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Three tips to thrive as an Empath or Highly Sensitive Leader

Conscientious was the word that kept appearing on my school report year after year. I had to look it up as I didn’t know what it meant.

The dictionary says ‘Putting a lot of effort into your work’ and ‘taking one’s work seriously’ - I sure did that. My focus and concentration were high. My schoolwork and later my career underpinned my identity.

There wasn’t a great deal of fun in my childhood – my mother, who was Russian and came to the UK at the age of 31, didn’t speak much English and wasn’t that interested in learning the language – so from the age of six when I had only just learned the language myself I was her main translator.

I carried a great deal of responsibility from as far back as I can remember. And that pattern stayed with me until I burned out at the age of 33 when I found myself an Account Director working for the largest public relations consultancy in the world – feeling responsible for everyone else’s wellbeing in a job so misaligned with my core values that the energy literally sapped out of me at the thought of getting out of bed and going into the office.

The burn out was a serious wake up call.

Tip 1 - Align with your values and passions

It made me realise like nothing else that to thrive, especially as an empath or highly sensitive person, you have to do something that absolutely aligns with your values and passions.

It was after the burnout in 2000 that I realised I was an empath and a highly sensitive person.

You can take the empath quiz here.

I watched the Twin Towers fall on the television and literally felt as if I was there. In fact I had been at the top of the towers the previous year and had said to my partner that the towers were going to fall down. To which he laughed.

I’d always been able to stand in someone else’s shoes but just hadn’t realised that I was an empath. I thought everyone was the same.

Some of the reasons why I feel I am an empath include that I grew up bilingual. Then by the age of 18 I could also speak French. It was easy for me to understand those cultures because I’d been born in Russia and had visited Russia and France several times, knew them in-depth and could speak the language.

I am mixed heritage and also what is termed a person of colour – half white, half Indian. I could relate to people from different cultures readily and appreciated the diversity in a way that most people I grew up with couldn’t. Their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents lived just up the road. Mine were 2000 miles away or more.

Watching the international news every day and reading the newspaper it felt as if it was happening to my own family – I grew up reading encyclopaedias so I had learned the capitals of all those places on the globe by the time I was 12.

Tip 2 - Learn to slow down and do one thing at a time

With chronic fatigue comes humility. Like learning to walk and talk again. One of the best things empaths and highly sensitive leaders can do for themselves is to slow down and to do one thing at a time. The overwhelm will start to disappear.

Empaths and Highly Sensitive People truly care about others, often at the expense of their own needs.

Tip 3 - Self care comes first

I had to learn self-care the hard way after a burnout that took two years to recover from. I learned that my needs were just as important as someone else’s. It felt counterintuitive because I literally had never done it.

I started putting self-care into practice and saw that it gave me more time and energy to pursue my dreams.

And in achieving those dreams not only would I be more fulfilled but the world would be a better place because empaths and highly sensitive people are always looking for ways to create environments where everyone thrives.

This last realisation was what led to me taking the steps to work on my subconscious limiting beliefs about being a leader in the world. A leader who was being called to be more visible.

I’d been in perfectionism and procrastination mode for years.

I felt that if I stepped out to be seen and heard then I would be judged. I had to overcome not feeling good enough if I was going to leave a legacy that would help others. In 2017 I published my first book – the fear was visceral. Would someone notice a typo or missed colon? Gulp.

No, I got lots of nice reviews and was invited to read my picture book in libraries, pre-schools and fairs. More books followed.

Then I found my voice. From only being able to speak in front of 10 people in 2017, by 2023 I was speaking on stage to 20,000 people at an ashram in India. The limits are only in your mind.

That is why I do what I do – a mindset and wellbeing coach who guides leaders who may be empaths or highly sensitive away from overwhelm and imposter syndrome towards their joyful purpose so they can leave the legacy of their dreams.


About Hilda Kalap & the Speakers Collective

If you are interested in Hilda Kalap speaking at an event or providing training please contact 

Speakers Collective is a Social Enterprise. We work together with a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues. Please do contact us via or call 020 8123 8250 with any enquiries.


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