What A Complex Relationship With Emotions Has Meant To Me

My friend Kirby and I were chatting several years ago. We were both project managers running teams at a mobile dev shop having the time of our lives. We had a lot of things in common that we felt made us successful.

Passionate, organized, and great with clients. Team members really enjoyed being with us because we try to have fun and will fight for them. We also had a tendency at that time to get a little wonky when things got stressful.

You see, we are both emotional people.

Other peers were able to keep calm and remain focused when things caught fire, and we saw them being lauded for it. Some were even promoted, and we wondered if our emotions were getting in the way of that.

To our credit, we both were successful in our own ways. I was eventually placed over our agile practice, and she’s now a PM director at that same company. Maybe we were just young at the time and had not been stepped on by challenges to know how to respond. Our boss at the time did an amazing job acknowledging our emotions, and yet at the same time, we knew we had to keep them in check to be successful.

Nevertheless, the conversations we had at that time still ring true looking back. In professional settings, often the unspoken rule is to keep your cool when things go wrong. The same question we used to ask ourselves still needs consideration.

Will an emotional person be able to be as successful as someone who’s more stoic?

We’re still not supposed to be that emotional.

Becoming sad and insecure in moments of stress will result in me being known as the colleague that cries at the drop of the hat. Losing my temper can result in me either retreating into myself and unresponsive to others, or flying off the handle to become the leader that yells at the closest person to me.

All of them can have severely negative reactions in careers where the wrong words from a client or colleague can leave me looking for new work.

It began when I was a child when my emotions were used against me as the kid who people made cry on the playground. I turned into an aggressive adult with a chip on his shoulder as a young adult as a result. Kept my sense of humor through it all, and I’m thankful to learn quickly. So as I was building something of an IT career, I thought I could overcome my emotions.

Add to that I’m a male who grew up in West Texas, where emotions weren’t really welcome on the football field. There were more than a few conversations where I was told to stop crying by adults.

Perhaps even learn to stifle them to the point where I can craft myself into a better version of myself. It’s a little shameful to admit that to all of you now, but I really wanted to change who I was inside so I could be the type of employee I thought I was supposed to be.

At the time I had some experience being a scrum master and product manager. Even showed a few other teams a few tips on how to better use the manifesto to improve the way they work. It was at the moment I got to start coaching teams where the complex relationship with my emotions too a turn for the better.

I would show up looking for a way to help, and thus ask them a few questions about how they felt about their current way of working. What came out were many different answers than I was expecting. It dealt with more of their feelings than I ever thought people would admit to me. Sure, it was wrapped around too many defects or moody scrum masters, but there was a lot of emotion when they talked to me.

Eventually, I became known as the person you confided to when things were going poorly. Jokingly even set up scrum “confessional” sessions. Even though I was clueless about how to help with some of their problems I was learning so much about the emotions of others and how they impacted their work. One teammate even pulled me into a room to confess an attempted suicide.

I was swimming in emotions. Just weren’t my own.

One could think I would be completely out of my depth for these conversations with my previous struggles with my own emotions. Instead, my emotions allowed me to connect in ways I’ve never thought possible with colleagues.

What happens when new challenges wreck all that growth?

It was around this time where my marriage fell apart, and my ex moved our kids far away from me. Living on my own, swimming in these emotions, I had to get ahold of my own again.

I also saw in my young son a similar story forming. He processes his thoughts externally and often struggles to keep his emotions from taking over situations. My hurt was doubling because I was scared he was “cursed” with my makeup.

Went back to questioning how I would be productive when I was filled with own conflict and a healthy amount of questioning about my self-worth.

A change in scenery was necessary, so I decided to take my budding coaching skills on the road consulting with clients as opposed to an internal version. Would my emotions be able to function in this scary world of high dollar-per-hour face time with people?

There was a lot of good and bad in those early days. I would be on cloud nine wowing everyone with my facilitation skills or workshop creation. Could also be in very depressed states where I wondered if I would always be let down by this cloud of emotions seemed to get me into trouble when I would get upset.

I learned of radical candor, emotional intelligence, and unconscious bias. My skills were increasing, and awareness was growing. There just seemed to be a glass ceiling to my self-image because of these darn emotions.

It was at this time where a very good friend offered her services as a life coach to help me get to know myself again. Pradeepa helped me realize that I was spending so much time being aware of the emotions of others. Helping them understand and deal with them. And at the same time, I was ignoring my own.

Some of you can see where this was headed. Strange how often we are the last to see what was going on with us.

It wasn’t really about my emotions after all.

My emotions became a representation of the part of myself I didn’t really like. I saw them as the cause for so many struggles I had my entire life. In reality, my complex relationship with them wasn’t so complex at all. I simply had to understand my emotions made me amazing.

They were my superpower the entire time. My emotions allow me to connect to myself more easily. Understand how I feel, as well as others, and help us all see where they originate from. Now that I have found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, I’m allowing myself to be the emotional creature Beth needs. Sure as hell deserves it.

Do I get emotional when I’m on calls with clients still? You bet. When I get called out and respond defensively, I can admit how I’m feeling and apologize. Conflict seems less like a struggle, and more of an invitation to become curious (thanks Lyssa).

Accepting myself was easier than I thought. Just needed to give my emotions permission to exist. I’m okay when they go overboard in relation to the situation, provided I take the time to find out why. I’m no longer held captive by my emotions.

I embrace them.

If you have ever felt this way, please reach out. I would love to help. I want to share with you how amazing your emotions are. They aren’t a mistake. You are not broken. We’ve never been. We’ve just misunderstood ourselves.

Let those superpowers loose, and help others understand their emotions aren’t a bad thing.

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