The Longest Month

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” Anne of Green Gables.

My long-time friend, Amy, shared with me some years ago that the sky is bluer in October. In October, something about the earth’s axis and the position of North America towards the sun gives our skies a different hue. Another long-time friend celebrates his birthday on October the 4th. This is the day I typically remember to reach out to Amy and demonstrate that I remember our conversation about the October sky. More than once, she replies that she has just taught her painting class this fact.

This October 4th, I was a guest speaker in a class on McDaniel’s campus. I had planned to talk about the social perspective on disability, but while I sat in the hall waiting, the course spoke about empathy.  As I was introduced, the topic re-emerged, and with the instructor’s permission, I shifted my conversation to the idea of Emotional Labor.

Emotional Labor is a research area examining those of us who work in a role where we must manage our emotional responses as a part of our job. Dr. Karen Lane posited that two types of emotional labor exist, which she calls Surface Acting and Deep Action. During Surface Acting, we mask our general emotional state. This might be a cheery customer service representative who has not had the best of mornings but greets you with a smile and happy inquiry. Deep Acting is managing powerful emotion as a reaction to our work. An example would be the direct care provider who continues working in a residential community without a much-loved long-term resident.

We recognize there are times when the emotions of labor are difficult. For those who have lived their lives around the academic calendar, I argue that October is the longest month of the calendar year. It begins on the first day of October and ends when the last final is submitted/graded in December. I caution students against making major life decisions during “October,” as it can be brutal.

There are seasons to our work. As our seasons wax and wane, we must establish our boundaries and respect the limits of our friends and co-workers. It is essential to acknowledge the emotional tax of working in direct care and protect each other so we may offer our best to those we serve, even in October.