This is a the title of a book by famous publicist Kelly Cutrone. I have never read the book (maybe someday for a future Tools & Theories post!), but I have always resonated with the concept espoused in the title.
The book and Kelly Cutrone’s fame was at a fever pitch when I was working for a corporate event company. I was hired to execute the Principal Designer’s ideas at events and was thrilled at all the possibilities this job was going to offer. I was going to make more money, work doing fancy events, get to talk design, and hobnob with the upper crust of business and society.
In my initial interview, I was warned about the Principal Designer.
“She’s like Picasso in her ideas,” gushed the VP of Operations. “But she has an artistic temperament.”
I had been stage managing and production managing for a few years and I had many brushes with artistic temperaments. I was equipped to handle them, stroke them, nourish them, reassure them.
I wasn’t prepared for all out abuse.
During this time, my mom also became very ill. She was laid off, spiraled into a depression, and started drinking to manage the disappointment. Around the time I was executing my first large event (one that had a budget in the tens of millions of dollars and was across multiple locations), she checked into rehab.
My big contribution to the event was to manage a group of performers who were dressed in ultra-modern, light-up costumes for guests to take photographs with. The whole theme was highly futuristic, and I had hired 8 of my most attractive actor friends to be gorgeous in skin-tight suits. I was their handler for the evening and was also supposed to manage the strike later that night that was scheduled to go until 4a.
So, I walked around with them, got tons of photos taken. By the end of their shift at midnight, we had a following and I had to apologize profusely to the guests as we escaped into the dressing room so they could go home.
The load-out went fine. I relied on the crew as most of them had worked this event before. They packed everything up. I helped fold drapes and kept on eye on everything from one end of the ballroom. We packed up and were out the door at 4:30am. I fell into bed and was satisfied with what I had delivered and how it had all gone.
Monday I came into the office and was asked to come to the Principal Designer’s office. The VP of Operations came in with me. I was truly clueless at this point with what was coming.
“We need to talk about the event over the weekend,” Principal said.
This was where I started to get nervous.
“You were really kind of awful to work with,” she continued.
“What?” I whispered. I lost my voice, the air went out of my lungs, and I started to shake.
“Yeah, you flipped a lot of attitude, the crew didn’t like working with you, and you didn’t move the talent around like we thought you were going to.” This was the VP chiming in.
“Oh.” Me. Stunned.
It continued: I was mean, I was bossy, I didn’t pack things right, I was lucky to still have a job, on and on. Finally, the conversation ended with this gem from the Principal Designer.
“You know, Verhanika. You probably are the way you are because your parents are alcoholics.”
I didn’t know what to do. VP told me to take a few moments and decide how I wanted to proceed. I wasn’t fired, but I was on very thin ice.
I went outside. It was a cold, bright, February day. I left my coat inside and was still shaking from the adrenaline. I called my boyfriend (my now husband) and relayed it all back to him. As I did, I kept trying to take deep breaths to loosen the vice on my chest, but eventually, the dam broke and I started crying on the sidewalk.
I would eventually learn that all of the allegations were completely fabricated. The crew thought I was fine. My co-workers thought I was fine. I was a good target for my two bosses’ stuff about fellow strong, powerful women. I learned they had a lot of stuff between the two of them, and I had gotten caught in the middle. I would spend another 3 months at that job until an evening session with my therapist, who would point out the patterns of abuse I was enduring. She wasn’t one to impart her own opinions, but she told me I should leave this job.
I did. But until then, I had bi-weekly crying sessions on the sidewalk in front of the office.
Crying is an essential bodily function. But we have a lot of cultural stuff wrapped up in what it means to cry.
For most of us, we were taught to keep it together, to not let others see you cry (never let ‘em see ya sweat), that crying is a sign of weakness.
Crying is a way our body releases stuff. More specifically, stress hormones that contribute to that tight-chested feeling I mentioned above. There are a myriad of studies that tell us that there are different kinds of crying. Some when we’re sad, some when we’re frustrated, some when we are happy, some when we cut onions. All serve a particular biological purpose and are necessary for helping with some sort of biological regulation.
But knowing that they are biologically helpful doesn’t counteract that when we are sobbing at our desk, we are likely to get some side-eye from our co-workers.
The solution is to create safe spaces for crying. For me during that winter, it was the deserted sidewalk in front of the office. Others go to a bathroom, find an empty stairwell, or climb to the roof. I have a friend who sits in the backseat of her car if she’s had a particularly bad day and cries before she starts her drive home.
Some of us are able to compartmentalize our tears, that’s fine.
Some of us aren’t, that’s fine, too.
Either way, if crying isn’t safe or acceptable in your workplace, create a strategy now for where and how you can have a private place for release. All of us are going to experience some sort of high stress at work, be it from work itself or from our personal lives. Finding spaces for sanctuary are vital for our emotional hygiene. You wouldn’t play in the dirt and then go eat crudités at a party. Crying is the hand-washing in between so we can show up with our best selves at the party of life.
I welcome tears. I love them and love it when my clients cry. Not because I’m a sadist, but because it shows that I have created a place where deep vulnerability is welcome and encouraged.
So, cry. A lot. Whenever you need to. Just make sure you have an emergency plan to get to safety so you can do so freely, without judgment, and without reservation.
Then, splash your face with water, drink a few gulps, take a few breaths, and get back in the ring, Champ. I survived that crappy job. You, too, will survive this round to fight another.
Want more info about crying? Here are some great sources that I used: