Lee: Well, hi, Melody. Thank you so much for being a guest on the Coach with Clarity podcast. I'm so excited to have you here today.
Melody: Thank you so much for having me. I always love joining you.
Lee: Well, feelings 100% mutual, and I'm sure we'll talk a little bit about how we've come to know each other and become friends. But first, I would love to introduce you to everyone who's listening. So tell us a little bit about who you are and the work that you do for the world.
Melody: Yes, so I am a licensed social worker and executive coach. I'm a professor of human behavior, and I work with people who I call sensitive strivers, which I know we'll talk a bit about. So these are people who are highly sensitive and high achieving, and so I began my career, as many listeners of your podcast, as a therapist. And for the last several years, I've been coaching now for 10 years, so transitioned completely from therapy to doing coaching, and transitioned from doing more career coaching to primarily now doing executive and leadership coaching.
Lee: It has been so exciting to see the evolution of your work and your business. We've been friends now for I think, coming up on three years, is that right? It feels like so much longer than that.
Melody: I know!
Lee: You know how there's people in your life and you meet them and you just have that instant connection? That's definitely how I view you, and so the fact that we've only been in each other's lives for not even three years is just astounding to me. Mind-boggling, right? But in that three years, it's been remarkable to see how you have grown as the coach and as a business owner, and how you have really gotten so clear on sensitive strivers being your people who you love to work with, who you love to support, and so let's start right there. How do you define “sensitive striver”? What is that and what does that mean?
Melody: A sensitive striver, as I mentioned, it's someone who's both highly sensitive and high achieving. So these are people who think and feel everything more deeply than most people. And really what I'm referring to, biologically speaking, this is about 15 to 20% of the population, who, because of a genetic trait difference, pick up on more stimuli both within and around them. So they're more attuned to their environment, the emotions of themselves, what's going on internally, but also those of other people. So that's the sensitivity side but we then also have the striver side, which is these are people who are very career oriented, they're driven, they really have a high drive for growth. So they're deeply caring, they give their 100% to everything that they do, all with this in our world on overdrive. While this can be a tremendous strength, at the same time, these qualities, especially if people don't have the right tools to manage them, because they process information more deeply than other people, they're also more susceptible to stress, emotional overwhelm, and overthinking.
Lee: So it's almost like their strengths, if not managed, can actually become limitations and kind of work against them.
Melody: That's exactly right, and I always say, it's possible to overuse your strengths. And I've actually developed the Sensitive Striver quiz
, an assessment to help people really map out where they are most imbalanced versus out of balance on their key qualities as a sensitive striver. So someone can start to see quantitatively where their biggest opportunities for growth are because the biggest barrier I saw in coaching that people came to me with as sensitive people, it felt like everything was an issue, they were so overwhelmed, to the point where they didn't know how to tease issues and challenges apart for themselves, and where to start. So developing that assessment was very eye-opening for me and helped bring much more structure to coaching. And I'm very Type A in that way, but to also give them a roadmap and some clarity about where to start, which is very grounding and soothing to them.
Lee: And I can say, having taken the assessment myself and having been kind of privy to the development of it, I know what a valuable tool that is. Is there a place where people can go and take it?
Melody: Sure, you can go to my website, which is MelodyWilding.com/quiz
, and there's actually a quiz that will take you through the process there, and you can get your results to see where you come out.
Lee: Awesome, I will make sure that we've got a link to that in the show notes as well because I suspect a lot of people who are listening right now they're like nodding their head up and down this idea of the intersection of sensitivity and ambition, probably resonating pretty strongly with them. And I'm curious if there are any kind of key indicators or traits that would suggest, yes, someone is a sensitive striver?
Melody: Yes. So from a high level, we're talking about people who experience emotions to an unusual depth and complexity. So if you're someone who is easily moved, if you cry easily, that's a good sign. You're a sensitive striver. And if you experience emotions, positive emotions, deeply, but also, if you feel like you get stuck in negative ones more often. That's a good sign.
