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Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

Embarking on new career paths is similar to stepping onto a new stage during a Broadway Tour – the audience is unfamiliar, the backstage is different, and the local crew are folks you’ve never met before. When you transition from one industry to another or make a major career switch, you constantly miss the stark cultural and environmental differences. I recall the shock of realizing that I had gone from comfortably cuddling with castmates to having to give a firm handshake in corporate. It felt like I had to hide a small part of myself to fit the mold from the start. 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

In theatre, every individual in a live production has a role in taking the audience on an emotional journey. Emotions were a standard part of the workday and flowed freely, from performing onstage to managing it behind the scenes. Vulnerability is a standard and expectation that is celebrated and encouraged. 

One of my favorite bosses while I was working professionally in Theatre, Pamela, even said, “It’s okay to cry at work.” This felt like a permission slip to bring my whole, authentic self, which included my tears, to my position. Maybe you need that same open door, too. 

Earlier in my career, tears indicated weakness and a lack of emotional control in the face of corporate professionalism. Now, tears indicate that you truly care, are passionate, and are invested in whatever you’re pouring into. 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

Navigating this realization was challenging for me because I have a naturally positive and sunny disposition. My defaults include, “It’s all good,” “It will work out,” and my personal favorite, “God’s doing His thing.” But even with these tendencies, I love a good cry, whether it’s sad, happy, or somewhere in between. I’ve always felt that releasing my emotions in this physical and vulnerable approach served me best. 

It became a struggle to blend in my emotional authenticity and the demands of corporate culture without feeling like I was wearing some sort of mask. Balancing this natural occurrence for me with the fact that wearing a mask in a professional setting felt like what was necessary to flourish became exhausting. If you’re a person of color, a woman, or other marginalized individuals, you probably know more intimately what I’m talking about. The need to code-switch or shift your tone to appear more digestible in the workplace has probably been a constant in your career as you navigate the pressure to conform. 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

"Breaking character" is a term commonly used in theatre and performance to describe the moment when an actor momentarily steps out of or deviates from their assigned role or persona. It can occur intentionally during improvisation or comedic moments or unintentionally due to a lapse in concentration, forgetting lines, or an emotional response. In the workplace or everyday life context, "breaking character" refers to departing from one's expected or habitual behavior, often to express genuine emotion or authenticity.

Much research proves that hiding our true selves at work can negatively impact our well-being. I feel that emotions and tears are rarely brought into this equation. Suppose you’re a naturally sensitive person or have a tendency to take a few things personally. How can you authentically show up in a digestible capacity without being labeled unprofessional or too much? 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

Why settle for digestible when we can strive for authenticity? I’ve realized that digestibility isn’t the goal, and it's not good enough for me. 

What is good enough is showing up as yourself, no matter the circumstances. My Coaching Instructor, Jen,  discusses the concept of “The Dial” – an imaginary knob that has the ability to apply to many scenarios and is adjustable. In this case, the dial is a level maker of how much of our authentic selves we reveal in different situations. We can adjust our authenticity to suit the situation while still staying true to our core. 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

I’ve had to find the balance of still showing up authentically without scaring away people with some of the emotions that come with us. For some, that may not be authenticity. However, I would argue that it demonstrates maturity and reading the room. 

Some takeaways: 

  1. Embrace Your Emotions—Even in the workplace, we deserve the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment and passion. Allow emotions to help you show up as your Whole Creative Being. 

  2. Shift the Dial Confidently – Actors leverage tactics; we can leverage “The Dial.” Depending on the situation or the audience, we can adjust our authenticity to suit different situations while remaining true to ourselves.

  3. Do It Authentically – only you can determine when you’re showing up as your true self and how that looks– embrace it boldly! 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

Practical steps:

  1. Adjust the dial—discover the full range of your ability to show up authentically until you find your sweet spot with a supportive friend, colleague, or Coach. 

  2. Embrace vulnerability—Confront your fears head-on. Challenge yourself to show up authentically, even when it feels uncomfortable.

  3. Practice—As with everything, we need experiences and skills in our toolkit to do this well. Treat authenticity like a skill to be honed. Rehearse authentic expressions in various scenarios until they become second nature.

Ready to show up as the real you? Let’s dial up the authenticity and embrace every part of who we are: tears, laughter, and all! And if you need a little extra support along the way, Full Out Coaching is here to help. Schedule your complimentary discovery session today, and let’s start uncovering the real you together!

Authenticity isn’t just about being yourself but also about celebrating every single aspect of who you are. Even with those tears or contagious laughter, showing up is a magical gift for others to experience the true you and a chance for you to live your life Full Out. 

Breaking Character: Embracing Emotions in the Workplace

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