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:
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.