Lee: Can I just say that really resonates with me? And in fact, this weekend, I was watching a YouTube video with my family. It was literally like four guys doing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer using bottles. Like they were blowing on bottles to make the notes. It was incredible. And for whatever reason, at the end of the video, I got so teary, like just watching these men and this pure joy and this inventiveness of like creating the song like I was just so moved by it that I literally got teary. And my husband and sons looked at me like I was just insane. I did not understand it at all but I think like there are so many of us out there who do experience really high highs, sometimes low lows, and we just respond in a deeply emotional way to things that maybe other people would just think are kind of cute or fun or sad or whatever. So yeah, that speaks to me.
Melody: Yes, and funny side note, it was just recently, at the time we're recording this, New Year's, and on New Year's Eve, I just lost it after the ball dropped. Just everything from 2020 just hit me all of a sudden, and I was just sobbing. And my fiance was like, “what's wrong, it's supposed to be happy”. It was, yeah, there was a great example of that kind of emotionality and just being able to feel everything so deeply, and also being highly empathetic because in that moment, it was all of the pain, the suffering that happened in 2020 just hit me all at once. And sensitive strivers, the trait of high sensitivity, which was defined by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aaron, in the 1990s, she was the first person to discover the biological trait. She talks a lot about the fact that her research has shown that sensitive people actually have more active mirror neurons. So that is what leads to that outsize sense of empathy for other people is that we literally do pick up on what other people are thinking and feeling in a much more nuanced way. We're much more attuned to our environment, we're able to keenly be aware of what other people are feeling. On the flip side, that can often lead to having trouble setting boundaries and saying no, because you want to be a people pleaser, being easily impacted by stress, struggling with burnout. A lot of my clients, this is where the sensitivity and ambition combined, that they will drive themselves to work harder and harder, for many reasons, many times as a compensation mechanism because they don't feel good enough and they think that if they just keep doing more, they will feel worthy. So there are a few signs but also in my work, I have defined a framework of six key traits that define sensitive strivers that is really a way to group all these different signs under one umbrella.
Lee: So let's talk a little bit more about that because I think in addition to having certain traits, I would also guess that there are certain experiences that sensitive strivers may have more often than others, and I think you alluded to one just now in terms of burnout. And certainly, many of us have experienced burnout but the way in which a sensitive striver experiences burnout, and maybe even the frequency, I'm wondering if there's some difference there and also just in general, like other experiences that sensitive strivers may have.
Melody: Yeah, absolutely. So I'll take you through those six key qualities and we can talk about it in the context of that. So these six qualities very conveniently form acronyms STRIVE, which makes it very easy to remember. So the first is the “S”, which is sensitivity, and that may seem obvious, of course, a sensitive striver is sensitive, but what this refers to is having a heightened nervous system response to what's happening both within and around you. So this is that piece of overstimulation, particularly when they feel put under pressure. So if any listeners out there like me, where you get very anxious when you're rushed, when you feel like you're being evaluated or watched, real or imagined, many of us have this sort of other, this amorphous other in the background that we think is judging us and that drains our batteries. And so we're talking about burnout is a very real struggle for sensitive drivers because they are so much more energetically sensitive, so that's the first one is sensitivity. Then we have thoughtfulness. So sensitive strivers, they're highly contemplated, they're reflective, very intuitive, but on the flip side, if that quality is unbalanced or not channeled correctly, can lead to overthinking, worrying, indecision, doubt. And probably the most common issue that clients come to me with is imposter syndrome, is that feeling of being a fake, a fraud, not being good enough, being afraid that they're just one mistake away from being found out as the failure they are. So that normally when the thoughtfulness is a strength can lead to that overthinking and the imposter syndrome. So, we have sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and then we have responsibility. Sensitive strivers, they are very dependable can always be counted on to follow through. But at the same time, they can't bear to let people down. So this can lead to overextending themselves, putting other people ahead of them, sacrificing their own well being. So again, you can see how lack of boundaries, people pleasing, burnout, all comes in there as well. Then we have “I”, which is inner drive and this is that desire to exceed expectations in every aspect of life. So sensitive drivers, they have a very strong internal pull to be the best version of who they can be to hit goals, but they can often set an unrealistically high bar. So perfectionism is often a problem with the clients I work with. Either that they're holding themselves to some sort of unrealistic standard, they're very self-critical they move the goalposts, as I say, where before they even accomplish the goal they set out, they have already moved what qualifies a success to be much more higher. So that's inner drive, then we have vigilance. And vigilance is the attunement to your surroundings, particularly the needs of other people. So being able to sense subtleties around you. So if you're able to immediately pick up on the vibe, or the mood that someone's coming into with or a meeting, for example, that's a good example of vigilance. But being constantly on high alert, it's like always having your antenna up sensing what's around you. Sensitive strivers often are looking for danger where there is none. I see this most often when people read into feedback, something that's negative or that's wrong with them, when really, it's probably completely benign. So they're always scanning for danger, and the trait of sensitivity actually stuck around, it has been an evolutionary advantage because sensitive people were slower to act than others, which meant that they didn't rush into dangerous situations. So that quality is very well established. And then we have our last letter which is “E” for emotionality, which is pretty obvious, we've talked about that. So being sincere, empathetic, sensitive strivers, they feel things in a big way. They have complex and very layered emotional responses but they can get stuck in so-called “negative emotions”. And we don't love that word, but unhelpful emotions many times and stay stuck in them longer for most people. So those are our six qualities there.
