This is a revised version of an earlier post about sensitivity and part of an on-going effort to define the journey I’ve taken in the last nine years and explore how it can impact others in their own struggles to re-create their lives based on their innate gifts and natural wisdom. Enjoy
Several years ago, I had a therapist who regularly brought up the fact that I was sensitive. She’d say things like “You’re sensitive, you feel things deeply” or “You’re sensitive, you need to take care of yourself.” She was trying to help, but every time she said the word, I squirmed.
Hypochondriacs, poets who stuck their heads in ovens and people who lacked grit were sensitive. As far as I was concerned, when my therapist called me sensitive she was just too polite to call me a “thin-skinned weakling who’d never get anywhere. ”
At first, I was determined to prove her wrong. I’d show her I was strong, that I was nobody’s victim. I’d been doing it for years.
I’d worked in the entertainment industry for almost a decade. Though a certain degree of sensitivity may go hand-in-hand with creativity, it had been no help when it came to withstanding the repeated rejections, crazy hours and personal politics of Hollywood. My innate sensitivity may have initially inspired me to be an artist, but once I was in the movie industry I felt the need to eradicate – or at least hide – it. After all, didn’t everyone say I needed to grow a “thick skin” and “not take things personally”? Be a “professional” and not “feel” things so much?
Despite my best efforts, however, all those years relentlessly trying to toughen myself up hadn’t made me better or more “successful” at my work. Instead, they had left me increasingly depressed and unable to remember why I’d wanted to make movies in the first place.
When my therapist first suggested I embrace my sensitivity, it felt like stepping into an upside-down, Bizarro version of my life. Sensitivity had felt like a liability and an embarrassment for so long, that embracing it required letting go of assumptions I’d held for as long as I could remember. And yet I was desperate.
Not long afterward, I was sitting on a beach with my daughter, watching pelicans fly in formation. On the one hand, it felt good – as if I’d found my natural state and could sit there watching birds and waves for the rest of my days. On the other hand, I still held long-standing beliefs about the importance of “success” and what was necessary to “make it” in the world. My bliss intermingled with anxiety. Though inner peace surged through me at the moment, this was surely not the way to “make it.” And hadn’t that been what I’d always wanted?
It wasn’t an immediate transition, but eventually – with the unwavering support of my former husband – I traded my high-pressure life for one designed to nurture my even deeper drive for peace and sustainability. I did it without having “proved myself” in my industry, without the privilege of being able to “cash out,” without a retirement account and without any certainty about what would come next. I just did it – one painful, scary, delirious step at a time.
In doing so, I discovered that anyone who denies their true nature and pushes themselves to live according to others’ expectations ends up with unsatisfying results or, even worse, physically ill, suffering from addiction or depressed. But I also discovered that embracing my sensitive nature, as well as other long-hidden gifts, led me to experiences of wonder and well-being that had long been missing from my life and that, ultimately, made my life worth living – whether “successful” or not.