Highly Sensitive and High Achieving with Melody Wilding

August 23, 2021

Melody Wilding is on the show today and we’re breaking down how you can be highly sensitive and highly successful. We share our own stories of accepting our introverted and highly sensitive personalities, plus how you can use these qualities to thrive instead of just ‘get by’ in the workplace.

Melody and I discuss:

  • Championing your introversion and sensitivity as a superpower
  • Understanding your emotional brain in decision making
  • Signs that you may be highly sensitive
  • How to cope with sensitivity in the corporate world
  • Melody’s experience of writing a book as a sensitive person

Melody helps her clients break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively. You can learn how to work with her on her website.

Melody’s book recommendation for the Ambitious Introvert:
Trust Yourself and Thanks for the Feedback

Episode Resources:

Connect with Melody:

Connect with Me:

Click here for a raw, unedited transcript of this episode

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:00:00] Hi guys, welcome to this week’s episode of the ambitious introvert podcast. I’m Emma Louise. And a couple of months ago, I did some market research, which some of you very kindly took part in. And I was lucky enough to get all my 70 responses to the short survey. Just asking about my audience about what you guys need, how you identify your biggest struggles in business, what you would love to achieve all of those things and something that came back that really surprised me.

Obviously it didn’t surprise me that the majority of my audience were ambitious introverts. However, over 60% of my audience are also highly sensitive, which obviously fills my heart because I’m a little bit biased being both myself, but it really made me think about the content that I’m putting out there.

And the fact that some of the. Waste I feel are the things that I share with you guys match will be down to my sensitivity rather than just my introversion, but I am committed to bringing you the best people to talk to you about everything that I can. And so I’m absolutely thrilled to hand over to today’s guest and allow her to introduce herself.


Melody Wilding: [00:01:10] thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:01:13] So please tell the audience who you are and a little bit more about the work that you do. 

Melody Wilding: [00:01:17] Of course, I am melody wilding. I am a executive and leadership coach for people I call sensitive strivers, which we can talk more about, but those are people who are both highly sensitive and high achieving.

And I am also the author of trust yourself. Stop overthinking, and channel your emotions for success. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:01:38] I think you’ll have most of my audience that stop over thinking because we definitely relate. So what I love about your work and when I came across you, I was like, this is incredible that you’re blending this, oh, these people that highly sensitive, these very emotive people that we are, these very motive beings with you are also type a high achieving and super successful.

And just show them that we can be both. 

Melody Wilding: [00:02:05] Absolutely. And it’s a tremendous asset. We need that more than ever in, in business and leadership in our workplaces today, people who are thoughtful and empathetic, but also conscientious driven to make an impact are willing to do the things that other people won’t.

We need that sort of problem solving, critical thinking people, skills, collaboration, more than ever before. So it is a tremendous. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:02:31] So, would you mind sharing with us a little bit more about your background and how you came to be in this position? Yeah. 

Melody Wilding: [00:02:37] Of course. So my background definitely getting to this position, it feels like synchronicity now that who I am and what I do are very much one in the same, but did not always feel that way.

So getting here was a personal and professional journey. So on the professional side, um, by background, I am a licensed social worker. So started my career in, uh, research psychology. Studied neuroscience. I have a background as a therapist. And so really bring that, um, psychological, managing your thoughts and your emotions for greater success.

Really bringing that lens into my work. And even now I teach human behavior at the graduate level. So all of that definitely enters into everything I do. Uh, but on the personal side, uh, Called my whole life. I’ve been told that you are, why are you so sensitive? You take everything. So personally, even as a child was so deeply affected by everything that went on around me, even to just watching movies or books and getting emotional over that.

Uh, and I never had the words for it, or I thought it was a weakness. I thought it wasn’t an adequacy within myself that I didn’t have a thick skin. And. Really came to hide and stifle that part of myself until actually early on in my career had a very severe burnout where a lot of my sensitive qualities being unbalanced turned into a lack of boundaries.

People pleasing, overworking, pushing myself to my limits, uh, that my body just stopped me. And it was a turning point in my career where I realized. I need to turn all the tools that I have from my background on myself. And around that same time also began coaching professionals and business leaders. Um, and now flash forward 10 years, that is what I do is work with, um, fortune 500 executives and managers, as well as many small business owners and entrepreneurs and CEOs to really help them figure out how do we channel both our sensitivity and our ambition, that combination into.

