Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Andre Sólo Is Helping To Change Our World

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Stop hiding the things that make you weird or different.

I was always a misfit growing up. By adulthood, I had learned to blend in, mostly by pretending to be someone I was not. That never worked for me — it made me feel like more of an outsider than ever. It was only when I decided to be myself and rebuild my life around what works for me as a sensitive person, that I began to achieve things and thrive.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andre Sólo.

Andre Sólo is the author of Sensitive: The Hidden Power of the Highly Sensitive Person in a Loud, Fast, Too-Much World and the cofounder of Sensitive Refuge, the world’s largest website for sensitive people. Sólo writes about sensitivity as Psychology Today and Forbes, and has been featured in HuffPost, the Washington Post, Vogue, MSNBC, and The Telegraph, as well as numerous podcasts. A sensitive person himself, Sólo believes that the world needs more of what sensitive people have to offer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was always a sensitive kid. I grew up with loving but feisty working-class parents, and I don’t think they knew what to make of me — I shied away from conflict, had my head in the clouds, and was scared of everything. I also got overstimulated easily, which is normal for sensitive people, but none of us understood that at the time. That meant that recess was sometimes too much for me. In kindergarten, I would run away during recess and hide in an old storm sewer pipe until the bell rang to come in! At the time, I think my parents thought there was something wrong with me. We didn’t realize what it meant to be sensitive, or that it’s a gift — something nearly 1 in 3 people are born with that can help propel a person to success.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Like many sensitive people, I was a creative type, and one day my Dad gave me a copy of If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I think it was sort of his peace offering to me — like, he didn’t understand this sensitive dreamer he was raising, but he knew I wanted to be an author, so this was his way of helping the cause.

What opened my eyes about this book, though, was the way Ueland speaks to her audience. She doesn’t focus on technical advice — she speaks to your soul. She takes you apart and convinces you that you can actually do it. I’m sure I cried reading that book, and I filled the margins with scribbled notes. It just awoke something in me, because that book made me believe in myself.

Now I know that that kind of encouragement is rocket fuel for sensitive people. It’s something my co-author and I call the Sensitive “Boost Effect”: basically, the more sensitive you are, the more of a boost you get from support and resources. In one study, for example, couples on the brink of divorce were given couples counseling, and the people who scored highest for sensitivity were the ones who ended up saving their marriages. The same happens with career success or school grades or overcoming depression or just about anything you name — pound for pound, highly sensitive people who get support or mentoring will come out with measurably better results than less-sensitive people who get the same help.

This is why it’s so important for sensitive people to curate their environment. As kids, we can’t choose whether we have a supportive environment or not. But as adults, we can be very intentional about the people we let into our lives and the commitments we put on our calendar. Once a sensitive person starts to take charge over curating a healthy environment, they can basically make their own rocket fuel.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Yes — for years, I actually denied being sensitive, to the point that I would joke that I was a highly “insensitive” person. Even as I was researching this personality trait, I resisted seeing it in myself, because it carries such a stigma with it. I had spent too much of my life hearing that “sensitive” equals “weak.”

I think this is common for sensitive people — especially men, who are just as likely to be highly sensitive as women are. But all sensitive people, of any gender, face a stigma; we are told that we are “too” sensitive, or to “stop overreacting” or “toughen up.” But, we’re not overreacting. Rather, a sensitive person’s brain is wired to absorb and process more information than other people’s brains, effectively noticing what others miss. In a way, it might be more accurate to say that everyone else is under-reacting.

And that’s what I had to come to accept — that, sure, “sensitive” may be a dirty word to a lot of people, but if we embrace it, it actually gives us an edge.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I want to change the way we think and talk about being sensitive. Not just because it’s good for sensitive people themselves, but because it’s good for everyone. Just look at what sensitivity gives us:

Sensitive people score higher for empathy, which has become a dangerously scarce resource in our political environment. They are naturally creative and come up with innovative solutions — the things economic growth is built on. And they are wired to look for connections that others miss, to piece together the bigger picture and think holistically.

