In journalism, they say, you need thick skin.
I know this more than anyone. When I started out as a student journalist, my skin was quite thin. One of my first summer jobs in high school I spent in a pool of shameful tears, because I couldn’t take constructive criticism from my editor. (I was writing for a tourism website – not a newspaper – but I had the fortune of learning from a blunt, if sometimes surly, retired reporter. Now looking back, I realized I learned the most basic writing lessons from him.)
Over time, I’ve learned to toughen up – whether it was dealing with testy varsity coaches upset with their placement in The Cord, the student newspaper at WLU, or hearing from angry professors, upset with our portrayal of their research.
I’ve learned to deal with disgruntled police officers, angry mothers and how to take the heat for my mistakes.
The trick is not to take it personally. And own up when you’re in error.
But when you’re a journalist, with your name on the story and your words on the page, sometimes you can’t help but feel a cringe and a shudder when someone has a problem with what you’ve written.
So there are times when it doesn’t matter how thick that skin has become. The tears come easy. This week, I had one of those days.
But I did something I haven’t done before. I didn’t try to hide it. I didn’t feel very embarrassed about crying, because in this particular case, I did nothing wrong. I also trust my colleagues not to judge me for such an outburst.
And why should it be a shameful thing to cry? Sometimes I think a person’s compassion and emotion can make them a better writer – you’re more likely to convey that in the story.
I thought back to this article I recently read in the Globe:
“Strategically, conventional wisdom goes, it’s not a good move to show vulnerability at work. Crying is emotion, which is the opposite of thinking. And if you’re not thinking, then you’re stupid – and not so promotable. In a cutthroat professional milieu, you are either a shark or a snivelling minnow. Cry and be eaten.”
But Katrina Onstad goes on to say:
“By stigmatizing crying, we pretend that emotion doesn’t inform our choices. The relentless push for control, the fear that expressing feeling will taint the public image, keeps compassion at a distance, too.”
In journalism, writing, storytelling, who are we if can’t be compassionate?
I’m not going to stop trying to be tough. A little toughness never hurt anyone. But I won’t try to hold back my emotion either. So what if a few tears fall down my cheeks and I have to go for a walk. There’s no reason why my co-workers or anyone reading this blog should think I’m less effective at my job.
If anything, it shows my heart is in it.