Last night, Jimmy Kimmel recounted the heart-wrenching story of learning his newborn son had a heart condition. With a few jokes and many more tears, he recalled the diagnosis, the ambulance ride to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the hours of waiting while his son was in surgery, and thankfully, the happy ending of the baby being healthy enough to leave the hospital and go home with his family.
Watching Kimmel be so open, it’s hard not to connect with his story. Maybe you’ve sat in a hospital waiting room, counting the minutes until the doctor comes back with an update on a loved one. Maybe, you’re a parent, who remembers agonizing over your baby’s diaper count, and can’t imagine worrying whether their tiny heart was pumping the blood they needed to live. Maybe there’s some other personal struggle that’s weighed on you, deeply.
And if you’ve been there, you also identify with that moment when you have to go back to work. When, with a shredded heart, you have to put on your game face and completely compartmentalize.
Except, what if ignoring what’s going on in your life isn’t the best course of action?
It’s true: Kimmel’s in a unique position. Standing up and sharing a story every night is what he does. However, there’s a lesson here that applies to everyone: There are times when you should be vulnerable at work.
I know this idea will make some people recoil and think, Ugh, no, not the place. I think they imagine that, as a result of reading this article, their colleagues will start coming in late, crying continuously, asking others to do all of their work, and leaving early—forever. But let’s call this what it is: a negative, overblown stereotype.
Just as the advice to, “be yourself” in an interview doesn’t mean to dress inappropriately, swear, and confess to every career mistake you’ve ever made; being honest about what’s going on with you outside of the office doesn’t mean you should treat work as an all-day venting session for weeks on end—and you know that.
However, you may still be scared that, since you’re not a celebrity, being so open could negatively impact your career. You could fear that others will think you’re too overwhelmed to do your job, and suddenly, on top of your sadness, you won’t be up for exciting projects or promotions.
From personal experience, I can say: That’s never happened to me.
My son Moses passed away at 19 days old in 2014 and it’s something I’ve been very open about, including with my colleagues. No one has questioned my abilities or commitment: To the contrary, my co-workers see my resilience.
Not just that, but if you’re working in a kind and compassionate company, this sort of openness helps everyone in your office.
Yes, it helps you because your boss will ask you if your current task load still works, and your co-workers will offer to pitch in. Not to mention, they’ll also know that a lack of chattiness doesn’t mean you secretly hate them.
But on a much more important level, it shows them that they can have the same conversations with you. For example, I work with someone who shared his cancer diagnosis with me, and I in turn, talked about my son. He later told me that it made him feel seen. Neither one of us stopped kicking ass at our jobs, but by being vulnerable, we built trust. Now, our working relationship is closer than ever.
If you listen through the whole monologue, you’ll hear that Kimmel ends by saying he plans to stop crying and continue with the show. As those of us with continuous grief—or any struggle—know, that’s the reality. You open your heart, share a piece of yourself, and then you get back to work.
While that transition takes some practice, it means you can be yourself at work, and help create a space where others are too. It’s not easy, but in the end it’s much less exhausting than holding everything in.
So, if something major is going on in your life, set up a time to speak with your boss, or a mentor at your company, or a close co-worker. They can give you feedback on sharing your story with others at work, and be someone to lean on.
And if you’re feeling nervous, remember that Jimmy Kimmel shared his story in front of millions last night, and for that, we see him as brave and strong.