Lee: I love how you created this framework, Melody, because it's so clear how they work together, that's the thing is you can have these kind of six independent qualities, but it's how they interact with each other, how they work together, that really kind of provides the full picture of who a sensitive striver is and how they engage with the world around them, and also the world within them. So, so helpful. And as you were describing them, I was thinking about how those qualities have shown up in my own life, because all six have to varying degrees. And interestingly, I was having a lot of early memories. Like I, for example, remember being a child, and going to my mom's best friend's house, and just feeling like things were off, things were different. I didn't know I was only like seven or eight, but I knew that there was something going on. And so a few months later, when they shared they were getting a divorce, it didn't surprise me at all, because it was like, “Oh, that's what I was picking up on. Oh, I was sensing that from other people”. Whereas it really did catch everyone else in my family off guard. And it's one of those things that granted at seven or eight, of course, I wouldn't really understand what that was. But as an adult, I find it so helpful to have a framework like STRIVE to say, “oh, okay, yeah, this is just how I'm wired, this is what I'm picking up on”, and to just be mindful of it, has been so helpful, and to see it, sometimes as a strength, sometimes as a liability, but also just, it's who I am. It's how I'm wired. I don't have to apologize for it either.
Melody: It helps you make sense of who you are and your experience in the world. And I think that's most empowering of all, because for many sensitive people like yourself, as a child, I didn't understand why I felt that way. I didn't know other people process the world differently and I didn't have language to describe it. And so I think many sensitive people grow up with that, especially being told you're too sensitive, stop taking things so personally, why don't you just brighten up or lighten up?
Lee: Or get over it.
Melody: Yeah, why don't you get over it? You're so high maintenance, why does everything bother you? And you start to question yourself chronically, and that manifests when you're an adult, as imposter syndrome, and doubt and insecurity, and those things follow you. And so, so much of what I do as a coach, and I'm sure what many of your clients in Coach with Clarity do is validate people and help them make sense of their experiences, and uncover their strengths for them, and how they can better leverage them in the world.
Lee: Yes, and I would love to dive into that a little more, because I suspect that a lot of the coaches who are listening to this right now are hearing this and seeing it reflected in some of their clients. And so now maybe they're starting to view their clients through the STRIVE lens and through this framework. And so as someone who coaches sensitive strivers, what guidance do you have for other coaches who are looking to support their clients who maybe exhibit some of these traits as well?
Melody: I'm so glad to hear that, especially in the coaching world, I think over the last five years or so we've seen a bigger recognition for these traits and much more personality based coaching, which is so critical. So the first thing I would say is to work with the body and the mind because sensitive strivers tend to get caught in their own heads, as many of us do. But as coaches, we can also fall into the trap of wanting to rationalize our way through a problem and think our way through it and that's not always possible, especially with someone who is more energetically sensitive, you have to work with what's going on in their body, which I know is something you believe in and do a lot of work around.