From something that can sabotage us into our superpower 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:04:53] and it is a super power. And that is something that I try to champion whenever I can. That it’s not a weakness. It’s not something that you need to try to change. You need to understand the use. Correct. It is the thing that will propel you 

Melody Wilding: [00:05:08] forwards.

That’s perfectly said that, especially, you know, we’re not giving, we’re not given the tools to understand what it means to be someone who is sensitive. Uh, we don’t understand, like I was saying, I didn’t until I was in my twenties, did not understand that, oh, this is a part of my personality. This is actually.

Really that my brain works differently. It processes deeper that also sensitive people have more active mirror neurons, which is why we are better at empathizing and really understanding behavioral nuances, but never valued those things, especially would have people tell me all the time. Oh, you’re so empathetic.

You’re so caring and compassionate. But didn’t really see or have the right words to articulate how that was an advantage in my career. And then definitely in my business. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:06:03] I interviewed Dr. Katie Lawson a couple of months ago for the show who is also an expert in high sensitivity. And I find it really interesting because it’s how I’ve always felt.

And you’ve both articulated it. Um, if you, excuse the pun that you can’t find the words sometimes to describe how you feel. And Dr. Katie said that she wants to say something to her husband sometimes. A piece of music or a piece of art. And she said she gets so emotional because she, the way she feels, she can’t actually put it into speech.

Melody Wilding: [00:06:38] 100%. I can completely relate to that, that you just get these senses or intuitively. Many times because we have deeper intuition we’re, we’re taking in more information, we’re scanning the environment more deeply and we’re processing that in a more complex way. We’re synthesizing it. We’re seeing connections that other people miss.

And so we can get these almost like semantic and, uh, like subconscious responses to things that we don’t have language. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:07:13] I was reading something a while ago about tapping into your intuition, because it’s something that I’m really interested in working on. Um, I didn’t know that I was highly sensitive until I was 39, by the way.

So I’m playing catch up at the moment, but people talk about Clare Voyance Sinclair audience, and I don’t relate to that whatsoever. I actually, in this article and it said about Claire Sentium. Was like when you just feel something and you just know it. And that really struck me because there’s like so many times throughout my life.

I’ve been in that situation where you just have a sense and you can’t explain why you don’t see a vision. You don’t hear voices, but you just know something. 

Melody Wilding: [00:07:56] Yeah. And it’s because we’re our bank of information of our memories. Our knowledge to pull from is like a deeper, well than many other people have because we have taken in so much more.

We process so deeply, we analyze that more. So your mind goes through this. Incredibly fast and fractions of microsecond kind of indexing all your past experiences and saying, what does this remind me of? And we also have that more, you know, our emotional brains are more active, which leads to that response, which is it’s really fascinating.

I completely relate to that too. Where your gut sense you just have, I kind of liken it to like a, um, a traffic light where you kind of get a big flashing red. You kind of get a yellow slow down. Or a green light, go ahead. This is exactly the right thing to do for yourself. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:08:47] And you can’t say why you just know you’re trying to say to someone, but I just feel it.

And they look at you like what, where’s the data? Where’s the evidence you’re like, no, I just know. So I think you made a really interesting point there about the emotional brain. And I have always said that I have a photographic memory, but it’s not for data. I can’t learn lists of things. I’m not great with maths or, you know, learning formulas or I couldn’t read a book and then regurgitate it.

But if you play me a song that was out when I was a teenager and asked me what year it was out, I can tell you where, because I can tell you exactly where I was, who I was with. Season it was and everything like tying back into that feeling around that song. 

Melody Wilding: [00:09:34] 100%. I get that all the time. And it’s funny, you mentioned that this morning, my fans may fiance and I were listening to a song and it happened that I knew someone who was in the band for this song.

And I flashed back to that moment where I met that person and how I felt and like felt my stomach flip, like I did at that time. And it’s really remarkable how our emotions. Emotional brain and emotional memory, really just in codes, those things in your bone. It’s really fantastic. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:10:04] And then it can go back so many years.

Books are another one for me, a book that I’ve read, I can tell you where I was on vacation when I read it, or was it when I was in my corporate job and I used to read it on my break or did I read it when I was at home? And then I, because I think it’s that emotional connection, especially with fiction.

