Based in Munich, Germany, Elena Herdieckerhoff is a successful serial entrepreneur with clients all over the world. Elena is also an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) who has made it her mission to empower other HSP entrepreneurs to turn their sensitivity into their greatest business asset.
“You can be both highly sensitive and highly successful!” says Elena. Her passion is to show sensitive entrepreneurs how to leverage their natural strengths while gently healing their limiting beliefs and mindset blocks. She works with solopreneurs and top achievers, including network marketing leaders, to lovingly unearth the true origin of their blocks and help them create a lifestyle that supports their personality. As a business coach, she guides her clients through a process of mindset and marketing realignment work to reconnect them to their true purpose, abundance, and serenity.
Curious to see if you are an HSP? Watch Elena’s TEDx talk titled “The Gentle Power of Highly Sensitive People” on YouTube or on her web site www.EntrePrincess.com. After being referred to Elena’s work by longtime Networking Times subscriber and fellow HSP Lynn Selwa, we recently hopped on Skype for a delightful conversation about “how to make sensitivity your best business asset.”—J.G.
How did you get started in the work you do today?
I’ve always had a fascination with helping people. My career started in my mind when I was about seven years old. My dad loves to tell this story: we were on a walk, and I told him that my mission was to help people. He said, “That’s a very big mission.” I said, “I think it’s my obligation to change the world,” and he replied, “Then you need to become an entrepreneur, because that’s what entrepreneurs get to do.”
My mind was made up at an early age that I wasn’t going to fit into a corporate career. I modeled myself after my father, who has always been an entrepreneur, and I decided this was going to be my path as well.
I started my entrepreneurial ventures in my mid-20s, after dabbling a little bit in human resources. I realized that being my own boss was my true passion, and from there I developed my dream business, a skincare company. I had developed a cream for a skin condition, eczema, and this meant a lot to me personally, as it is an illness I myself suffered from. It became a real passion project for me and I managed to set my company up in Switzerland. I went through all the stages of building a business from scratch, and that was a big milestone in my life. Not only did I learn how to build a world-class brand, I also managed to reach large numbers of people around the world with my balm.
What a wonderful way to manifest your desire to help and to heal people.
Yes, seeing the business succeed was very rewarding, but after the thrill of birthing my creation and seeing it grow and flourish, I felt my job as founder was done and I decided to sell my business. I am deeply creative and that is my happy place, so after making this decision, I thought, “What do I really want to do now? What is my next mission?”
I realized that I’ve always been a very sensitive person, and even my cream was for sensitive skin. So I thought, how can I bring my way of doing business, which is perhaps a gentler, more sensitive way, more out into the world? How can I help other entrepreneurs who are like me? How can I help them also succeed in a way that is maybe not the typical path towards success of the 24/7 hustle and the steel elbow style? A vision emerged and it became my dream and passion to develop a business where I could support my fellow highly sensitive entrepreneurs, which is what I do today.
What are some of the lessons you took with you?
It was a rich learning experience to go through all the cycles of a business, from the beginning to the end point. Then it was really fascinating to see my creation actually live on and be reshaped. I also found that as an entrepreneur, you need to know who you are as a business owner and as a CEO. For me it became very clear that I’m a great 0-to-100 person rather than the 100-to-200 person. I love building a business, being in that creative place, and I’m less passionate about the day-to-day running of a business, when everything is already more or less established. For me, it was the right choice to sell my company. I was still working in my “zone of excellence,” but I was no longer singing the song that only I could sing. I always recommend to my clients that they operate in their zone of genius (a concept introduced by Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap) where we focus on our innate talents to make our unique contribution. So now I’m back in my genius zone.
You created a physical product first, skincare. Then you moved to a digital product, intellectual property, so that was reaching even more deeply in your creative genius.
Yes, and it’s as though I moved from the outside of the sensitive skin now to the inside, to the core of what makes a sensitive person sensitive, and into finding out how we can thrive in business. The coaching and mentoring services I offer through my current company are designed to help my fellow sensitive entrepreneurs grow and up-level their businesses, while respecting their personality traits and creating a lifestyle that nurtures and fulfills them.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be an HSP. Is it mostly women? Do HSPs have special needs? What are the perks? Please share the ups and the downs of being an HSP.
This is my favorite question. An HSP is by the definition of Dr. Elaine Aron, who first came up with this term, a Highly Sensitive Person. It’s important to know that this is a genetic trait that affects 15 to 20 percent of the world population. It’s definitely not an illness, and it is also not a weakness. It’s just that HSPs have a different way of experiencing and relating to the world. I know most people look at highly sensitive people with a certain amount of pity and think, “They’re the poor ones; they kind of lost in the genetic lottery of life.” I strongly disagree with that assumption, and I disagree with people who say, “You’re too sensitive,” or “you’re not tough enough.” I actually think that sensitivity is a wonderful trait and a much needed quality to help us cope with the challenges we face in our modern society. Would you like me to quickly outline the four core traits that make up an HSP?
