Katelyn Holub

blogging about music, art, and creativity


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Can You Have Too Much Empathy?

In these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about vocation and finding a job. In between informational interviews, some common questions keep coming to the forefront of my mind. Is my personality suited for this type of position? Would I actually be able to help people and accomplish good in this role?

It seems that being an artist carries with it a certain kind of condition—a condition of having a heightened sense of empathy and ability to relate to other people.

*Photo Credit: seyed mostafa zamani, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: seyed mostafa zamani, Creative Commons

Artists are storytellers, and, like all good storytellers, have the ability to put themselves in different people’s shoes in order to bring a particular story to life. Even without having personally experienced a situation, a true artist can effectively take on a role and convincingly express that character’s perspective—think of Jodie Foster’s poignant portrayal of a woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in the 2007 movie “The Brave One.”

Blame it on an artist’s imagination, but sometimes it feels like having a lot of empathy is a bad thing.

Maybe empathy doesn’t make a person look tough, but is it possible to have too much empathy? Is it detrimental if you have a knack for putting yourself in other people’s situations and glimpsing some of the hardships they face?

In some regards, I think being an especially empathetic person can be a very beneficial quality for a lawyer to have because, after all, lawyers win cases by developing persuasive arguments and telling a vivid, relatable story.

On the other hand, as I read this past week in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” too much empathy can get you fired. Oprah Winfrey was fired from one of her first jobs as a co-anchor for a Baltimore news station because she often had to fight back tears while reporting stories and couldn’t distance herself enough to maintain a stoic countenance.

*Photo Credit: Tomas Sobek, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Tomas Sobek, Creative Commons

Not only can having too much empathy appear unprofessional and get you fired, it can wreak havoc on your own life, burdening you with more than you can carry.

Under the weight of such an added burden, could too much empathy impair a person’s ability to help other people who are hurting? If you relate too well to another person’s situation, are you not able then to provide the strength, encouragement, and advice they need to help them heal?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions in my head right now, but I think there must be a way to keep empathy under a certain level so that it doesn’t overwhelm a person with added stress and also allows a person to still be able to help those in difficult circumstances. What are your thoughts?

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So You’re Thinking of Quitting Piano Lessons?

A Letter to my First-Grade Self

Dear First-Grade Katelyn,

I know you’ve been taking piano lessons for a couple years and you are sick of practicing scales day after day. You are tired of constantly being corrected about your hand position, not remembering the dynamics, or forgetting your lifts at the end of phrases. Everything seems too hard and you want to give up, but don’t quit now. Believe me, you’ll regret it if you do.

I know you are frustrated by all the things you have to remember while playing even the stupidest sounding pieces, but soon you will get better and will choose what longer pieces you want to study—and those pieces will be really cool.

Piano Recital

Playing at a Piano Recital

If you want to be logical in your decision whether to quit piano or not, keep in mind that sticking with your piano lessons means . . .

  • You’ll learn how to have better focus and attention to detail after figuring out how to memorize all the fingerings, tempo changes, dynamics, and repeats in a piece
  • You’ll learn how to budget your time by having to find time to practice every day on top of getting your homework done
  • You’ll gain patience realizing that your hard work may not be rewarded right away with getting to play cool songs
  • You’ll have more courage in the future when you are performing or speaking in front of large audiences from having played in all those monthly piano recitals
  • You’ll learn how to take criticism better and not be so sensitive later in life when teachers, bosses, and other people say mean or critical things of you

Besides all those logical reasons for sticking with it, there are plenty of other reasons too. Once you become a better pianist, you will be glad you can sit down and sight-read any piece or compose a cool song.

Playing piano will inspire you, energize you, refresh you, and help you cope with difficult times. Your ability to play piano will be kind of like a superpower for you—there at the ready, should you need it to save your day.

So please, Katelyn, think over what I’ve told you before you decide whether to quit piano lessons. I hope you stick it out and show that piano you are not so easily defeated!

