Strengths Spotlight: Empathy

KatieVagen“I feel you…”

by Katie Vagen, Career Development Coordinator

This may be the best phrase used to describe having Empathy as a top five talent theme. To me, Empathy is the ability to intuitively recognize and share in the feelings and perspectives of others. Reacting this way often leads me to experience others’ joy, pain, and suffering whether I like it or not. As you can imagine, this can be both invigorating and burdensome. To paint a picture of this struggle, I will refer to this past January when I served as a Staff Learning Partner for BSU’s Alternative Winter Break trip to Washington, D.C.  While visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum, I somehow let four hours pass before receiving a text from my student leader explaining that the group finished two hours prior. I was barely done touring the second out of four floors. My Empathy caused me to feel the emotions and experiences of the victims so deeply that I did not notice the passing of time.  empathy

On the flip side, this talent has greatly benefited me in my role as a Career Counselor at BSU. Every day, I utilize Empathy when meeting with students. I am able to sense and recognize a student’s affect and respond appropriately while establishing trust and understanding in the process. Many students face barriers that stunt their career development.  Whether it is related to finances, family, relationships, or academics, Empathy helps me pick up on these barriers through active listening and respond in a way that allows the student to validate and take ownership of their feelings. We are then able to move forward in creating a new reality based on how the student wants to react to the situation. In addition to everyday counseling with students, this talent has helped me establish and deepen relationships with students across campus that I might not normally see on an everyday basis. I believe this is because my Empathy shows them that I care about their experiences and our relationship.
I have matured this talent over time by taking on more opportunities to get to know people individually. At BSU, I currently serve as the Advisor to ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting), a Chair of the Mid-Level Professional Networking Group, a Career Services liaison to a variety of student clubs, and as a past Staff Learning Partner on multiple community service trips. Outside of BSU, I volunteer with two non-profits focused on creating access to higher education; Summer Search and Bottom Line. These organizations connect me to students in one on one mentoring relationships. Additionally, I have volunteered with associations such as Friends of the Homeless South Shore and the Boston Rescue Mission which help me connect with individuals experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. In all environments, I seek to know what each person is feeling and experiencing and I base my interactions with them off of that.empathy_moreWaysWorkOnit

The Empathy talent can be mistaken for sensitivity or weakness. Some may assume I am unable to take a step back and separate myself from the feelings of others. This certainly can be a challenge in some instances but I believe it is also what makes me feel human and alive. Recognizing when I need to refocus and create a distinction between the feelings and experiences of others and that of myself is an important part of living with an empathetic mind and heart. After all, I believe community is created when we “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep [and] live in harmony with one another.” Romans 12:15-16 ESV.

Disagree with me? That’s ok. Post here or connect with me on campus so we can discuss it. Explain why and I’ll likely be able to see your perspective! 🙂 

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About cindykane

Director of @BSUInvolved and interested in leadership and professional development strategies. Mom, scholar-practitioner, looking to make an impact! http://www.linkedin.com/in/CindyWKane
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