Orchids and Dandelions: On Highly Sensitive People, the Status Quo, and Comfort Zones

Otus Variation #9: Cymbidium orchid by Matt Mullenweg

Let’s do some math:  Highly sensitive people make up approximately 20% of the population.  That means 80% of the people on the planet are non-HSP.  Imagine that non-HSP are dandelions*, not the weed you try to remove from your lawn, but a hardy flower that can thrive almost anywhere. Now imagine that HSPs are orchids, not in the sense of being delicate and high maintenance, but a flower that thrives best under certain, specific conditions.  Now imagine a field that is made up of 80% dandelions and 20% orchids.  (Yes I know it’s very unlikely but imagine it anyway.)  In no time at all those dandelions would take over that field of flowers and the orchids would wither and die because at 80% coverage, they would sap all the water and nutrition available in that field. Dandelions are great at proagation and domination.  Dandelions flourish because they can grow in the desert, in winter, even in a parking lot.  It makes sense that a population has more of them. But no matter what you do, an orchid cannot blossom just anywhere or just under any conditions. What works for a dandelion does not work for an orchid.

It’s hard to remember this in a world made up of dandelions.  80% is an overwhelming  majority and overwhelming majorities have power — to establish the status quo.  They dictate what works and why, what success looks like, and what is normal.  They decide what thriving is.  Not because they have some secret knowledge or wisdom but because they have the numbers.  What works is what works for them. And usually what works for the 80% doesn’t work for me.

If 80% of people see things the same way, then that’s the way it is.  The 20% can disagree but it will never change the way it is.  But it doesn’t mean we don’t fight because the way it is for the dandelions is intuitively and molecularly not the way for orchids.  Numbers don’t matter to my gut.  My insides don’t give a crap about majority opinion.  In order to survive, I question the way it is — quietly but fiercely– and do the opposite.  I feel lost when I assume there’s nothing to be done about the way it is.

Life for me is about listening to my inner voice and success is not struggling once I do.  Life is not about “Getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks”  as Amy Poehler said recently.  I love her but that assessment of life is very dandelion-like.  Whenever anyone advises I “get out of my comfort zone”,  I imagine standing on the edge of a building and jumping without a net.  Why would I do that? The imagery alone makes my heart race.  I don’t think life is constantly feeling like you’re having a heart attack.  Also, to get out of one’s comfort zone implies I have a comfort zone.  I’m like the woman in this comic:

By Sean Clark of Nice Clean Fight

To the 80%, comfort zones are made to move out of constantly.  If I do find comfort, I hang onto it.  The thing I’ve learned about myself and my high sensitivity is that relaxing is the way I grow. The idea of expanding my comfort zone instead of escaping it appeals to me.  To not even realize I’m taking a risk is the best strategy.  To grow with comfort as Havi Brooks describes it in an article titled “Give Me Back My Comfort Zone:

I personally have zero patience with the whole ‘you have to leave your comfort zone’ if you want to make changes’ thing.


It’s a seriously bad idea.  Also, not true.  In fact I’d call it a potentially dangerous misconception.


There are all sorts of well-meaning people who think it’s in your best interest to force you to do some fear-facing, when actually the thing you are needing most is comfort.


The problem is that sometimes what you need in order to grow is more comfort.

Bigger comfort zone = more stuff you’re comfortable with

Instead of leaving your comfort zone, let it grow with you.

I love that.  Instead of jumping without a net or leaping out of your comfort zone like you’re on fire,  you add more things you’re comfortable with without actually leaving the zone.  Pioneer researcher, guru, coiner of the term “highly sensitive person” Elaine Aron’s newsletter is called “Comfort Zone” for goodness’ sake!   Maybe some people need safety in order to take risks, says Bas de Baar in “I Am In My Comfort Zone.  And I’m Staying There”:

If you feel relaxed and at ease, you’ll perform better.  It’s all about safety.

By operating from a safe structure, you’ll feel more secure to take risks.  But on your own conditions.  Operating from within your own context.

Operating from within your own context is the way for HSPs, the 20%, the orchids.  Or maybe it’s just me. I’m writing this for myself and maybe the one other person out there who feels like they’re failing because they’re not hardier, taking more risks, changing for change’s sake — or because you’re not doing it the 80% way.  You’re OK.  Don’t change a thing.  Let change find you.


