May 29, 2013

"Lean In," Part 2 (or chapters 3 thru 6)

It’s OK to Cry in the Bathroom

(Or, apparently, in front of your boss.)

One of the thing’s I don’t like about discussions of women in business is that there tends to be some sort of “be more like a man to succeed” thread in them. We’re often taught that being successful is being aggressive, outspoken, bold and, relevant to today’s review, buttoned up -- and while these qualities aren’t limited to men, society seems to perceive that men exemplify them.

Sandberg does, I think, a great job of illustrating this -- and, I think, of arguing, however subtly, that business might be better if we also embrace the strengths of a woman’s personality.

For instance, showing emotion. Yes, even crying.

Let me say, upfront, that I’m not advocating a tissue-holding sob fest every week at the office. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could regard the occasional cry as a simple fact of everyday life, as some of the workers featured in “Lean In” seem to?

When I was just starting out in my newspaper career, I moved between internships every few months. During one such transition, I had a mini-breakdown. I was exhausted from (yet again) packing up my belongings and saying good-bye to everyone I’d just met -- and, worst of all, I was suffering from a major case of writer’s block. I had only one assignment left to finish, but I just couldn’t pull it together. It was a professional crisis, but one completely blurred by my personal struggles around moving.

Worst of all, my editor -- who I can now see was up against pressures and deadlines of her own -- was bearing down on me, insisting I finish the piece, sprinkling in the type of fear-inspiring “or else!” statements that are so common in newsrooms. (That’s a post for another day on another blog, I’m sure.)

I was on the verge of cracking for a day or two, and then I finally did -- in my editor’s office, during another round of “When is going to be done?” questioning.

The thing is, though I don't cry often -- or perhaps because I don't cry often -- I didn’t think this was so unusual. That is, I didn't until someone else made a comment along the lines of, “Oh, it’s never a good idea to cry in front of the boss.”

What was the big deal? I was upset, needed sleep (my time management skills, believe it or not, were even worse in those days, resulting in all-night packing expeditions each time I moved) and I was truly frustrated that I couldn’t pull that last piece together. Of course I cried!

I hated that this was seen as a sign of weakness. Women do cry, and I’m glad of it. Someone should! It shows that we’re plugged in, that we’re connected -- and often, that we’re striving to do good.

During a more recent transition, I broke down -- in private this time -- over my laptop one night. I was completely overwhelmed by new partnerships at work, new client relationships and new responsibilities -- and I was alone, in a hotel room, on a business trip. I was feeling like I must be the only one who couldn’t handle a new role until a coworker, also dealing with new responsibilities, chatted me to ask if we could go for a walk: She was crying, too!

Were we bad at our jobs? No! In fact, I was promoted just a few months after that mini-breakdown. But I was intensely frustrated by my job -- to which I am, in turns out, intensely connected. No one was harmed by the tears I shed that day -- and, in fact, I was probably helped by them. In admitting I was overwhelmed, I was able to connect with a friend -- and we worked together to sort out what we were individually struggling with.

Along with Sandberg, I hope that companies will continue to encourage workers to bring their whole selves to work -- emotions and all, men and women. Who wants to work in an stodgy, dry place where no one ever gets upset?

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