That’s exactly the approach that will allow us to overcome global threats like climate change.

Of course, like any personality trait, being sensitive comes with drawbacks, too. Sensitive people may need more time to think. They may struggle more with stress, and they can get overstimulated in crowded or fast-paced situations. But we need to start seeing these tradeoffs as the very small cost of a very big gift. That’s what I aim to change — it’s time to normalize being sensitive, and value it. Because the world needs more of what sensitive people have to offer.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In 1903, the world was roaring into the modern age. There were electric lights, picture houses, phonographs, and streetcars rushing people everywhere. All of this was new, and it was considered progress. So much so that the city of Dresden held a special exposition to show off how the city was modernizing. They invited a bunch of speakers — you can think of it like a South by Southwest of the steam era — and one of those speakers was the early sociologist, Georg Simmel.

Simmel was asked to speak about how modernity was changing the way we think. And he did — but not the way the presenters expected. He got up and gave a talk that basically said: we are all rushing everywhere all the time, with too many things to do and too many people packed in with us and too much information to try to absorb, and it’s burning us out. He said that one part of us can keep up — the part that just checks off tasks and gets things done — but the other part, the human part, runs out of mental energy. It gets overloaded. When it does, we stop feeling connected to one another, we put up walls, we stop caring.

That was more than a hundred years ago. Simmel didn’t have to compete with a smartphone with infinite streams of content. But he was right: humanity is a sensitive species, and there really is a limit to how much our brains can process without affecting our quality of life.

Simmel took a real risk with that lecture. The organizers of the event hated it, and it almost got cut from the published edition of the lecture series. (His editor even put a snarky note about it in the Introduction.) But it became his most talked-about work because people know it’s true: we can’t do everything all the time. We have limits. And we need to build those limits, not just our KPIs, into the modern world we’re building.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

When we were first researching and talking about sensitive people, my coauthor Jenn and I noticed the reaction we got in conversations. Often, somebody would make a joke about being “too” sensitive, and maybe give us their armchair lecture about people needing to toughen up. But then, inevitably, someone else would come up to us and more quietly say that they themselves are a highly sensitive person. Or their child is. Or their partner. And they would just start gushing — like they’d been holding this in forever and knew they couldn’t usually talk about it. That was when we knew, oh, this is a lot of people. This is something we have to talk about.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I got an email one day from an older man. This guy was in his 60s, and he had been sensitive his whole life, but he never had a word for it. He knew he felt things deeply, but he had been raised to mask that, to swallow it down. He knew he didn’t like all the ribbing and competition with his male friends, so he was mostly the quiet one. And he knew that he was different somehow, but he thought there was something wrong with him, so he just did his best to hide it.

But that gentleman somehow found our website, He told me he had broken down crying and that it was the first time he understood that he was a very sensitive person. He began to read all about sensitivity and started being open that he was sensitive himself.

That man lost sixty years by hiding who he was and buying into the idea that being sensitive is a weakness. But he was actually optimistic. He said it felt like he was finally being himself. We hear similar things from sensitive people of all ages — once they make the decision to embrace their sensitivity, everything changes.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Absolutely. First, employers need to take the time to read up on sensitivity and understand that sensitive people will be your top performers if you give them the environment they need. A person should be able to say in a job interview, “I’m a highly sensitive person,” and the manager’s first thought should be, “Okay, so I’ll want to make sure they can reserve time in a quiet meeting room to do their best work, and I’ll ask them to schedule a couple hours a day of deep work time where they can have their notifications off and just focus.” If the manager sticks to that practice, the results they will see are going to make them want to start recruiting sensitive people specifically.

Second, parents should know that the best thing they can do for a sensitive child is to see that sensitivity as a strength and work with their child to help develop it. For example, when going to a birthday party, tell your child that it’s okay if they hang out at the edge of the venue at first and watch for a few minutes before they join in. Let them know that if they get tired or upset or they just don’t want to be there any longer, it’s okay to leave early and they can just ask you to bring them home. This is you showing your child how to be aware of their own limits and handle their overstimulation in a healthy way. It may not sound as immediate as helping them “grow a thicker skin,” but it’s a skill that will pay off for them for the entire rest of their life. (The “thicker skin” approach, on the other hand, will probably just land them in therapy.)