Lee: Yeah, the connection, the semantic connection, between our body sensations, where something exists in the body, how it shows up energetically, when we can take that and allow it to inform the thoughts, the feelings, the memories and the sensations that we're experiencing. It just gives us a much more holistic starting point when we're working with our clients. So number one, then, is to really honor the client's somatic experience. So how it's showing up physically and how that's informing their energy as well.
Melody: Absolutely, and there's a very practical side to this, which is that for someone who is more sensitive, their anxiety and their fear response can sometimes be so intense that it blocks them from rational thinking. So really as a coach training yourself, educating yourself, on ways to help clients manage their nervous system response and really understanding the neuroscience and the biology of how the fear response works. How do you calm it down for someone? How do you recognize when that's happening? This is really crucial for this type of personality because if their sensitivity is completely unbalanced, it's going to be hard for them to access action steps and more productive thinking.
Lee: That makes a lot of sense. So really honoring that, validating it and giving a time and space before rushing into, “okay, what's our goals? What are we going to do next?”, because I would think if we don't do that, if we rush into that, we're just kind of reinforcing that inner drive component and adding to the pressure, which is, as you mentioned, with sensitivity just going to kind of create this feedback loop that's not serving the client at all.
Melody: Yep, exactly. So first, we have working with the body and the mind, second, focus less on fixing, and focus more on how to channel their superpowers. It gets to what you were saying about the inner drive piece, they always want to be better, they always want to be fixing their weaknesses, and, “tell me how I can be more and do more”, rather than figuring out how to channel the superpowers they already have. Many of my clients come to me wanting to not be sensitive anymore, at first. And they will come to me saying, “I have a colleague and they are so gregarious and they're never fazed by things that happen at work, and they can get up there and speak spontaneously in front of people. They don't need time to process and think about what they're saying”, and they're trying to be someone they're not. So when I work with those types of people kind of putting that aside, I try to look for what's underlying their desire to want to live up to that. And many times, they think that is some sort of ideal, it's the perfectionism of wanting to be something they're not. And so really looking at instead, how can we help them channel their superpowers and do things in their own way. So one just very concrete example, when I'm working with clients around speaking up at work. And a lot of them will say like, “I want to be that person that can think of things on the spot”, and that's very hard for someone who's more introverted and sensitive, because you need time to think and process before you speak. That's just how it works. Whereas someone who is more extroverted, speaks, and then figures out what they're saying as they're speaking. So it's a totally different way of processing. So with those sensitive clients, we will remove the pressure of having to think of something grandiose to say in that meeting. And instead, I always have them do the follow up strategy, which is, after the meeting, when that idea dawns on them that they wanted to share, follow up with whoever the important stakeholders were. And so you know, I reflected on our conversation, here was something that came up for me, and working with them to help them realize that that is what actually helps them stand out and sets them apart, because no one does that, that is their superpower, and that that can help differentiate them. So really looking for ways to help them lean into doing it their way, and figuring out how that can be an advantage.
Lee: I love that approach, Melody, because it removes any sort of judgment or shame around who a person is and how they engage with others in the world. And this idea that just because maybe they don't do things, the way our society has said is the preferred or ideal way doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with them. And in fact, it's precisely because they approach things differently, that they bring something new to the table that they have more to offer. And so flipping the script on this, and having clients view themselves through a different lens, I think is so powerful, and I think is also going to create shifts in someone's work culture, ideally, society in general. So we can really value these different perspectives and these different ways of approaching work, relationships, life, you name it. So taking that strengths based approach just really resonates with me.
Melody: Exactly, exactly. And then the final idea, I would say, for people who are coaching and supporting sensitive strivers, is to help them tap into their intuition. I know intuition is very important for you, I can see you getting excited. But intuition, you know, I think in popular culture, it's treated as something that's “woowoo” and spiritual and it can absolutely be and it is, but again, I'm a very practical person and intuition has a very practical side, which is it's your accumulated experiences, your lived experiences, your preferences, memories, as you were saying before, that vibe that you had, that gut sense that you had, when you enter that house, you were only able to put the pieces together afterwards. But your intuition was sending you a message in that moment. And so sensitive strivers have that in spades, they have a much deeper intuition, because they're processing the world more deeply, they have a deeper bank of knowledge to pull from, but we often don't, because we're paying attention to what other people expect of us. We're trying to people please, we're trying to live up to a standard of success that other people have set for us, we're very externally focused. So helping clients tap into their intuition is very, very crucial to build that muscle that has atrophied over years of socialization and not being used.