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Yes, please give us an overview.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron used the acronym DOES to explain the core traits.
D stands for Depth of Processing, meaning that HSPs are deep observers. They’re the thinkers. They’re usually very spiritually inclined and highly creative people. They can obsess over a text message for hours to figure out the meaning. They can read the entire menu before they decide what they want to eat. This ability to go into the minutest of details manifests in serious as well as less-serious aspects of life.
O stands for Overstimulation. Because HSPs live in permanent osmosis with the world around them, they also get more quickly overwhelmed, because they pick up on energies of other people very quickly. Their senses can easily get overstimulated by lights, sounds, or smells. If all that sensory information comes together and assaults them at once, it quickly gets overwhelming. If there are too many stimuli at any given point in time, it gets a bit tricky for an HSP.
E stands for Empathy. HSPs are usually very intuitive and empathic. It is like that old Hebrew saying, “When one cries, the other tastes salt.” We feel deeply for the plight of others, be that other people, animals, or the environment. We generally are the caring kind and feel compelled to help perhaps sooner than other people do.
S stands for Subtleties. HSPs keen awareness of subtleties allows us to pick up on the minutest changes in our environment. We’re like the canaries in the coal mine: we can sense danger long before anybody else can tell that something is wrong. We also have a strong ability to sense other people’s unexpressed emotions and needs.
These are the core traits, and when you ask me, “Are the majority of HSPs women?” this is a common assumption, because many of these traits are considered “feminine” by our society’s standards. However, research shows that we actually have an equal split of 50/50 between HSP men and women.
Interesting, and perhaps because of how our society operates, being highly sensitive may be even more of a challenge for men.
It absolutely is, and HSP men often try to hide their sensitivity to fit in because of the cultural stereotypes of masculinity. Many are out there now trying to change that narrative to help us move from the wrong perception that men can only be strong and aggressive, to the fact that men can be strong and sensitive. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.
As you know, most of our readers are network marketing professionals, and one of the things I love about our business is that, because of its very nature, it requires us to develop feminine qualities, such as listening and connecting. It’s a culture that encourages men to come into their feminine. They learn to tell their personal stories and be vulnerable. They can get emotional, even on stage. It’s a welcoming and friendly space for both genders to embody these feminine traits—of course, while also developing masculine qualities, which are the hallmark of traditional business.
I believe network marketing, being a business based on collaboration and helping others, is particularly suited to the HSP personality type. That’s why I’m so happy we’re having this interview.
Let’s look at how being an HSP can affect the way we function in our business as entrepreneurs. As we said, to succeed in business requires strong masculine qualities, but feminine, more sensitive qualities can come in handy as well. What is it like for an HSP?
As an HSP you need to have a good level of self-awareness, so that you can use your sensitivity as a strength rather than letting it turn into a potential weakness. This awareness will allow you to know how you can structure your day; how to not get overwhelmed; and how to use what you’re best at—your ability to be emotionally aware and to connect to others in an authentic fashion—to your benefit and to the benefit of your potential customers.
HSPs have this natural gift for being empathic, and they are also very trustworthy. Because most HSPs value fairness and integrity above all else, it’s easy to stand out in a generally cutthroat marketplace. People are often surprised when they see that you genuinely care, have their best interest at heart, and operate from a place of integrity. So there you can really shine.
Because HSPs are so caring, they also deeply care about the type of products or services they sell. Applied to network marketing, the passion they can develop for their product and what their product can do for the potential customer is absolutely infectious in the most positive ways, because people get excited with you. They live the dream with you, and that is a great quality to bring across as an HSP business owner.
Elena, you are a mentor and coach for HSPs and some very accomplished entrepreneurs, top performers, even network marketers who are top earners in their company. I’m wondering if you can share some practical tips for our readers who may by now have self-identified as HSPs. What are some of the practical tips HSPs can incorporate into our daily lives as we go about running our businesses?
One of the first issues I see most HSPs struggle with, especially if they’re newer entrepreneurs, is that they resist the idea of selling, and that there’s a certain fear attached to selling. If you want to succeed and thrive in business, there is an important mindset shift that needs to happen, and the way I like to present that is to move from the mindset of selling to a mindset of serving.
That usually opens up the space for being back in the connection and collaboration mode, rather than in the fear-based, competitive business mode of hustle or pushy energy. It allows for a natural relationship to develop between you and your potential customer, and that will remove the fear of selling.
Another area we work on is making sure that HSPs are always mindful of their self-care. Because we have a sensitivity to the outside world, we can take on energies that are not necessarily ours. It’s very important to create a daily business environment that is good for us and that we actually enjoy.
