by Rijn de Jonge
(Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: May/June 2005.)
Editor: After the wonderful event in Holland, I received a letter from a New Zealand HSP wanting to bring HSPs together there, too. So I asked Rijn de Jonge, who was so important in organizing the HSPs in Holland and bringing me there, to write to New Zealand about how all of that happened. But then we thought that perhaps HSPs in other countries (or even states or provinces) could also benefit from what the Dutch HSPs had learned. This is what Rijn wrote.
At this moment of writing we have an HSP organization of 150 members. We’ve accomplished quite a lot together, so in this document I am going to try to discuss the choices and difficulties we’ve faced. Still face. And what we are doing about them. Of course what I am writing is flavored by our being Dutch. I cannot say that our approaches will work for you, or even if they will always work for us. I’m just sharing my experiences.
From Chat Group To Website
We began as a small HSP forum on the internet. As the forum grew and the need for information, too, we decided to create our own website for HSPs. That site provided information, a list of books, a list of links and therapists, and let’s not forget the chat.
This was a brilliant move. The site is very popular and has grown to 1200 members, who all have free access. Free, because we wanted to put nothing in the way of HSPs contacting each other. So, this is the first advice. Make a website for your country, with all the information HSPs might want. Of course we had to pay for hosting, but we made links to for our books and asked for donations. This will surely free you from losing money. In fact you earn a little bit on it. But that’s fine because you do the work for the site.
From Website To Meeting Face-To-Face
When the site had, let’s say 800 members, the idea of organizing a first meeting for all of them was born. We made no extra publicity–this was our weak point, as the idea of high sensitivity was not very known in the Netherlands. But still, 200 people came! They wanted to meet each other. And it was a wonderful event. You could feel that there was a lot of understanding of each other. Just because they all were HSPs, the contact was different then in daily life. You could feel that.
But as said, be aware of doing too little publicity. We cannot stress this item enough. If you have someone who loves publicity and really goes for it, who is kind and knows how to say things, ask this person to do this job. And an HSP is perfectly fitted for this.
After this event, many more events were organized by others. They wanted to meet, meet, meet. The fear to meet and to organize was gone and everybody went loose. On the beach, in a club, at the zoo, walking in nature, or whatever. Those meetings were not designed for sharing information on a professional level, but to get to know each other. People found each others, relationships started, and we even we had our first marriage result from these events.
What To Do When It All Gets To Be Too Much
In the meantime the site grew, other sites appeared. Events and meetings passed. Then the work grew too much to handle. Until now I had done this work almost by myself and I felt my energy leaking away. This was a personal pitfall for me, walking straight into a burn out-having a regular job and then coming home, keeping the site up to date, organizing events, having other friends, doing my own housekeeping.
I had to call for help, but where to get it? This was hard, because even with so many members on the site, I was not able to find help. Most of them come, recognize themselves, talk about being highly sensitive, and then after three months or so they leave. Others fill in their places, but very few are staying. And of those who are staying, who has the will and time to do some work? It is lovely when someone translates something in Dutch for me, so I can put it on the site. To the point is, do not do everything by yourself. Ask on the forum if someone wants to format a piece of text for you, for example, or whatever you want.
As for the size of the forum, fellow moderators helped me. They each have their own piece of forum to monitor. So another tip I would give you is to ask immediately for trustworthy fellow HSPs who can do moderating for your forum over the long term.
But I was still doing too much, yet still having ideas. I especially wanted to bring Elaine Aron to the Netherlands and form a permanent organization of HSP’s who could do some work. So we planned our foundation meeting for the organization, gaining 25 members after this first meeting, paying 25 euro’s a year. My main goal was still to find some help for the site and forum and event organizing. Some workgroups started, one for the website, one for children, and also one for scientific articles.
Building A Leadership Team
Our next problem was finding HSPs who wanted to take leadership positions. We needed a chairperson, secretary, and treasurer. At this moment we still have only a chairwoman and a secretary. Certain qualities are needed for these functions, and some have the right abilities but have a difficult personal time with the work. So are still having a problem here. It is wonderful, however, to see that we can unite, yet accept that just because you are an HSP, that does not mean that your fellow HSP completely shares your vision of things. While that’s not so bad in the abstract, it still raises the question of how do you deal with differences? What do you do when you meet fellow HSPs who you do not like? What will your reaction be?
My advice is, stay honest and open. In all cases, communicate. You are an HSP–you know what I am talking about. If someone does not do his or her job, be honest and ask this person to stand back. We had to do this in our organization. Sometimes things went very wrong because of personal problems, so you can’t lean back and think everything will be fine. Talk about it straight to this person. It is tough to do this, I know. But don’t let your organization fail because of the personal problems of one person. Help him with his problems; don’t be mad at him.
