When I was coming of age in the 1970s, women’s liberation was in full swing and one of the pieces of career advice explicitly conveyed to me and other young women was simply this: Don’t ever cry at work, or, if you must, make sure it never happens in front of your supervisor. If you do you will be perceived as weak and unprofessional and it will limit your career opportunities.
In those days, succeeding as a female largely meant showing up or fitting in by behaving as much like a traditional male as possible. Since the ethic at that time was “real men don’t cry,” it followed that real women, at least in the workplace, shouldn’t either. Plus, we were told, male supervisors became acutely uncomfortable if a female cried in front of them and didn’t know how to handle it.
I like to think times have changed in that we are now able to show up as our real and whole selves in the workplace. I’m not talking about weeping every day or sobbing hysterically on a regular basis. I’m talking about when something major has happened in our personal lives…or when we are feeling lost or stressed and our coping skills are exhausted…or when something meaningful has touched us deeply. In such cases, a few tears are not only acceptable but understandable. And perhaps even welcome.
I say welcome because, in my experience, when someone tears up their outer mask drops away. Their authenticity shines through and I suddenly have the blessed opportunity to connect with them human to human, heart to heart. Perhaps it is because I work in a spiritual organization, but I feel honored when someone feels safe enough with me to shed a tear.
Over the past few months, there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve met with an employee in my office and the individual has been moved to tears. In both cases, the next day those individuals apologized for having “not remain centered,” or for having “become emotional.”
What I wanted to say was: No apology needed. Thank you for being human. In the process, you make it acceptable for others to do the same.
If it is true, as Peter Mayer writes in his beautiful song, that “God Is A River,” and if it is also true that God is present within all of us, we could say that when we cry, God is overflowing the river bank. Our cups runneth over. We surrender to the Truth of our being and what we are feeling and experiencing that very moment.
Indeed, at a time when most people in the workplace are working extra hard because of downsizing, additional responsibilities, faster turnaround times and so on, letting the tears come may be the most authentic thing we do. And that goes for men as well as women.
New Thought songwriter Karen Taylor-Good wrote a song called “Real Men Cry.” I am grateful that, in this day and age, real women do, too.