Joy, At Work
I recently received a message from a former classmate: my ten-year high school reunion is later this summer. Difficult to believe, right? That means I’ve been working for 12 years—nearly half of my life. I know that doesn’t make me special, that’s not why I’m writing this.
I realized something: in the 12 years that I’ve been working, I’ve picked up a myriad of skills: copy editing, cold calling, pitching, negotiating contracts, writing scripts, writing marketing copy, writing books, and, to bring it all the way back, mixing a salad with a spatula in such a way that each and every item is the salad is evenly coated with dressing—even the thick ones such as Russian and Blue Cheese. One thing I haven’t learned, however, is how to “be okay” in the workplace. Call me your typical Virgo or enneagram 3w4, I’m a very career-oriented person in pretty much every way. But still, I struggle when it comes to managing my emotions.
Don’t get me wrong: I love to work. I look forward to going into work most mornings. However: I did a big thing recently: I’d worked at my current place of business for over seven and a half months before I cried at work (for work-related reasons, at my desk and not in the park by the office–you know.) Believe it or not, I felt guilty. I felt like I’d failed myself. I felt like I wasn’t strong enough. Or maybe even that I was weak. Why couldn’t I just separate my feelings from my job function? (Admittedly, I’m fairly new to this separation: you can read more on that here.)
Is it internalized bias? Am I conditioned to feel this way? If a man gets “emotional” at work, is he not seen as passionate or sensitive in a strong way? And a woman, she’s irrational, unstable? How is that fair? Or maybe I let my pride get the best of me. Maybe I need a little pat on the back so often, and it’s like one negative reaction undoes weeks of “atta girls?” (Who else feels me?)
If you’ve been in the same place, I have a beautiful sentiment for you: it’s okay. You’re not a machine, and you shouldn’t see yourself that way. Confronting your emotions at work is the only way you can ever overcome them. Of course, breaking down and sobbing in front of all of your coworkers probably isn’t the best idea, if your voice cracks in the heat of an intense discussion or your eyes well up after reading an upsetting email, you’re okay. You’re strong. It means that you’re engaged and that you care, which are overall good traits to have.
When dissecting this behavior, I think it’s important that we consider why crying in the office seems like the worst thing we can do? I liked what this Forbes article had to say on the matter:
Why is crying at work so taboo? For one, it violates what anthropologists call “display rules,” or our cultural norms for self-expression and socialization. It’s why we have no problem understanding why a friend going through a breakup starts crying over dinner, but we’re caught off guard when a coworker bursts into tears during a meeting or performance review.
An interesting side note here?
Biologically speaking, crying is meant to be cathartic. But in the workplace, there’s evidence that women actually feel worse after crying. (Men feel better)
There are a lot of tips in that article for picking yourself up after getting emotional at work and proof that if you can get past it, it won’t hurt your career one bit. The most salient point for me though, is that crying is not destructive and you shouldn’t ever feel like you’re throwing off the workplace dynamic if you let a few tears slip out here or there.
Think about how popular open workspaces are these days. Now consider how quickly toxicity can spread in the workplace. If you don’t express your frustrations (whether it’s by going out and taking a walk, venting to a coworker you trust, or crying if you feel the need) you can turn bitter and, thus, quite disruptive. Though being 100% stoic is seen as desirable in the workplace, you can’t put your emotions on pause or lockdown when you leave in the morning and keep them in that state until you get home an unwind.
The secret to being truly happy at work? Don’t pretend to be happy 100% of the time. Let yourself feel. “Get it out.” Don’t let your emotions define you: you should define them for yourself. Being emotional is a sign that you care about your performance, the greater good, and doing a great job. While, in a perfect world, no one would be upset or stressed enough to cry at work, if it happens, it’s not the end of the world.
For me, once it happened, it happened. I was no longer afraid of it happening. A coworker experienced it, and he wasn’t mortified. I still have my job, and I know I’m not due for a good cry for quite some time now. (Hopefully—I’ve made it thus far into Q2, which has been the most chaotic time of my life. It’s great though.)
Part of growing up has been realizing that I don’t need to completely abandon things I once saw as “bad habits.” (In this case, my emotions getting the best of my from time to time.) I don’t need to not cry at work. In fact, I think that’s an impossibility. I just have to recognize why it happens and know what I need to recover. I’m going to be alright, and so are you. Let’s be strong together.