How learning Sensory Intelligence®️ improved my career

If you would ask me whether I knew, I’d have to be honest and say yes, I did.
Deep down, did I know that I needed to pivot in my professional life? Yes.
Deep down, did I realize my time was running out for my chosen career path? Yes.
Deep down, did I acknowledge that a change was needed to ensure longevity? Yes.

Having said that…
Did I understand why a change was necessary? No.
Did I grasp the consequences of continuing on the same career path? No.
Did I have any idea which detour to follow? No.

Let me sketch the background for you. When I registered to study Occupational Therapy, I already had my area of special interest mapped out in my mind: paediatrics! Learning about and working with the human body and brain, and applying it to children was my number one choice when asked what I wanted to do with my life. The other answer was simply that I wanted to live a happy life.

And so, after 4 years of studies, I graduated in 1999 and, for the following 20 years, helped children with a variety of difficulties overcome their weaknesses and reach their potential. The children’s hugs, laughter, playfulness and innocence were like a tonic and I loved spending time with the little ones.
For the first 14 years, I worked in consulting rooms and did mainly individual therapy. Throughout this time there were never more than two therapists working in adjacent rooms simultaneously. Sessions were scheduled ahead of time and I was able to plan my days and be in control of my time and space.

In 2013 we moved to a small coastal town in the Eastern Cape. A wonderful opportunity presented itself: I would be able to move my practice to a prestigious school which most of the youngsters from our- and neigbouring towns attended. I was so grateful that everything was falling into place.

  • Although the school was 70km away from home, I would be able to commute making use of the school bus.
  • The location of my new consultation- and therapy room would be adjoining the pre-primary and primary school. Most of my little clients ranged from 3-12 years old.
  • Communication and collaboration with teachers and other therapists would be easy since we would see each other during break time in the staff room.
  • I would be able to observe my little clients’ through my practice window during their free play time and could learn so much about their strengths and difficulties.
  • During my daily 2 x one-hour bus rides, I would be able to use the commuting time to get a lot of admin done.

Everything went smoothly and I couldn’t have asked for a better school to establish my practice.
After a few years of traveling to and from school, I began to realize that my energy levels were dropping, my anxiety levels were rising and I was becoming a less likable person to be around at home.
But how could this be? I loved spending time with my therapy kids and was blessed to have the opportunity to be part of such an amazing school with the best teachers and involved parents.

In February 2017 I attended Dr. Annemarie Lombard’s Comprehensive Practitioners Training Course and this is when the penny dropped for me.
After completing my own Sensory Matrix™ and unpacking the results during the course, I realized what the issue was: I am a sensory avoider with low sensory thresholds trying to make it work in an environment overloaded with constant sensory input.

  • My low threshold for sounds meant that I was easily overwhelmed by kids chatting to each other on the bus.
  • My low threshold for touch made it difficult for me to sit between two people on the bus and I easily became distressed.
  • As a sensory avoider, my preference for predictability made it hard to cope with people unexpectedly approaching me with questions first thing in the morning as I got off the bus, without warning.
  • My low auditory and visual thresholds caused havoc in my brain when the kids would play (as they should!) right outside my practice.
  • As a sensory avoider, my preference for smaller group interactions meant that I rarely visited the staff room during break times.
  • Due to my low threshold for movement, the 2 x one-hour bus rides filled with irregular movement dysregulated me early in the day.

During the Comprehensive Practitioners Training Course, I realized that my sensory style and my work environment at the time were not a match and as a result, I was in sensory overload for most of my work week. I realized this was not a sustainable option for me and explored different avenues of pivoting my service offerings to avoid burnout and ensure a lasting, productive, enjoyable, healthy career.

What changes have I made because of those AHA moments during the Practitioners Training Course?

  • I now know that I do not cope well with too much noise, so I work from home.
  • I now know that I work best when there is less visual input, so I’ve arranged my workspace (home office) and online workspace (desktop) to be calm and uncluttered.
  • I now know that I do not cope well with excessive, arhythmical movement, so I don’t do hands-on therapy with children anymore and therefore don’t need to change my body position excessively throughout the day. A leisurely walk and timed stretch breaks away from my desk do the trick to get the necessary movement to stay self-regulated.
  • I now know that individual- or small-group interactions work better for me, so I do individual, online, sensory coaching sessions and co-facilitate online workshops.

Because of my own personal AHA moments of self-awareness and self-acceptance, I am able to guide and empower my clients in their own life struggles and help them be the masters of their own sensational universe.