An Example Of Managing A Major Event: Getting Elaine To Holland For March 26, 2005
The event from which we learned the most was getting Elaine to Holland.
The first thing was realizing I could not do this alone. Pfhew, learned that much! I asked some fellow HSPs to work with me, people whom I had seen more often and whom I trusted could do this with me. Again I had selected them based on their qualities. I was the teambuilder, the one with the vision, and also the one having contacts with the authors (Dutch writers also came to the event).
Next I knew I needed someone who was very good at administration. I found someone who loved to keep things in order, but also liked to plan. She replied to emails and telephone calls; she kept the list of everyone who would come to the meeting. So find someone with this administrative quality-and the time to do the work.
Another essential team member for me was someone who was fast and had the drive to do all kind of things. The person I found with these qualities made several contacts that brought us major sponsoring. And I knew he would be an excellent chairman on the day of the event.
Finally, I needed someone to do publicity, and I found the right woman. As it happened, not only could she do a lot of work in that area, but she also could comfort people very well. So she was great on the day of the event itself.
More Lessons Learned
- Focus on publicity. Looking back, publicity remained our weak point, even though I was very aware of this all along. You must contact print media far ahead of the event. You have to be very persistent-call them, write them, mail them.
- Divide up the duties of contacting people so that the outside world does not get different messages from your group. For example, only I contacted the writers. Only our group’s administrator contacted the management of the building where the event would take place.
- Have regular meetings. See each other’s faces, and not only for business, but also to get to know each other better. Let there be pleasure in the work. Speaking for myself, I cannot work with people if a do not know them also in personal way. I want to understand their motivations, what they like and do not like. (But I admit it can sometimes be difficult to combine work and friendship.)
The Special Emotional Issues in a Team of HSPs
Now, please understand this: Working together was hard sometimes. I am not easy, the others weren’t either. We were regularly troubled by a difference of vision about how things should be done. But as time went on, we learned that each of us had our own responsibility, our own speciality, and we could trust each other to do our jobs right, even if “right” was not always how some of the others would have done it. You can still talk about differences in how to approach a task. But do this in a motivating way. Not being thoughtful in this area almost caused us to lose one of our team members. Remember, if you lose a member, you have to take over that person’s work! So better to have it done a little differently than you would do it rather than have it barely done at all because you are doing too much.
Build your team as in the “normal” world-expect to have the same problems as are found in the normal world.
Yet, your team is not quite like those in the “normal” world. We HSPs feel everything more deeply, so problems arise more quickly. But they can also be solved quicker and in a deeper way. In that sense, the problems we discussed as a group and the ways we discussed them were not like what would come up in a normal organization. Emotions are not discussed in a company, but you must discuss them as HSPs if you are going to keep your team united. In particular I found that we as a team were more vulnerable to unspoken problems than would be the case in a normal company. Hence, in an organization of HSPs, someone has to have the ability to lead the group in an emotional way. If that leader is you, monitor the group and yourself emotionally, and be honest and open. In the last third of Elaine’s The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook there are valuable principles for managing difficult issues in groups.
But I have to say that working together is only possible with HSPs who are developed to a certain level. First they have to have learned to be authentic and independent. They have to be able to handle criticism. And they have to be able to strive to meet the group’s goals, not just to be a personal success.
It All Came Together
The event itself was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had. No small part of it was that we took a financial risk and it came out so well. Over 900 people came, each paying 50 euro’s for the day. We decided to charge that much because we had to hire a place for this event. We wanted the best, and it cost more then 15000 euros. Also we had to pay Elaine and the other speakers. I think our total costs exceeded 25000 euros. So if we had not had such a good response, we would have been in trouble. But we weren’t, simply because everyone did their jobs far better than I had ever expected. We were a success!
I am proud of my companions and proud of all who helped me with this day. I’m also proud of myself. And it was absolutely worth the effort. Everyone I met was very pleased at having seen Elaine Aron in person. Further, up to then we had always had our share of skeptics and critics, but they shut their mouth after that day. Elaine made an unforgettable impression on all of us and so has this day .March 26, 2005.
My Final Words of Advice
Realize that you have a huge potential in yourself and your fellow HSPs. We’re all different–some are good with money, although it may not seem very “sensitive;” some love publicity; some thrive making websites; some can feel the influence of gemstones! We have all kinds of talents amongst us. Find these talented people and put them to work in their own speciality, working for the good of the group of HSPs. They will feel at home and together you will do more than you ever imagined.