (and plunge to the heartbreaking depths) of emotional music? Do they find moments of perfect completion in the colors of a flower, the dappled light of moving leaves, or the purring, vital warmth of a happy cat stretched across their legs?

I’ve always been political, and for a long time that interfered with my ability to properly weight the creation of beauty as a valuable and productive use of time. I thought artists were self-indulgent escapists, not to put too fine a point on it.

Years of inescapable experience had finally persuaded me that a visually dreary environment had a major impact on my morale. But it wasn’t until I finally got around to my lifelong stained glass ambitions that I owned my underlying envy of people who create beautiful things for a living. I began to understand that beauty inspires, creating exalted internal as well as external spaces, spaces for brilliant ideas and the unfolding of human potential. Which is priceless. And lucky HSPs are born with a special talent for dancing those spaces.

Whaddayaknow – maybe I’m adequate after all.


Introducing a new page: What’s Beautiful to Me
(if you have a blog, maybe you can start one too)


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