Not everyone needs to change their career paths, sometimes a small adjustment is all that is needed.
For me, pivoting according to my sensory needs resulted in big, positive outcomes.

I am again living a happy life (and I’ve heard that I’m again a more likable person at home… most of the time).

Thrive during changing times

During April, my hubby & I spent two weeks in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Usually, you need to make your booking to this popular destination months in advance, so when newly acquainted friends invited us along on their booking, we jumped at the opportunity. 

Spending two weeks in the wild with no internet connectivity forces you to take a (highly recommended) mental pause. After a few days of digital detox (even digital withdrawal if I must be completely honest), you begin to observe nature in a completely new way. Sadly, it’s only once you unlock your eyes and ears (your information senses) from digital screens and online information overload, that you start to discover Mother Nature’s long-forgotten life lessons,  freely available to those who make it a priority to spend time with her. 

Some of these lessons Mother Nature (and camping) reminded me of were:

  1. Know, accept and embrace your strengths & weaknesses
    When camping with new friends for the first time, you can easily ruin a beautiful friendship if you impose your camping rituals on others or if you try to be too adaptable, not taking your own needs into account. My hubby and I both enjoy quiet surroundings (we are auditory roots with low thresholds for auditory input which means we function best in an environment with LESS noise/sounds). We decided to venture out in our own car each morning and do our own morning game drive after lively, festive, enjoyable “kuiers” (aka gatherings) around the campfire at night. This helped us reduce our daily auditory input and resulted in 0% irritation caused by prolonged listening. When nighttime came we were ready (and looking forward) to join in conversation and story-telling around the campfire. By acknowledging our sensory needs, we contributed towards sustained harmony in the group and were able to bring back many happy memories from our trip… and a newly established friendship. We are all different (thank goodness) and can live happier lives when prioritizing and addressing our own sensory needs. It will benefit not only ourselves but those around us as well. To discover your own sensory style and needs, complete your Sensory Matrix™️ by following THIS LINK.
  2. Realign your preferences to your current environment & circumstances
    If you ask any South African, the image that comes to mind when thinking of the Kgalagadi would usually contain descriptions such as “dry”, “sand”, “hot”, “tough”, “harsh”. That’s because the park is situated in a semi-arid area. Animals living in this area have learned to survive and thrive in these harsh conditions. During the past few months, something magical happened though: the rains came (substantially more than in other years) and transformed the park into a green, grassy, lush habitat. As regular Kgalagadi visitors arrive, you can hear their astonishment at the unexpected, new landscape. What’s even more magical is how the animals have adapted to their new environment. No more jackals begging for a piece of meat from your “braai” grid at night. Game can be found throughout the park and is not restricted to staying close to waterholes because food is plentiful and easily available.
    The animals’ adaptations to their changed environment reminded me of our new remote working environments since the start of the pandemic and how some of us are still trying to adapt. Maybe we should stop trying to change and mould our environments and rather look at new opportunities to make small changes in how we live in this space. For instance, we’re all stuck in front of digital screens all day. It need not be a burden though. By making small adaptations such as adjusting your notifications settings and screen brightness, you can reduce your sensory overload caused by visual- and auditory input from your digital environment. Or by setting an alarm to go off every 45 minutes, notifying you to stand up and take a digital break away from your devices, you can increase your productivity, resilience, and wellness. 
  3. Make a deliberate choice to incorporate at least one healthy habit into your schedule every day
    Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984, once wisely used the old African proverb “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” What he was trying to explain was that every new task or circumstance in life that seems daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible at first can gradually be accomplished by taking one small step at a time.
    Our so-called “new world” is rapidly changing: from separate offices to open-plan offices; open-plan offices to immediate (chaotic, crisis-driven) remote working when the pandemic started; remote working to hybrid working… Who knows what’s coming next?! To not get swept up by these waves of change, we all need loads of resilience to ensure our own sustainability. How do we achieve this? By incorporating simple, effective strategies into our everyday life to promote our own wellness, mental health, and happiness. So whether you need to schedule regular stretch breaks, adjust your digital sound notifications or check in with a friend every day, include (and stick to) daily healthy habits for your own good. It’s the sensible thing to do. If you would like to join our learning revolution and get monthly tips on how to promote your own health and wellness SIGN UP HERE.

I have a renewed respect for Mother Nature following our visit to the Kgalagadi. Go with what life gives you and make small changes to get the best from new situations and environments. Stop fighting change (it’s exhausting anyway), rather embrace it… one bite at a time.