I just finished listening to an old podcast where Dan Pink interviews Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I’ve read (and loved) Quiet before, but here on the cusp of the holiday season—for my own survival’s sake—I’m making myself revisit a concept I learned of from Cain: emotional labor.
In the podcast, Cain explains that introverts can be extremely, genuinely social—even for long periods of time—and enjoy being so. But for true introverts, consistently engaging in all this extroverting (the verb) over a period of days or weeks is exhausting.
This phenomenon has a name: it’s called “emotional labor,” and it’s what you experience any time you project (or, to put it not-so-nicely, fake) an emotion or attitude that doesn’t come easily.
In Quiet, Cain describes emotional labor as “the effort we make to control and change our own emotions,” and says it’s “associated with stress, burnout, and even physical symptoms like an increase in cardiovascular disease.”
That doesn’t sound good, but it nevertheless rings true: I’m no stranger to the peculiar introvert exhaustion she describes. And while I hate the idea that I work to project emotions I don’t really feel, I have to admit I do this all the time—especially as an introvert.
There are many, many times every day when I make myself get interested in my kid’s art project instead of heading out for a walk by myself, or tell my kids they can dance to the Laurie Berkner Christmas album for the third time in a row when I would prefer the quiet.
These issues are top of mind right now because the holidays are especially taxing for introverts. It’s taken me years to realize that as much as I enjoy the holiday festivities, they’re incredibly draining.
Seeing old friends, visiting family, packing and traveling, and the kids’ contagious excitement are all good things, and I love them in moderation. But during this season it’s all too easy for me to get seriously unbalanced—with too much extroverting, not enough introverting—and that takes its toll. I still need to remind myself to plan accordingly: to take that walk by myself, go to bed early, or curl up for an hour with a movie or a good book.
Do you relate to this experience of emotional labor? How do you manage it during the holidays?
P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.