Just like music when we connect with something, it embeds so deeply inside us. 

Melody Wilding: [00:10:28] Yeah. Yeah. It’s really beautiful. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:10:30] So the people that you work with, are they always aware that they highly sensitive? 

Melody Wilding: [00:10:39] No. Uh, I think most people are, you know, like you and I, I found out later in my adulthood that I was someone who was highly sensitive to, they have this, they have this knowing.

They experienced the world differently than people around them, that they feel things that they’re more affected by what happens around them. For example, a lot of my clients will say they’re really impacted by feedback that someone can make a throwaway comment, but then that sticks with them for days and they can.

Ruminate on it or, or think about it, um, or that they just seem to take things in a, in a more intense way than their colleagues, or they are much more deliberate and think before they act where everybody else just worked so quickly and makes decisions so quickly. And that’s another hallmark of sensitivity is really pausing before you act and being deliberate and thoughtful.

Your actions. And so they know that they’re different, but they don’t necessarily know that they’re highly sensitive or many times they don’t want to admit that because there are so many negative associations in our society. And especially in the workplace in business world with being sensitive, right.

That it, we equate it to something that is bad or weakness. And so, um, yes, they have this knowing, but they don’t exactly. They can’t exactly pinpoint. And 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:12:05] I will put my hand up and say, I was guilty of that. I would have looked at sensitivity as someone that would kept bursting into tears or, you know, all of, all of those things.

Like I always knew that I was different. I’m not overly emotional. I’m not. Crier. So I would never have put myself in that bracket. And I actually purchased Dr. Aron’s book because I saw it and thought it was quite interesting. And I thought it would help a client and a friend of mine. So that’s why I purchased the book.

Put it aside. Didn’t think about it for a few weeks. And I read the introduction and I went, oh, I think this is me talking about bright lights and crowded places and, you know, the way the light bulb can be slightly flickering and no one else will notice, but you’ll have a migraine. And I was like, oh, I think I’m this.

And I went into the quiz and I got 24 out of 28. Wow. 

Melody Wilding: [00:13:01] Wow. Oh, my gosh. Yeah. I had the exact same experience. I thought my whole life, I really identified with being an introvert, right. That I was someone who needed to preserve my energy. And when I read came across Dr. Aron’s book, just by happenstance, I forget exactly how, but it was, it was similar.

I sort of just stumbled across it and was like, well, I guess I’ll give this a read. And when I read it, Oh, my gosh, the world opened up and I felt like all the puzzle pieces is finally made sense and, and felt this is it. Yes, I am introverted. And that, the way I gain my energy back is by alone time and being by myself, I need that.

But. I am also fundamentally highly sensitive. Like you were saying, just affected by everything around you smells since, um, even stress I am. If I get stressed, everything is off kilter. My whole body reacts. My whole nervous system is just extremely sensitive to changes and fluctuations that happen. So for 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:14:08] me, it’s quality sleep.

If I don’t get quality sleep. I can’t even, I can’t even function. And I w I will be in tears, not because I’m upset or there’s anything I’m so tired. Um, and I track my deep sleep. Now I’ve got an aura ring tracker, but I know when I wake up, I look at that. So I already know before I sync it in the morning, I’m like, I didn’t have enough sleep.

No, not a good night. And, um, like for example, my average is around one hour 50 of deep, like that’s good. I’m, I’m happy with that. Maybe two hours, 30 of REM the last week, few nights in a row. 22 minutes. Oh yeah, he is. It’s just those small things and they knock me physiologically and emotionally. For six.

Melody Wilding: [00:15:04] Sure. Yeah, sure, absolutely. I, I feel you on that. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:15:08] So the people that are in corporate, I’m going to say corporate America, just because you’re in America, but in the corporate world as well. How do the sensitive people cope with things like open plan offices or, you know, free for all meetings or all of those things that even just thinking about make me feel.

I’m already toasted 

Melody Wilding: [00:15:30] with difficulty, especially when they don’t understand their sensitivity or how to deal with it. So open plan offices in particular were really problematic for sensitive people because you can feel like you’re being observed or you’re being watched. And that really that sensation that, oh my gosh, I’m being judged really.

Sensitive people overstimulated. So that was very difficult for a lot of people. Um, and as you were saying, meetings being put on the spot, having to think of a thought or something smart to say, just in that moment, when you’ve had no time to prepare also really challenging and something, I still work on with clients all the time, but that is why learning skills like setting boundaries, especially in the.

