Making work work for us

This post was written by Megan on January 25, 2012
Posted Under: book review,burnout and money,burnout and the workplace


Work, burnout and highly sensitive people

Ever been accused of being 'too sensitive'?

I have, for a good slab of my life. When someone says 'You're too sensitive', I feel whacked across the face. Is this because I'm too sensitive?

Being a sensitive female in our society is bad enough. But being identified as a sensitive male is a whole lot worse. Possibly akin to testicular removal. Whatever your gender, it's a rare situation where being considered 'sensitive' is a bonus. And it can be the hand of death in many a workplace.


But I want to clear one point up:

Being sensitive doesn't mean you are an unprofessional and irrational drama queen (or king). I don't personally relate to people like that. And its not what I mean when I say 'sensitive'.

In the book

Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person by Barrie Jaeger, PhD., is a nice list of characteristics for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) that work well as a personal ego boost:

'Frequently, the HSPs I interviewed were gifted, multitalented, with strong imaginations, intense emotional awareness and range of emotional expression, and restless minds eager to learn and consume knowledge in huge gulps…' 


But what has being sensitive got to do with burnout?

Barrie Jaeger makes the connection right from the start:

'Emotionally, they (HSPs) were frequently indignant with and frustrated by the roughness of the business world… abilities they usually couldn't channel into the workplace…Even those whose careers were rising and were promising stars in senior management positions felt out of place in the modern world of work. Often, the stresses and demands of the workplace took a considerable toll on their physical and emotional health.'


What do you expect?

According to Jaeger, Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) often suffer from high expectations of themselves and others. In short, we are strong on idealism. This is followed through with quotes from the big guns: authors

Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson who wrote

Career Burnout: Causes & Cures way back in 1988:

‘They say that people with the highest ideals, unless they somehow manage to develop effective coping strategies on their own, “are likely to experience the most severe burnout”.’ 


Barrie Jaeger's Making Work Work book focuses on three states of work:

  1. Drudgery (we all know what that is)
  2. Craft (development of fine skills)
  3. Calling (what work you are really designed for)

The aim of the game is to get to Calling, if at all possible. Your Calling will give you lots more energy. As Jaeger describes it: 'It’s like tapping into an artesian well that constantly supplies us with vitality and health.’

Craft is doable as a second best. Drugery is hell. Drudgery will seriously bugger your physical health and your sanity. Its amazing how often we find ourselves there.


Are you in Drudgery?

Jaeger identifies three things that have a major influence on whether we’re in Drudgery, Craft or Calling:

  • Control over what, when, where and how we work
  • Work that means something to us
  • Challenges that we like


Why we find ourselves in Drudgery

As HSPs, we make a lot of mistakes that can be a one-way ticket to Drudgery. And the book spells out our spectacular goofs in technicolour detail.

Here are a few doozies we are renowned for:

  • taking low-paying jobs that we are over-qualified for, assuming it will be less emotionally demanding
  • allowing our curiosity for the new and different be our undoing
  • taking on more work than what is actually achievable
  • believing the management motivation hype is actually sustainable
  • working in a physically uncomfortable environment (because everyone else is okay with it)
  • having trouble asking for what we need


Our biggest mistake

But big trap we tend to fall into is focusing on The Right Job. That is, what job we think we need to find our 'Calling'. This is NOT the answer. What we need to do is identify what values are really important to us and be open to opportunities that match those values.

Which sounds nice, but a bit wishy-washy.

Fortunately, the book is surprisingly pragmatic. Jaeger gives a range of practical approaches in which to actually achieve this – and recognises that we can bounce around all three categories on a regular basis, depending on what's going on. Jaeger is no purist.

How your financial income is affected by all this Drudgery-to-Calling strategy is addressed in great detail. She even admits that not everyone can make a decent income from their Calling. It just may not happen for you.


But you can still get the Calling injection into your life in other ways. And this is important, because it will help you can manage the Craft stuff better – and have a shot at great health and a sense of peace. Which is, in the end all we really need. Right?


This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who is still in recovery from years in Drudgery.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

Fantastic article Megan. I really identified with everything you said. Have made it a must read in our house. I love the"characteristics" of HSP. Have made a copy for my mum who is always calling me her "drama queen." A great read. Thanks heaps. Katrina x

Written By Katrina on January 25th, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

Yes, it’s important to talk about this sensitivity thing with our loved ones. Important point, Katrina. Thanks for raising it :) Particularly with those cut from a different weave, as it were…

Written By Megan on January 26th, 2012 @ 8:07 am

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