Lee: So you know me, I so value the role of intuition in our life. And I think you're exactly right, that while it can be magical, and this kind of like, “how did this happen?”, experience, it's also true that each and every person has been gifted with an intuition. We all have access to this. It's a question of how can we tap into it and honor it. And for sensitive strivers, it's not so much maybe like, how do I tap into this but more recognizing, “oh, this is my intuition speaking, jow can I listen to that? How can I honor that and just as with everything else, allow it to really inform the way that I'm going to engage moving forward?”.
Lee: Very cool. All right, so the last question that I want to ask you, is about coaches who themselves are sensitive strivers. So definitely you, probably me, and probably a lot of the people who are listening right now, because I would think that there are really specific issues that sensitive striver coaches need to address, especially when they're thinking about how to support their clients while maintaining boundaries and growing their business. And so I'm just curious, from your perspective, if you have any best practices for coaches who identify as sensitive strivers?
Melody: This could be a very long list, so I will try to keep it to my top tips. So the first. and something that's been very crucial for me. is defining the conditions under which I do my best work. And that has largely come down to how I manage my energy. And so for me, I have for years now probably since we've met, I have worked with a structure where I have several coaching days a week. So I have two full coaching days a week where I am on and that is all I do is coach, and I can be in that mode. And then the rest of the week, I can be in content creation, more strategic mode, and it's crucial for me to not have to task switch between clients and writing and administrative work. That is just a huge drag on my energy. So blocking my time in that way helps me really, really be present. So that would be my first thing.
Lee: Yes, and that's a strategy that has worked really well, for me too. And in fact, in Episode 45
of the podcast, I talked about Planning Your Ideal Week
, and time blocking is one of the strategies that we cover because when you can really focus a good chunk of time on a particular activity or topic, you're going to get a depth to your work. That's not possible when you're constantly task switching, so I love that strategy and it makes so much sense why that would be particularly helpful for sensitive strivers.
Melody: Yes, yes, and then alongside that is setting boundaries, you mentioned that. This is a lesson I have been learning over the past year or so that is, it's very difficult for me to learn every time and you know that you have helped coach me through it. And by setting boundaries, I mean everything, from the times that you allow clients to book with you. So I used to be very lax about, “oh, if someone can't do the two days I have coaching, okay, I'll squeeze them in on another day”. And really setting boundaries, especially more recently, around only working with absolutely ideal clients. Because as a helper personality, as a sensitive driver, I want to be of service, I want to make an impact. I want to help as many people as possible but then I end up stretching myself too thin. I'm many times not the best coach to help that person and it's better to say no, as difficult as it is, and to really hold firm on those boundaries. So that is a lesson I keep learning over and over again.
Lee: Me too, my friend. Me too. And I have to remind myself that saying no to one thing allows me to say yes to something else. But if I keep saying yes to everything, then I'm going to run out of capacity. So yes it's a lesson that I keep learning, and relearning, and relearning myself too, but it is so important.
Melody: It's true. Yes, and one way I've done this is I've really over the years, very tightly defined my consultation process. So there's very clear criteria to even sign up for a consultation with me. And I let people know certain, crucial expectations upfront, so they can self filter out. And that has really helped a lot, because everybody's on the same page, going into that consultation call going into the first session. It's very clean, energetically.
Lee: And I think that's so important – boundaries serve everyone. Definitely serves us as coaches, but when our clients or potential clients know what to expect, of us and from us, then it helps them too and they don't have any anxiety about what's coming next, or can I do this, and so it really is a win win, when we're clear about them from the beginning.
