Big Girls Do Cry…Sometimes

Big Girls Do Cry…Sometimes

Project Eve is all about reinventing yourself, and I usually try to write something positive and actionable, in order to be a good role model. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking that sharing my strengths may be less helpful than sharing my weaknesses. Quite frankly, I’m still working on my own reinvention and there’s one behavior that I’d do anything to fix: I’m a crier.

This is not a good thing for a C-Suite executive — in fact it’s a nightmare! Think Geraldine Ferraro and the famous tears that destroyed her career. I don’t just cry in the ladies’ room, at my desk or in my car.   Somehow, despite crying in front of almost every boss I’ve ever had, I have done well in my career. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often and they’ve all been quite forgiving, but this is my secret shame. Normally, I’m known as a great communicator and fact-based decision-maker. I’ve been called, “smooth” and “polished” — not so much when I am blubbering, sniffling and searching for Kleenex.

Why and when do I cry?

    • I have held something in way too long, and I am frustrated.
    • I am trying to express something on behalf of myself, and I feel vulnerable.
    • I feel like I have failed at something, and let people down.

Here’s how it happens: Let’s say I am trying to tell my boss that something really bothers me — I got passed over for a promotion and thought it was unfair, as an example. I’m all prepared for the conversation, but when I open my mouth to speak my throat is so tight, redness begins creeping up and my words get squeaky. I am thinking, “Oh this can’t be happening,” and then he says, “I can tell you are upset.” Bingo, I start bawling.

It’s not just the crying that creates trouble. If I have been holding something in too long I’ll sometimes speak far too candidly, shall we say, when the floodgates open. Everything tumbles out, no filter. I just hate it. I then have two repair jobs: what I did (crying) and what I said. The episodes never last for too long, but the shame I feel for crying stays with me for a while.

Crying was once described by a male colleague as a “girly” move to get sympathy. That implies I could control it, which I wish were so. I do know that it’s only when things are deeply personal to me that I cry. I continue to try to lift the pressure that builds up before crying with positive self-talk and a few other tricks (inhale, exhale). I use written notes to set up a conversation if I can, so the topic is on the table, which relieves the stress of the opening lines — this strategy works most of the time.

I’m not a weak person, but I have this Achilles’ heel I can’t seem to fix. It’s true that some men cry more than others, but the picture of a hysterical female in tears is such a bad stereotype. I am a feminist, an advocate for other women and a strong business leader. It’s hard to accept that I become emotional sometimes. But I have to dry my eyes, dust myself off, and get back to work.


Gail Graham is Chief Marketing Officer at United Capital, a national partnership of private wealth counseling offices. She is responsible for all aspects of marketing, branding and lead generation as well as business strategy and planning.

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