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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Stop. Breathe. Rest.

These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of studying, packing, moving, and more studying. I had every intention of keeping up with my weekly blog, but things got away from me. Many things, actually. I used to think final exams were difficult, but now that I’m studying for a bar exam, well, let’s just say it’s a beast.

*Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations, Creative Commons

One thing I have learned, though, in these past weeks is the importance of resting. I’m not talking about the watch-Netflix or surf-the-internet kind of resting, but a withdrawal from the world. Finding a space of solitude and healing.

In this caffeine-fueled world with round-the-clock notifications of e-mails, texts, and tasks bombarding us, it is all too easy to become fatigued. Our bodies cry out for sleep. Our minds grow weary. And our souls yearn for peace.

Letting ourselves slow down and disconnect from the chaotic noise and busyness may sound a little frightening to people. A friend recently pointed me to a new study published in Science that found that people would rather “self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid” so they would not have to be alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes.

Just as little kids don’t want to go to bed even if they are tired, we distract ourselves with music and television in order to avoid confronting our inner truths, even if we would be better off resting.

*Photo Credit: Holly Victoria Norval, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Holly Victoria Norval, Creative Commons

Shauna Niequist puts it best when she says, “Creative, meaningful work comes from a strong soul, one that’s been fed and nurtured enough to be bold and honest and fearless.”

You won’t hear from me for the rest of this month. I’m taking a breather from blogging and focusing my attention on studying and resting.

I hope you are able to take some time this month to nurture your soul. Rest. Relax. Recharge.

Until August, my friends.