Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff's ” The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.
“Being a sensitive empath is a beautiful thing as an artist”
Some jobs are more satisfying and less stressful for empaths than others. As an empath, myself, I know that to excel in and enjoy our work, we must make the most of our sensitivities. We must express our intuition, our thoughtfulness, our quietness, and our creativity rather than trying to be someone we’re not.
The Best Careers for Empath
In my book, “The Empath’s Survival Guide” I present the pros and cons of certain careers and working conditions for sensitive people. Traditionally, empaths do better in lower stress, solo jobs, or with smaller companies. They are usually happiest working part or full time at home, away from the office frenzy, noise, politics, and nearby energy vampires. (They’re easier to deal with by email, text, or phone because they’re at a distance.) In such a job, you can plan your schedule and plan regular breaks to decompress.
Many of my empath patients prefer being self-employed to avoid the drain and overwhelm of coworkers, bosses, and packed schedules. Empaths tend to do better on their own time than with the frequent team meetings that are required in large businesses (unless the team is unusually positive and cohesive). If you’re employed by a business, it may be possible to arrange a part time home office situation and do your work virtually, with ongoing access to the Internet, emails, texts, and Skype. Increasingly, people don’t always have to be tied to their office to do their job well, a perk for empaths that allows them to have more choice in their work location. However, if you work at home or alone in an office, be careful not to become isolated or to push yourself too hard. Balance your alone time with “people time” among colleagues and friends.
How do these considerations translate into real world jobs? Empaths do well being self-employed business owners, writers, editors, health care professionals, artists and in other creative professions. Many actor and musicians such as Claire Danes, Alanis Morissette, Scarlett Johansson, and Jim Carrey have admitted to being “highly sensitive.”
Other good jobs include: website and graphic designers, virtual assistants, accountants or lawyers with home offices, or independent electricians and plumbers who can set their own appointments. Being a real estate agent or roving business consultant can be fine too, as long as you establish good boundaries regarding when you can be reached and don’t overschedule yourself. Landscape design, gardening, forest ranger work, or other employment that puts you in nature are wonderful for empaths as are jobs preserving the earth and her ecosystems.
Many empaths also go into the helping professions because of their desire to serve others. As a psychiatrist, I get great satisfaction from helping my patients, as long as I can take care of my own energy and don’t absorb the stress from my patients. Similarly, many empaths become physicians, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, psychotherapists, social workers, teachers, yoga instructors, Chinese medical practitioners, massage therapists, clergy, hospice workers, life coaches, or volunteers or employees of non-profit organizations among other heart-felt jobs. Working with animals, animal rescue, dog grooming, as well as veterinary medicine are gratifying choices too.
But, to thrive, empaths in the helping professions must learn how to stop taking on the stress and symptoms of their patients and clients. They can do this by scheduling breaks between clients to meditate set clear limits and boundaries with people, and take adequate time outside of work to relax and refuel. However, jobs such as being a police officer or fire-fighter, though often heroic, may be too stressful for an empath because of the high sensory stimulation and ongoing physical and emotional trauma inherent in these careers.
Empaths are valuable to all kinds of careers. However, you need to find the right work that supports your skills, temperament, and gifts. An empath’s attributes may not be as appreciated in places such as corporations, academia, professional sports, the military, or government. A better match may be the helping professions, the arts, and organizations with more humanistic awareness. So, when you’re considering a job, use your intuition to sense if you are a good fit with their mission and shared goals, the people, the space, and the energy of the environment. Just because a job looks look on paper doesn’t mean it’s right for you. It has to feel right in your body and gut too.
Jobs to Avoid If You’re an Empath
One of the best ways to take care of your energy is to choose work that enhances your unique empathic gifts and avoid draining jobs.
What jobs are best to avoid? Sales is high on that list. Not many empaths enjoy being salespeople, especially if they’re introverted. Dealing with the public takes too much out of them. One patient who worked in technical support said, “I was too sensitive to constantly deal with angry customers, even if they were right.” Also, empaths pick up people’s emotions and stress which can make them sick. One man said, “Being a cashier at Walmart nearly gave me an anxiety attack. The crowds, the noise of people talking and loudspeakers, bright lights, and long hours were exhausting.” Whether it’s selling cars, diamond rings, or advertising, empaths don’t generally feel well having to “be on” all day.
Other stressful careers for empaths include public relations, politics, executives who manage large teams, and being a trial attorney. These high intensity professions value extroversion, the ability to engage in small talk, and aggressiveness rather than being thoughtful, soft-spoken, sensitive, and introspective.
The mainstream corporate world is problematic too. The “this is how it’s done” corporate mentality is difficult for empaths, including myself. This response has always frustrated me since there’s nowhere to go with it, and it clearly doesn’t value an individual’s needs. Empaths are independent thinkers and question the status quo at work if it doesn’t feel right. They like to know the reasoning behind a decision so they make sense of it in their gut. Plus, regular team meetings and power hungry team-mates are draining for empaths, who function better on their own.
Even if your job is not ideal--and you can’t leave--you can improvise to find solutions that make your situation more comfortable. When empaths are happy at work they can flourish, and make important contributions to their occupations.