“Remember how your emotions can influence others.”
I’ve been a crybaby for as long as I can remember.
My favorite superhero is Sailor Moon because she’s a crybaby, too, and, despite her tendencies toward tears, she leads with her heart and her combination of selflessness and toughness never fails to save the world.
Growing up, in everything I’ve ever done that I cared a whit about, I’ve cried. I take pride in my work and give nothing less than my best at every opportunity, so it’s easy for me to get worked up about my work when I identify with it so closely.
Entering the workforce, this became a problem. It was one thing to cry in front of my high school tennis coach upon losing a big match, or even my college professors when struggling with certain projects. It was another to cry in front of my manager—and worse, in front of everyone else at the office.
So my managers, who recognized and understood my ambition to rise to the top routinely gave me the feedback: “Don’t let your emotions get to you. Try to avoid showing them. Your emotional state disproportionately influences the mood of a team.” They were trying to help me unblock myself, but when I tried to take that feedback, it ended up with me holding back tears, then being frustrated at my inability to hold back tears, and then crying double the tears.
Recently, I got the feedback again, not from a manager, but from someone I was informally managing on a complex and tumultuous project. In a feedback session at the end of the project, she shared: “There were days where I needed to come to you with a problem, but when you were visibly upset or stressed, I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to add or be another burden.”
This was a lightning-strike moment for me. As a leader, people will constantly come to you with their problems and seek your guidance. At best, you have a solution. At worst, you have a brave face, a steeled aspect and some courage. Regardless, they are looking to you. And during this project, this coworker couldn’t look to me, because I appeared to have too many problems of my own.
For this reason—for wanting to be helpful to others—the feedback started to stick.
Now I don’t hide my emotions at work because I’m trying to hide the real me for the sake of climbing a ladder. I try to manage them because I’ll never be useful to anyone if they don’t feel like they can share the weight of their problems with me.
I may not be a superhero, but I know that managing my emotions could be my own ‘moon crystal power’ if I can learn to control it. And I’m no Sailor Moon, but maybe in some small, earthly way, I’ll be able to save my own piece of the world.