In the open plan office situation. I had many clients where we devised certain systems where if they had a sign faced a certain way, people, it was okay to sort of interrupt them, tap them on the shoulder and say, ask a question if the sign was the other way, that was their deep work time. Um, so really being able to create those boundaries structures really.

Becoming skilled at more assertive communication to say, Hey, this is what I need to be at my best. So I’m going to make their requests that we. You know that I not be interrupted during X time and Y time. So those skills really matter as does, you were talking about speaking up in meetings. So I am constantly working with clients on developing certain scripts and talk tracks for being able to reply and perform under pressure like that instead of freezing and to also manage our own physiology.

Because as sensitive people really being sensitive just means you have a more highly calibrated, highly attuned, nervous system. And so if we are already stressed, if our mind is filled with self critical negative thoughts to begin with, if we’re already overburdened and you then go into that meeting and you are caught off.

You are going to be overstimulated so much more easily. Then if you had time to prepare and look through the agenda and consider who’s going to be in this call and what might they ask, uh, or can I email someone in advance and say, Hey, what’s your biggest question, going into this meeting. So really being able to manage your own physiology in terms of bringing down your level of stimulation before those types of situation, creating some of those proactive.

Structures and, um, dynamics. So you’re getting what you need is really crucial. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:18:13] My audience know this about me, but you obviously don’t because we’re just speaking for the first time today. So I was an air traffic controller before I ran my business. So I did that for 17 years and the training to become an air traffic controller is three years.

And I worked at the equivalent, the London equivalent of New York TRACON and for three years, Someone sat, watch and meet someone, sat on my shoulder. Because I was either on a simulator, you’re learning how to do it with an instructor watching. And for the last nine months of my training, I was working on live traffic.

So I was working on actual aircraft on the actual radar screen and they had an override button, but someone was there and I got feedback after every 30 minutes session. So about four or five times a day, then I got a report at the end of the day. Then I got a report, every X number of training hours, and then to get my license.

Two people watched me for the whole day to catch up. And it’s so funny looking back because I people say it’s the most stressful job in the world and blah, blah, blah. I never found the job stressful, but I found people sat watching me extremely stressful. I 

Melody Wilding: [00:19:23] can understand that I want, and that’s, that’s an incredible story by the way.

Uh, I once, um, quit a job because I, it was in a extremely small workspace. Like the room was about the size of the room I’m in now, which is it’s not large. And it was about eight people and you pretty much sat back to back and everyone could just see what everyone was working on and, you know, Jump kind of like stepping over each other to walk through, to get to the door out of the office.

It was, it was horrible. I couldn’t take it. And I just said, I can’t do this. I can’t, I can’t work like this. And I quit. That was not the only reason, but that was one of the big reasons that it just, it couldn’t work. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:20:08] You saying about being back to back with someone, do you ever have that sense? You know, if you’re stood in line somewhere and you just know that someone is too close to you, you haven’t turned around, but you’ve just got that absolute sense that someone is right in your personal space.

Melody Wilding: [00:20:21] Oh, 100%. And walking down the street, you can, I am that person who will sense when someone’s 50 feet away and you need to move to the other side of the sidewalk so they can pass. Yeah. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:20:32] I love the awareness, but. And this is what I tried to say to people that are non HSP. This is why it’s exhausting because you’re oblivious.

You’re walking around just going, oh, what a lovely day. And I’m going, yeah, that car’s just turned with that indicator. And there’s someone 50 yards behind me here. I’m going to have to watch because there’s a dog there and it may have just messed on the pavement and someone has, and you’ve taken in so much information all of the time.

It’s like a running commentary in your heads. 

Melody Wilding: [00:20:59] Exactly. Yes. And, you know, In my book, I actually offer a framework for thinking about our quality specifically as sensitive strivers, because we have that achievement piece in there. But, uh, one of the qualities is vigilance. Like you were saying, we’re so attuned and attentive to our surroundings, attentive to the needs of other people, which is incredible and beneficial was very useful.

Especially in prehistoric times to have someone in the group that was scanning the environment, looking for danger, or just thinking and deliberating before acting. But now if that quality is on overdrive, you’re right. It’s like we have our antennas up all the time and we’re just constantly taking in information and that it drains your battery.

