Here’s a secret…the last thing a female executive who works in a male-dominated field wants to do is cry in public. So of course, I was mortified when I cried during a speech this week in front of a big crowd at the NASA IT Summit. I thought I conquered presbyopia with 14-point font, but I didn’t have a plan for my inability to see through my tears.
I almost second guessed writing about this, but in my strategic planning meeting today with the other NASA CIOs, the facilitator played some music – The Baby Elephant Walk. Oh, the memories we have and the things we try to forget.
I was 7 years old and we had a dance recital. I was the lead dancer and we danced to the Baby Elephant Walk. We had the cutest elephant ears that were attached to our heads with headbands. It only took a few baby elephant hops before they fell on the floor. I was leading, so mine fell first. We all started crying, but I kept dancing because everyone had to follow me around the stage. I remember not being able to see so I decided I better wait and cry later.
My most traumatic episode with tears came at age 16 (when the most traumatic things often happen). I had to play a solo on my French Horn – a concerto by Mozart. When I played, I did then what I still do now when I’m nervous … I forget to breathe. This made my phrasing disastrous. So, I got upset with myself and started crying. This was embarrassing, so I just stopped playing and ran off the stage.
The band director told me that I did a good job and need to keep practicing and keep trying. So, he put me on the program again. Still forgot to breath. I started crying again. But, this time, I played through the tears.
I end this with a leadership quote from someone who didn’t have any problems remembering to breath – Marian Anderson.
“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.”
My lesson had little to do with crying and more to do with the emotional state it left me in. After the crying, I exited the stage shields down and defenseless. A young man from NASA/Glenn Research Center came up to me. He was in tears. He thanked me and then asked me for a hug. I had it to give and I gave it to him. That hug made crying worth it.
Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA