The no-cry zone.

“Rough patch.  Holding it together by a string and cried at work this morning.  So maybe that’s my authentic self coming through.”          

-Me, in an email, November 7, 2013.

IMG_1657Those who know me really well know that for the couple decades now during which I’ve practiced law as a litigator, I had a rule: Don’t cry in the office.

I thought the rule was important because although I’ve almost always worked alongside empathetic colleagues, my work world generally is dominated by men. In the early years, especially in a courtroom, often the only other woman was the court stenographer or the judge’s secretary. And way back when I began my career, I was the only woman litigator among my law firm peers.

So compliance with my no-cry-zone rule was mandatory. No one imposed it on me, of course; rather, it was of my own doing. It served me. I wanted to fit in. The guys weren’t boo-hooing, and neither would I even if I felt like it. Because I thought that in order to be in control, in order to be a litigator, I needed to be tough. For sure, I’ve occasionally gotten choked up at work for one reason or another but each time it was behind closed doors, virtually invisible to anyone but me.

But something set me off early in the morning on November 7th. I was angry about something. And frustrated. And working hard. Yet I remember rebounding from the meltdown [as I came to call it] pretty quickly and heading to court. I brushed it off, apologizing to those who saw it as out of character, not important, nothing to worry about. Still, I mentioned it in an email to a friend later that day.

I’m a little bit fascinated that after so many years, I broke my no-cry-zone rule exactly one week before I received the fateful call from the radiologist who told me there was cancer in my right breast.

I was reminded of it recently, and it started me thinking. Why that day? Was I over-stressed, over-worked, over-everything’d and came to a breaking point? Or was there something in me that already knew? Because, as I’ve written, once I received the diagnosis, it was Blubber Central, often in the office.

I’ve mentioned Brene Brown’s work before, especially her most recent book, Daring Greatly. It’s the first book that I’ve actually highlighted and underlined since law school. Seriously. It’s that good.

There’s a passage on page 137 that speaks to me every time I read [and re-read] it:

There’s a quote that I share every time I talk about vulnerability and perfectionism. . . .

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

I thought tough guys like me shouldn’t cry at the office. I was wrong.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The no-cry zone.

  1. Natalie says:

    I broke the no cry rule a year ago and the first thing I thought was that if I were working with you, you would have kicked my ass. Granted, had I been working with you it probably would not have happened because of what a great role model you were for the female attorneys around you. What I am trying to say is that even though you may have broken your rule, you are and have always been an amazing person that people look up to.

  2. Lesley says:

    Your No Cry Zone post really hit home. It has been one of my hard and fast rules for 30 years for exactly the reasons you mention. It made me think of the time about 10 years ago now that l experienced what I refer to in my own internal dialog as my nervous breakdown. I was sitting in a meeting at work with all of the management staff at yet another meeting. Out of nowhere another manager sandbagged me with a well orchestrated shot from a Howitzer that hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt the crying jag coming up from my solar plexus. I looked at the Senior VP, said “would you excuse me for a moment?” went to an empty office and began to hyper ventilate. I got a sympathetic co-worker to bring me my coat and bag and made my way to my car where I locked myself in and sobbed as if my soul were dying. I didn’t return to work for 3 days. From that day I have not seen my life or my career in the same way. I still advise younger women never to cry in the office as it diminishes all of us and gives fuel to those who feel women are too emotional to be considered equal to men – when we all know we are in fact superior – thankyouverymuch. I have no idea what the moral of this story is other than remind everyone that the job is a job, it is not who you are. So hard to separate the two. Big love to all.

  3. Adrienne Rothstein Grace says:

    Sharing your experience as the only woman in the room for most of my career in banking and investments, I too had a no-cry zone. I’m surprised, with everything I’ve been thru over the past few years, that I haven’t had to violate it. But when I think of how good it feels to let it out- how cleansing tears can be for a broken heart and a troubled soul, well then, perhaps all of us should make a ‘tears welcome’ zone instead. Men and women both.
    Sorrow, heartbreak, illness, stress and all are not gender-favored, as much as some would like to pretend that they are.

    Maybe tears (non-prescription, no cost) are the unknown preventative for heart attacks?

Comments are closed.