Love,

Your Older-Self

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about quitting an instrument?


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My Miracle Mountain

It’s been a bit of an overwhelming week for me. In the midst of it all I’ve been reminded of what really matters in life. The One who gives meaning to us all and loves us more than we’ll ever know. My thoughts this week have led me to remember something that happened to me a few years ago that has had a profound impact on my life. Something that continues to inspire my creative soul, and I hope it will yours.

*Photo Credit: Deidre Woollard, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Deidre Woollard, Creative Commons

I experienced a miracle on a mountain.  Two women—Opal and Adelaide, left an indelible mark on my soul of what it means to love.  Their kindness and hospitality will never be forgotten, and I hope someday to show that same love and kindness to someone else.

It all began on a hot, humid day in western North Carolina, near the Smoky Mountains.  I was driving up a rural, winding country road trying to find the location of a friend’s wedding that would take place the following day at a stable.  After inputting my destination into my GPS, I followed a series of turns that led me up a mountain, passing a few homes nestled on the side of the wooded mountain.  I had been driving up the mountain for about five minutes at the respectable rate of 25 mph in order to handle the sharp curves when all of a sudden my car broke down and steam came pouring from the hood.

Luckily, I was on a road that had a shoulder I could pull off onto—not!  I had stopped right around a sharp curve with no way to get over or to warn people who might come up around the curve that I was stopped.  Oh well, I thought.  I hadn’t seen any traffic on the road so far, so I figured my chances were pretty good that nobody would be coming around the bend anytime soon, except maybe one of the few residents who lived on this mountain.

Panic started setting in a few minutes later when I realized that I had no idea where I was in order to call for help to come.  It turned out not to be a problem because my cell phone had no reception on the mountain.  Yep.  I was stranded, lost, and had no way of calling for help.  I felt like I was on an episode of 24, except I didn’t feel as cool as Jack Bauer.

After a few moments of panicking, an SUV with an old “John 3:16” bumper sticker rounded the bend behind me and a woman named Opal, asked if I needed help.  It turned out that she lived farther on up the mountain road but knew a neighbor who lived a few yards from where I was.  She took me to the neighbor’s house where an extremely hospitable and kind grandmotherly woman named Adelaide let me come in and use her phone to call for a tow truck.

It took several hours that afternoon to finally get a tow truck, but in those hours I witnessed a generous love poured out on me, a complete stranger, by two women who flipped through three phonebooks and made several calls for me trying to find help.   I can still hear Opal’s voice repeating over the phone, “We got a young lady who’s car broke down over here at Adelaide W——‘s house.  Do you think you could send a wrecker out today?”  I’m sure Opal had plans for her afternoon, but she put them all aside to help me.  Unselfishly.

Adelaide was in the process of making an apple pie when I showed up at her doorstep, but that didn’t matter to her. She welcomed me into her home that afternoon and told me to make myself comfortable on her couch. Waiting for the tow truck, we all talked about our families as if we knew each other well—we actually found out we had an Indiana connection.

*Photo Credit: David Leggett, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: David Leggett, Creative Commons

During this time, I couldn’t help but notice how my feelings of panic and fear melted in the warmth of two strangers’ love.  Both women repeated how they wished they could help me as we sat waiting for the tow truck to arrive.  They didn’t understand how much they had helped me.  Not only did they help me out of my difficult situation, but they helped me realize what it means to share loving-kindness, and to extend extravagant hospitality.

All that they did for a complete stranger.  And I am forever grateful.

 


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Living a Secretly Incredible Life

Alright.  Time for a general life post.  I just finished reading an awesome book called “Love Does” by Bob Goff.  It was such a fun, inspiring experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to have more purpose in life.

Bob motivates us to live a secretly incredible life full of whimsy that reflects God’s love and creative presence to the world.  We aren’t supposed to be superheroes with capes, just everyday, unassuming people doing great things that only God needs to know about.