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:21:47] I always find, um, like when I was in corporate, for instance, when I was a controller, if people were having a conversation behind me, so difficult for me to block that out in, I got headphones on and I’m listening to the radio, but I couldn’t help, but hear what was going on over there, the side of the room.

And, you know, it can be a real blessing because you’re very, self-aware like in yoga, When there’s a dripping tap or just something going on, you’re like, I’m really trying to be focused table. All I can hear is that one small noise in the 

Melody Wilding: [00:22:16] next room. Yes, totally know what you’re saying. So how 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:22:21] was the experience of writing a book as a sense of person?

Melody Wilding: [00:22:27] It was, you know, it was actually really a personal development journey. So the book took five years to really. Come to fruition. And most of that time was me figuring out what I was trying to say and what I was writing about. So this, what, what is trust yourself today? And the idea of sensitive strivers did not start anywhere close to that.

It was really started as a. A book about women in the workplace and confidence. I was really writing a book proposal that I thought publishers would like, and it was a people pleaser side of me that I just want to be the good girl. I want to get the gold star. I want people to like me and I will morph to whatever anybody else’s expectation of that is.

And luckily. Wonderful advisors around me who said, uh, my agent in particular said, I don’t think this is the book you want to write. So take your time, take this back, figure out what you do want, right. And what you can spend about three to 10 years of your career talking about, and then let’s revisit this.

And so thus commenced, several years of wrestling of trying to figure out. Who am I talking to? What’s the real core problem. And with each draft that I wrote, uh, I would get kind of a step closer, but I was really dancing around this idea of sensitivity. I didn’t want to touch it because it felt, uh, it felt scary for me to admit that and to talk about being a sensitive person since it was something that for my whole life, I had really hid and stifled, but I also think.

Who who is going to want to talk about that? And this, this isn’t a real thing. It’s not a real problem for people. Um, but in a moment of frustration, what ended up happening is that I was really struggling with the proposal and writing the idea. And I took to a whiteboard and I wrote down all of the different challenges that my clients struggle with.

And they started grouping them together, kind of in like a mind mapping. I stood back and it became very clear. It was like a lightning bolt moment where. Oh, it is this sensitivity piece. It’s the being emotionally in touch and in tune and being a deep thinker, but all of those downsides that can come along with it, but it is the striving side.

It’s the high achievement. It’s the overwork. It’s perfectionism. It’s the desire to make an impact and, and learn and grow and advance. Oh, it’s those two things together. It’s the sensitivity and the striving and that sort of hit me like a lightning bolt. Sensitive striver. And then my neck. Reaction was, oh, that’s really stupid.

No, honey, that’s really cheesy. No one is going to want, no one is going to take that seriously. Um, but luckily it was one of those ideas that wouldn’t leave me. And I said, you know, I really think there’s something there. I think there’s something there. And I started floating it to, uh, colleagues, to people in my office.

And that was where I followed the bread. Crumbs of you were talking about market research and that was, I followed the breadcrumbs of putting this idea in front of people and saying, Hey, how do you respond to this? How does this land with you? And the response was always, oh my gosh, how are you in my head?

This is me. And so from there kept building out the idea and really reflecting back on my own experiences, but those of my clients and building frameworks and sharing all the tools that have worked for them. 

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:26:11] Well, this leads me very nicely into my final question, which is as always, which book would you recommend to any ambitious introverts listening and highly sensitives, of course, who are looking to grow and scale their online business.

Melody Wilding: [00:26:28] Of course. So I’m going to recommend trust yourself of cool. But another one of my favorite books, one that has really helped me as a business owner is thanks for the feedback by Sheila keen and Douglas Stone. Fantastic book. If you are someone who ever feels very hurt or you feel like you are someone who takes feedback personally, whether that is market research, a comment on social media, a client share some feedback with you, fantastic book at really understanding the different types of feedback, uh, but also how to get better at both receiving it and giving.

Emma-Louise Parkes: [00:27:07] Well, I haven’t read it. So that is one that is going on my list that thank you so much for sharing that. I am going to pop all of your links in the show notes, as well as the links to the books. And thank you so so much for coming and sharing all of your HSP wisdom with us. 

Melody Wilding: [00:27:23] It was such a pleasure to be here.

Thank you so much.