For years, Felicity Haythorn squashed her empathetic, intuitive nature to fit in at work. This is how she harnessed her ‘softer’, undervalued innate traits to create a more authentic career…
Words: Felicity Haythorn
Things people have said to me throughout my career: ‘God, you’re emotional.’ ‘You’re overreacting.’ ‘You’re overthinking it.’ And my personal favourite from a former editor: ‘Felicity’s finally grown a pair of balls.’ (Just what I’d always wanted).
I’m a highly sensitive, intuitive, compassionate empath. I’m proud to say this today, because finally acknowledging my heart and soul impacted my work life in positive ways I could never have imagined. These so-called ‘soft’ but potent personality traits are my superpowers, and have helped me soar. I work with like-minded people, in a way that suits me and I LOVE it.
But it wasn’t always this way. Even when I left my corporate journalism career and started freelancing, I still didn’t trust myself enough to really get stuck in. I didn’t believe I could run my own business on my terms. I thought of myself as too passive, powerless … pathetic.
It’s not you – it’s negative working cultures
For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me for feeling so much. I spent my first 36 years trying to cover up and protect my tender soul, attempting to squash my inconvenient, OTT emotions.
I tried on various roles at work to be more like the hard, tough and scary managers I thought I should emulate. I grew that pair of big, hairy balls but (unsurprisingly) they didn’t feel good. I didn’t go for the roles I wanted or do the things I loved because I was too afraid of being me. When I went freelance, I undercharged. I was always procrastinating when I wanted to grow. I was so afraid.
What I didn’t understand for a long time was that the problem wasn’t me – it was the negative corporate working culture that I’d been fed since forever that valued extrovertism, hypercompetition and being the best.
Real estate professional Felicity Beasley, who works in industry as well as running her own local online food delivery service thelocaltrove.co.uk, agrees. “It’s conflicted at the moment. There is a drive to be more empathetic and encourage emotional intelligence through promoting words around this but the reality of day-to-day work life is still so far from this. It’s rooted in being transactional rather than understanding the human. It is changing but has to go through this stage of talking about it more from a marketing perspective and HR for recruitment.”
How a big life transition led me back to myself
I finally got my big wake-up call when my marriage dissolved. Suddenly, I was alone with two children under three. I remember lying on the kitchen floor, all snotty and crying, feeling humiliated, lost, alone. Somehow, out of nowhere, this calm swept over me. It was as if my intuition had finally snapped and said ‘Enough.’ It was time to take responsibility. Finally listening to my gut and doing what I wanted was like coming home.
Then I did some coaching with fellow empath Sarah Clarke AKA, the Work Happiness Coach. I worked on my values. I understood that empathy, sensitivity and compassion were good. They were my superpowers! Sarah taught me that I didn’t need to do a 9-5 to make a living, or work for a big corporation, or earn respect by having front page bylines and managing teams of people.
As I listened to my gut and surrendered to my true self, everything started to change. Harnessing my intuition, listening skills and embracing my inner empath has attracted incredible clients who really appreciate and value my services. Nurturing my communication skills has led me to build a supportive network of wonderful women with whom I regularly collaborate on projects.
Warning: empathy requires boundaries
Rediscovering my innate intuition and empathy opened me up, but too much empathy can leave us vulnerable to other people’s energy.
Abi Jones, a 27-year-old yoga teacher and outdoor educator from Devon, warns of her generation’s inclination to overdose on empathy. “I’ve witnessed massive oversharing on social media, which has left many of my peers emotionally vulnerable as they put themselves in each other’s shoes, compare themselves and judge their validity by what other people are doing.”
Indeed, psychologist Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy, argues that empathy, however well-intentioned, is essentially biased and a poor guide for moral reasoning, ethical judgement and decision making.
Instead, Bloom makes a case for ‘rational compassion’. He says that in order for empathy to be effective and a tool for making positive change in the world, it must be practiced with compassion, which is actually caring about the greater good of a community.
So, how do we tap into our intuition and embrace being empathetic while protecting our sensitive souls and remaining objective? Here are my nuggets of wisdom.
- Create boundaries. Know your limits when it comes to getting close to your clients, how much of your personal life you choose to share on social media, and clearly define your working hours (easier said than done if you have a busy family life and work from home).
- Empower others. Offer support to those who are a few steps behind you in their careers.
- Get support/delegate. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
- Collaboration over competition! See your peers as comrades and connect with other like-minded people to share ideas, support and knowledge.
- Practice mindfulness. Taking a few breaths is an epic way to create space for yourself.
Finally: don’t let anyone at work tell you need to grow a pair – your gut feeling has always been and will always be enough.
Felicity Haythorn writes copy and content for female founders and free-spirited lifestyle brands. Follow her @haythorn_copy and find out more at www.haythorncopy.uk.