Sensipreneur Interview [no. 6]: Career Transition and Creativity for HSP Lawyers

In the Sensipreneur Series I interview HSPs who have made sensitivity a big part of their own business.

 

This Sensipreneur interview is with Jennifer Alvey, a professional coach focusing on career transition, work/life balance and writing coaching for lawyers.  You can find her at www.jenniferalvey.com

1. How and when did you first realize you are HSP and also an empath?

 

A few years ago, I attended an art and church retreat. On the closing day, the morning ceremony featured gospel music. Not a favorite of mine, but usually I just roll with it. The closing piece was very loud, and 99% of the women joined in with clapping and vigorous singing. I sure didn’t—my hands flew over my ears, and I all but curled up into a fetal position!

Jennifer Alvey CoachingOnce I got home, I started researching sensitivity to noise, and ultimately found Elaine Aron’s work on HSPs. It was life-changing. I knew about the connection between introverts and overstimulation, but the HSP knowledge helped me better anticipate what situations would really exhaust me, and maybe more importantly, made me feel less alone and weird.

The empath discovery was much more subtle, and just happened in the past year. A client of mine realized she was an empath, and our discussions of her learning process made me realize that I needed to look more deeply into things I had attributed to being an HSP. It’s a journey that is still unfolding.

2. You describe yourself as a recovering lawyer and work with people who want to leave law. Do you think that there are particular things about law that specifically attract Highly Sensitive People? And, if so, what are some typical things that would make them want to leave once they see what practicing law can be like?

 

I see HSPs attracted to law for two main reasons:

  1. They want to help people, and/or
  2. They love words.

Law certainly is a profession which can help people, and no one can deny the power of words in law.

But the reality of law is pretty different from what most people, including law students, expect. Most lawyers need to work on cases for clients who can afford their fairly high rates. Yet the people who most desperately need legal help are usually poor.

Of course lawyers can work for organizations that help the poor, but that usually means they earn not much more money than the clients they are helping. And usually new lawyers have to repay some stiff educational loans. Plus, social help agencies in the United States are not given the resources they need to really help their clients long-term. It starts to feel like being Sisyphus, and for HSPs, that can be soul-crushing.

HSPs who are writers face a different dilemma. It’s very rare that lawyers get to write about big ideas and principles. Mostly, legal writing is very technical and plodding, and most lawyers are fairly horrible writers. The focus is on perfection and linear reasoning, not on the expression and a neat turn of phrase that writers love. That can be incredibly frustrating, over time.

But the overall problem for HSPs in law is the highly toxic, dysfunctional environment present in most legal workplaces. There are many reasons for that environment, but it would take me a few thousand words to explain it!

Working in a very high-conflict environment wears down HSPs incredibly quickly. They usually realize they want out of law altogether pretty soon, like within a year or two of starting practice. But it usually takes them longer than that to finally leave.

 

3. How did you come up with the idea for your current business?

 

I was working as a freelance writer, and started my blog, Leaving the Law, as a resource. Also, writing posts there was more interesting than most of the assignments I was doing.

I knew there were thousands of lawyers out there who did not like their jobs. At least one survey found that 50% of lawyers, if given the chance to go back in time, would not choose law. I thought I had a few things to say about that! And then one day, it hit me that I could help people through the transition. So I went to coaching school and launched my business.

4. What are 3 ways you really notice that you are Highly Sensitive in running your business?

 

Because the work I do with clients is highly personal and intense, I often can hear the hidden emotions behind their words. We can get to the big roadblocks for them more quickly.

I’ve also found that I can only talk to about 3 clients per day. Once in a while, I will stretch that limit due to client emergencies. I always need a day of quiet to bounce back from that.

The HSP attunement to emotions helps me write about the emotional process of leaving law in a way that most lawyers can’t, don’t, or won’t. I tell a lot of the dirty emotional secrets of practicing law, I think. What I say seems to help a lot of people. I have lost count of the time that clients have told me that reading my posts was like someone was living in their head.

5. What are 2 ways in which you have diverted from classic business models to suit your sensitivity?

 

As I mentioned above, I limit the number of client calls I do to a much lower number than many of my career coaching colleagues.

Also, I don’t use a rigid structure to coach clients. Many career coaches have a fairly rote program. I have a process, of course, but I zero in on issues based more on what I intuit from my clients, than sticking to a plan doggedly.

6. How has – when you look back – your sensitivity proven to be an advantage in having and running your own business?

 

I can really hear what my clients are stressed about, without them necessarily telling me with words.

Also, I’ve become insistent with my clients about the importance of self-care. Being sensitive to my own needs in that area helps me notice when clients are starting to neglect themselves.

Sadly, the HSP sensitivity doesn’t really help me with bookkeeping chores!

7. What is one thing in particular that you struggle with in regards to being a Sensipreneur?

 

Managing the overwhelm of social media. I’m not alone there, and it’s not just an HSP issue, but I think I have a lower threshold before the overwhelm kicks in. I’ve taken a break from Twitter for about 7 months, which really I shouldn’t do. I’m about to get back on, with some better limits in place.

8. What is the one thing you would have liked to know (and that you now know) about being a Sensipreneur when you first considered starting your own business?

 

I recently realized that I avoid researching some technologies I need to know about for the business. My attorney side feels I should research everything to the nth degree, but my HSP side starts hyperventilating well before that point from information overload.

It’s definitely crucial to manage overwhelm, and be alert for situations that trigger it. Once I figured out that I couldn’t spend hours researching all at once, the overwhelm calmed down.

Related to that, I’ve found that a lot conventional business wisdom is great for the average person, but is horrible for HSPs. The idea of attending lots of in-person networking events, for example, is often an HSP nightmare. The good news is that there are many other ways to network that are both effective and better suited for HSPs.

9. What is the one thing you’d want any HSP lawyers, who feel stuck and unhappy in their profession, to know?

Jennifer Alvey Coaching

There really are jobs out there where your sensitivity and insights are sought after. If you’ve only ever worked in law, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that you have many valuable skills, because law usually dismisses or demeans HSP gifts.

The business world at large actually does value some of those same skills very highly. Follow the instincts that make you feel hopeful and positive (not just safe), and you will find that job!

 

You can find out more about Jennifer and her work at www.jenniferalvey.com

 

Read more interviews in the Sensipreneur Series.

 

 

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