Melody: Absolutely. Then on the ambition side, not getting caught up in the comparison game, and what I mean by that is yes, comparing yourself to people on social media, but also, this desire to learn, can lead you to hoard knowledge. So especially early on in my coaching business, I would learn everything and anything about Facebook ads, about creating courses, any topic that was somehow even tangentially related to running a business, I would learn because I wanted to know everything when I needed it. So I'm very high input. Again, sensitive drivers are great at taking in a large amount of information and then synthesizing it, that's one of our superpowers, which I am, I'm good at that. But I would overload myself, and then feel like I wasn't doing enough, I wasn't keeping up, everyone was so far ahead of me, and so I have really cut all of that out. I barely follow any marketing experts, or business related podcasts, especially over the last year when I've been writing my book. I cut out pretty much all other nonfiction because I wanted my material to be as original as possible and come from me, not be informed by all of the ideas of other people.
Lee: If I could highlight that, I would, that this idea that we really do have to take control of what we allow to come into our space, and that means content as well. And it doesn't mean that a particular book or podcast or market or whatever isn't important or valuable. It just means you don't need that right now. And understanding kind of how to manage that access to you and to your headspace, I think is so critical.
Melody: Exactly. Yeah, and it comes down to valuing yourself. Because when you don't respect your own headspace, when you don't respect your own boundaries, you'll let anyone and everything walk over it. And I think that was my problem for a long time is, I wanted to be everything to everyone to feel good enough, rather than respecting myself first.
Lee: That's a really powerful lesson, something I'm definitely still working on in my life. I like to think I've gotten better at it over the years. But again, I think as we grow as our businesses grow, we're going to be presented with new opportunities to put these strategies into practice. And we're going to be tested and that comes with it. You know, it's that whole “new level, new devil” concept. And so it's just another opportunity for us to figure out, how can we use our strengths as sensitive strivers to really support us through this opportunity?
Melody: Exactly, and that perfectly leads into my last point that I wanted to share, that for me, fully integrating and owning my sensitivity in my marketing has been a game changer, an absolute game changer. From the niching perspective, of course, niching down to sensitive strivers has been so clarifying, in terms of, for me, really cutting out any indecision, it really just gave me a very firm direction to move towards and orient. It's like my North Star, that I orient everything I do around and it's a differentiator in the market. It's a term I coined, it's an identity that people in my audience and my clients can step into and own and be proud of. So we have the niche side but then we also have integrating the strengths of my sensitivity into my marketing, and how I talk about how I'm different as a coach. So I'm very clear about what my strengths are as a coach and I will always say to people on consultations, I'm the type of person where you could throw a ton of background and information at me and I will pretty immediately get to the heart of what changes we need to make for you and what levers we need to pull to help you see the biggest results and that's because of that ability to synthesize as a sensitive striver. And then also talking about in my marketing that my really brand, as a coach, is that combination of empathy and discipline, that I'm not a drill sergeant, I am empathetic, I am kind, they will help you work through challenges in a very supportive way but I will also hold you accountable. That really appeals to the type of clients that come to work with me, because they've had bad experiences with coaches before or in therapy, and so I've really infused a lot of that sensitive striver brand into how I talk about how I coach as well.
Lee: Excellent. I've so enjoyed having you on the show, Melody, thank you so much, you have just provided such valuable information to our listeners, to me. I mean, I benefit from every conversation we have. So I'm just really grateful for you coming on the show and introducing us to the world of sensitive strivers and giving us a new way to talk about the work that we do with our clients and the work that we do as coaches. So thank you.
Melody: Thank you so much for having me. I love every conversation we have, and I hope today was helpful for people.
Lee: I have no doubt it was and will be and that people are going to want to follow up with you. So where is the best place for people to learn more about you and the work you do and to connect with you?
Lee: Absolutely. I'm so excited for this book, you have no idea. I will definitely make sure there's a link to order it on Amazon in the show notes. And I want to put in a little plug that Melody is going to be the Guest Expert Trainer in the Coach with Clarity Membership in 2021. So if you want to learn more from her, then definitely hop into the membership, CoachwithClarity.com/membership
, and we will get you all set up with everything you need to build and grow your coaching practice, including a special training with Melody that is going to be fantastic. So thank you, my friend so much for coming on the show. It has been such a pleasure.
Melody: Thank you so much.