The book is structured with several short chapters giving glimpses into different episodes in the author’s life.  Through each of his life experiences, some hilarious and others more serious, Bob reflects on how his Christian faith developed in response.

Reading “Love Does” has caused me to think about my own life and how I’ve lived it so far.  It’s challenged me to turn my intellectual faith into something more that I live out.  Something that really drives my actions.  I want to live with the joy, love, and creativity that God is.

“In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about [life] or keep planning for it.  Simply put: love does.”

I want to look at the world from the perspective of abundance, not scarcity.  I want to cast aside all fear and just live doing what love does.


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My DIY Musician Goals for 2014

Alright, it’s that time of year when everybody sets goals for what they’ll accomplish in the next year.  I’ve never really been one for making tons of goals for the new year, but from time to time I think it’s important to strategize a few realistic objectives.

Because singer-songwriters/DIY musicians wear many hats—composer, sound producer, performer, marketer—setting goals can easily become overwhelming.  To combat this, I’m breaking up my several goals into smaller chunks of do-able tasks.  Lastly, I’m briefly noting next to each of my goals why I’m doing it to help remind myself when more time passes before I get around to completing it the reason I wanted to do it in the first place—I tend to forget things easily if I don’t write them down!

Goals for 2014

So here are my musical goals, in all their glory:

1.  Find solution to my recording issues so that I can make more sound recordings to boost content available to fans.

2.  Upload a YouTube video every two months—at the very least—because consistency is important in engaging and growing a fan base/following and YouTube has become one of the most popular online tools for music discovery.

3.  Perform live shows at least every two months because the more practice you get at performing live, the better musician you become and the faster you can grow your following.   This has become harder for me to do as I progress through grad school and have less free time, but I’m going to make it more of a priority.

4.  Oh, and keep composing more songs!

What goals are you making for the new year?  How do you make sure you actually accomplish them?


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Celebrating Christmas in 1836

About a week ago, I time traveled to December 24, 1836.  Connor Prairie, an interactive history park in central Indiana, hosts special opportunities for people to relive life in its pioneer village.  I have always loved history, and so I was excited when I learned about the Candlelight Christmas event at Connor Prairie, which reenacts the way pioneers celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice.  It was such an incredible experience, and made me realize how differently people celebrated Christmas back then compared to how we celebrate it nowadays.

What surprised me the most from my experience was how cold life would have been living in log cabins.  I thought the one-room cabins would be warm from the heat of the fireplace, but the lack of insulation on the floor and walls made it chill.  I was really only warm if I stood right in front of the fireplace.

Another surprising lesson for me was that Christmas was not observed as a holiday.  It was a normal work day for people.  Kids went to school from 7:00 a.m. til 4:00 p.m.  It wasn’t until 1870 that President Grant made it a national holiday.  Those who celebrated Christmas would acknowledge it within their homes, but it was not stretched-out into a holiday season like it is now.

Similarly, I did not realize the origin of gift-giving at Christmastime was from merchants hurting for business during the slow winter months.  At least in the pioneer village, few people went to the general store in the winter, and the merchants cleverly thought of a way to increase business by suggesting people buy gifts for their loved ones for Christmas.  Before people bought gifts, they maybe ate a little nicer food to mark the occasion or made things for one another.  Once it became more common for people to buy gifts, expectations rose to give more than one gift and also to give gifts to more people.

As we draw closer to Christmas Day, I hope to be more mindful of the true meaning of Christmas and to not get sucked into the commercialized holiday with all its stresses and expectations.


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Wait.

Just one little verb, but oh so difficult to do.  I’ve been learning a lot lately about what it means to wait.

To be patient.

To live, unhindered, in the present.

To not worry about the future.

To trust Love.

I don’t know if I’ll ever enjoy and embrace waiting, but I’m learning day by day that

Waiting is part of the process of becoming.