*The idea to refer to non-HSP as “dandelions” and HSPs as “orchids” is inspired by David Dobbs’ article “The Science of Success”.  Please read it if you haven’t already.


15 thoughts on “Orchids and Dandelions: On Highly Sensitive People, the Status Quo, and Comfort Zones

  1. I liked this. Probably because it makes me question decade-long beliefs. I often try to do things that are scary to me (drive around a town I don’t know, for example), and when I have done it, I always quote (usually just to myself) an article I once read about doing something that scared you every day, made you a better person. I kind of see both sides: when I do the thing that scares me, I feel great; feel like I can battle the world. I don’t like always giving in to the fear; fear that prevents me doing things I might want to do (like go to the town I don’t know), and a daily dose of terror makes me feel like I am not. On the hand, you are quite right: why should be put ourselves in that position? Very thought provoking post!


    1. I think I read that article. “Do something that scares you everyday” sounds like great advice and if it works for you, even better. I just don’t need to do that. I don’t need to do things to feel something or not to feel something, you know what I mean? When I just let everything be, be still, be present, things happen and all I have to do is show up. It takes a lot of patience and trust and I want to be one of those go-getting, face your fear types. But I’m not. This is not the way for everyone and it probably shouldn’t be. If I try to do it any other way though things breakdown eventually.
      I’m glad my post got you thinking. That was my intention.


  2. Love it. The cartoon is right on point. We HSP’s only appear to be taking risks when and if we are in our flow. It’s hard to flow in this society, but we go on, because we know we are right. I am being a little obnoxious when I say we are right, but I think we are most of the time.


  3. Thanks for this post! For the first time in a long while I started questioning my constant attempts to get outside my comfort zone. For me it equals personal growth… But that’s a good point that a person can actually grow and develop WITHIN the comfort zone. I’ve never thought of it this way! Now I guess I’m going to have to. 🙂

    ~Stacey Dream


  4. Wonderful article. I am 45 and spent a lot of years feeling like such a loser because I didn’t travel. I have all sorts of coping mechanisms (addictions) that got worse when I stepped out from my comfort zone. I spent a lot of money on my last “vacation” to sit in a hotel room and eat.
    I am loving these articles. To know other people feel this way is helping me breathe again. Thank you.


    1. “To know other people feel this way is helping me breathe again” — This is why I wrote it. I wanted to find other people who felt the same way. You make me feel less odd because I don’t like travelling either. My father offered me a free trip and I’m getting pressured to go because…that’s what most people would do. You go on a free vacation. But, that’s not fun for me. Like you, I spent so much time and energy doing things I didn’t want to do, “getting out of my comfort zone”, hating it, and then coping with being overstimulated and hating myself for not listening to my gut. Your last vacation sounds like a dream. Except the money you spent on it. Thank you for commenting and checking out my blog.


  5. YES!
    When I heard the ever-popular quote, “Do something every day that scares you”, I thought… why??? Why, in the world, would I want to be scared everyday? Why would I want to have high anxiety in order to “grow”? There must be a better way, or else I’m just going to be content to live a super simple life forever. After all, there are so many societies where fear and anxiety is the norm, and not a “personal growth choice”.
    The idea of having your comfort zone grow with you, instead of you growing out of it, is genius. As a HSP, I much rather feel relaxed and confident as I experience new things, instead of feeling like I’m being forced out of an airplane without a parachute. I like to learn and discover new things at my own pace and once I do, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment because I can now include that new experience/skill as part of my comfort zone! Thank you for the article Melene!


    1. Yes, stress and anxiety AREN’T NORMAL! What’s wrong with being relaxed, confident and moving at a slow pace AND growing? I think HSPs have to be brave enough to say no to the “get out of your comfort zone” mentality. The non-HSPs would benefit from us saying no to it. They would see there’s another way. Thank you for commenting. I loved it.


  6. Thank you for this.

    I only recently discovered that I’m an HSP and it’s been quite a revelation. I’m working now on accepting myself for who I am, after so many years of looking down on myself for what I’m not. But even as I work on self-acceptance, I feel like I’m bombarded by messages to change–to take more risks, to face my fears.

    It’s so reassuring to find out I’m not alone in feeling this way.


    1. I’m so glad this helped you. Things became smoother for me when I accepted my sensitivity and took care of it. It required that I stop accepting as the “Truth” the ways of the majority. Not easy but worth it.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Colin.


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