Finally, as a society, it’s time for us to stop using “sensitive” as a dirty word. Do you know someone in your life who seems like a highly sensitive person? Try telling them sometime that you admire how sensitive they are. Are you sensitive yourself? See if you can start mentioning that to people.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership means not just getting a goal achieved, but developing stronger relationships with the people who help you achieve it. That second part is what sets apart true leaders — the individuals who can rally and unite people are the ones who can move mountains.

One example would be the woman who wrote the New Deal, Frances Perkins. Perkins devoted her life to helping the poor, and she treated them with respect while working just as hard as she wanted others to. That made people like her, and that in turn made her extremely effective. As she rose to higher and higher positions, other labor leaders resented her — they didn’t want a middle-class woman usurping their place. But there wasn’t much they could do about it, because virtually everyone she had worked with, from down-on-their-luck factory workers to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, admired and respected her.

Eventually, Roosevelt appointed Perkins as his Secretary of Labor — making her the first female Cabinet member in history. But she refused to take the job unless Roosevelt agreed to support all of her policies. He did, and she ended up authoring the New Deal. She did what no other labor leader had managed to do in decades of trying: she gave people a safety net. And she did it by leading the way that sensitive people lead: with compassion.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Stop hiding the things that make you weird or different.

I was always a misfit growing up. By adulthood, I had learned to blend in, mostly by pretending to be someone I was not. That never worked for me — it made me feel like more of an outsider than ever. It was only when I decided to be myself and rebuild my life around what works for me as a sensitive person, that I began to achieve things and thrive.

Success is a team sport.

It’s easy to get this idea that successful people are somehow these remarkable individuals who made it by sheer pluck or genius. That’s not how it works. People succeed because they make connections and work together. Yes, one person may have the vision, but the more collaborative and cooperative of a person you are, the farther that vision will go.

Stop arguing and ask questions.

I have a very skeptical mind. That’s a useful trait, but not nearly as useful as being curious. When someone says something that I disagree with, or even something I think I know is factually untrue, I try not to disagree. Instead, I try to ask open-ended questions. It’s amazing how often they turn out to mean something different than I initially thought, and I almost always learn something from their perspective whether we end up agreeing or not.

Emotions are neither right nor wrong. They just are.

Emotions are the most powerful force in the human mind, and that means most of us have no idea what to do with them. Some people assume emotions are illogical, and try to ignore them, and other people assume their emotions must always be right. I’ve tried both approaches in my life and neither one leads us anywhere good. Instead, I try to view my emotions like messenger birds — they come bearing useful information, but you don’t want to live your life by putting a bird in charge. Instead, I take time to understand what each one has to tell me, then step back a bit to make my own decision.

You’re not broken, you’re gifted.

Every trait you have comes with both strengths and weaknesses, and if you let others convince you to focus only on the weaknesses, you’ll always feel that they were right. Stop worrying about your weaknesses and focus on your strengths.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s the line, “Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness.” The line comes from a poet named Katherine Henson, and it’s something I remind myself whenever someone tries to put me in a box of being “soft” or weak because I’m sensitive.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? They might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

When writing Sensitive, I did so much reading on Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen is very open that he was a sensitive kid, and his father hated that about him. He says the other boys at school didn’t love it, either, which I can relate to. But Springsteen’s sensitivity is part of what makes him such a great musician, and he has become this hero that people think of as a tough, strong, rebel type — which he also is. He is both sensitive and strong. I would love to have a nice brunch with Bruce Springsteen and talk about our childhoods and putting on a persona and what it means to be a sensitive man. My treat, Bruce, if you’re reading!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can pick up our book Sensitive: The Hidden Power of the Highly Sensitive Person in a Loud, Fast, Too-Much World, or stop by our website, Sensitive Refuge.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Andre Sólo Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.