We need to build our lives and our business space in such a way that it uplifts us. For example, HSPs get quickly distracted by clutter. Make sure your office is tidy and organized, and that it has pleasant lighting. You may want to have fresh cut flowers around or something beautiful to make you feel positive. Limit the amount of socializing time per day if you are sensitive to other people’s energies. Know that you have a maximum number of meetings you can handle before you start getting overwhelmed, or your nerves start getting frazzled.
As much as we can get totally passionate about our work, it’s also important that we create some safe havens for “nonproductive” creative expression of ourselves. This can be any form of hobby or art or leisure activity. The goal is to not have all our creative juices flow towards the business, but to also keep some to ourselves.
I can so relate to that. For me it’s cooking, gardening, dancing, or decorating.
These things can totally change the energy, and thriving as an HSP is all about managing that energy in a positive, balanced way. You always want to bring new uplifting elements back into your life. Personally I also really enjoy energy healing practices, which can be a great tool for any entrepreneur, HSP or not. For example, I like doing frequent Reiki healings to be in the highest possible vibration, or engaging in EFT tapping. These healing modalities can change and shift some stuck energies or beliefs and take us to the next level of success. I believe it can be incredibly beneficial to integrate these into our daily lives.
What I also hear a lot from my clients, is the feeling of overwhelm. Because we are attracted to so many things, and we get so excited and passionate, overwhelm is often a consequence. I would always try and resist the urge to pile too many things on your plate, and also to ask for help when you need it. This is a great lesson I learned, that if you want to go to the next level, you have to do it with other people who share your vision and your mission.
Network marketing is uniquely well positioned in that sense, because it’s all about creating a team. For solo entrepreneurs, it can be more complicated. In either case, we need to have some form of support, be that from people working with you, or people on the outside who can help you, mentor you, or coach you. This will keep us out of “overwhelm” territory and help us avoid starting too many things without finishing them.
This reminds me of a quote from Abraham via Esther Hicks that I just read: “Overwhelm is about you not being up to speed with what you told the Universe that you want. The Universe is yielding to you, you’re just not ready to receive it right now.” Wanting too many things at once can be tricky, if we’re not ready to receive them all.
Absolutely. That’s why I believe in this idea of really focusing on what matters to you and what will yield the biggest impact if you do focus on it, and maybe outsource the things that are less in your area of genius and really see how you can shine with what you’re best at.
In preparation for this interview, I went to HSP website and took the test. I think there are 20 questions, and if you answer yes to 14 of them you’re an HSP. I answered yes to all 20 of them.
You are clearly a fellow HSP sister!
At the end I felt, “Doesn’t everybody experience the world this way?” Then I showed it to my husband Chris, and he laughed when I made that comment. Of course, I know not everybody is HSP. Chris, for example, is very different. So, for people who don’t recognize themselves being HSP, but know that they’re going to be working with lots of them, especially in network marketing, how can they easily recognize HSPs, and what are some tips for working with them?
That’s a great question. Of course, there are many people who only have a stereotypical understanding of the HSP as the kind of tender flower or the difficult one, or any of these prejudices that HSPs often have to battle with. I was called “the princess on the pea” my entire life.
Generally you can recognize HSPs to a certain extent by their behavior. They’re the ones everybody goes to if they want to share their life story. They’re the ones who bring the birthday cake to the office party. They are typically the ones that have a lot of empathy for others, and sometimes they have a tendency to self-neglect. They often don’t take care of themselves as well as they do of everyone else. You will see them quickly being the first to offer help, the first to be there, the first to take on a burden. That’s a typical way to identify them, and also maybe if you see that they get uncomfortable in large or noisy crowds, or their nerves get frazzled when too many hectic things happen at once.
The way to empower an HSP, if you are working with them, is not to try and modify their behavior or to get them to toughen up or to change their style, because if you do so, you also take away what makes them most special. Every time you might feel you want to tell them to really just get on with it and not be so “sensitive,” you’re punishing them for something that they didn’t choose, because it’s a genetic trait.
If you want to get the best out of an HSP, give them the space to be themselves, and trust that they will not let you down. Leave them the room to expand and be creative. Let them shine with what they do best, which happens usually in the connection aspect of the business. Don’t try to pressure them too much, because they will manage their own pressure perfectly, unless they get too much outside pressure as well. Just let them do their thing, and you’ll get on great.
In your experience, is network marketing a good match for HSPs?
I think network marketing offers a tremendous opportunity for HSPs. I work with a lot of solopreneurs in other types of businesses, and what I’ve found is that they struggle much more to get their business started, because there is a lot of pressure all at the same time and they don’t have that built-in support system and structure. Also, there isn’t that family-style community that network marketers have, where people are helping each other with overcoming challenges and achieving dreams. It’s a safe space for HSPs to expand, and also to find great products that do amazing things for other people. That is very aligned with HSP values, so I think it’s a great place to be an entrepreneur without necessary having the external struggles that come with going it alone as a solopreneur.