I cried at work today.
In the CFO’s office, no less. It was not a proud moment. In fact, once I started crying I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept coming even though, mentally I knew I 1.) needed to stop and 2.) understood the reality of the situation and how I DIDN’T need to be crying in the first place.
But there was not stopping the crying. I’d get myself under control for a second and then a flicker of a thought would spur on another bought of tears escaping down my face. All the while, the CFO was trying to continue discussing healthcare plans with me as I apologized profusely for crying uncontrollably.
This isn’t the first time, I’ve cried at work. Actually it’s not even the first time I’ve cried in a public place. Some of my most mortifying memories include the multiple times I was overcome with tears in high school. And once, my freshman year in college, I had an office meeting with a particularly intense professor, and I started crying as we discussed one my first English papers as I grasped difference in the higher-level academic writing. But crying at work makes those other experiences pale in comparison.
Crying in high school, while embarrassing, is not really anything teachers or students haven’t seen before. I mean, all those hormones and angst? Tears are going to happen. Crying in college, definitely more taboo, but for a freshman, I feel professors are prepared for it even if they have less patience.
But crying at work. And being a woman and crying at work, especially when surrounded by male coworkers, now that’s an interesting experience.
The first time I cried at work, it was several months into my first full-time job, and my boss (who’s first management position it was as well) had NO idea how to handle it. He’d brought me into his office to talk about hours and told me at one point “Virginia is a right-to-work state. Since you’re salaried you pretty much have to work as much as I want you to.” after I had asked about adjusting hours since I was working far over 40 hours per week in preparation for an upcoming event. That statement triggered my tears even though I knew this was definitely not the place for them. And it also triggered my boss’ freak out. He literally said “I’ve never had a woman crying in my office before,” and was visibly uncomfortable.
Since then, I’ve had a few instances with my new manager where I ended up crying. But it was more because I was stressed, and this particular manager was incredibly understanding of the situation and didn’t even bat an eyelash at my tears. So those instances didn’t feel as embarrassing as that horrifying experience with my first manager.
This time, it felt different, unfortunately. This wasn’t a direct manager but an executive of the company so it felt doubly embarrassing when I just could not pull myself together. It was some awful combination of hormones, lack of sleep, and way too much stress from work and personal life that erupted into uncontrollable waterworks and apologies.
I hate crying at work. Sometimes it just can’t be helped, but that doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly embarrassed by it. But I’m not sure if I really should be. I obviously don’t disintegrate into tears all the time so when I do, I feel like you have to cut me some slack in the emotional department. But I still wonder if my male coworkers think less of me or take me less seriously because of it. Does it make me look weak? Does it make them think I can’t do my job?
The thing is, I’m not weak. I can absolutely do my job. And I shouldn’t be taken less seriously because of it. For me, the crying is just a part of life that I have to deal with, like a runny nose or hiccups. You don’t get a choice when those happen and you don’t have much control over stopping them. No one judges you for having the hiccups, right?
It makes me wonder though, do you judge people (particularly women) if they cry in public? Especially if it seems uncontrolled, unprovoked, or over something you don’t understand? That’s where my fear lies—in the unknown. But I supposed the best I can do is ask.