Art & Commerce: Heart to Heart

Emotion and passion are the qualities that fuel success
Having been the kind of kid who felt the air more highly charged on report-card days, it is no surprise that professional reviews took on similar import in adult life. I remember the first one vividly. Actually, I remember one comment vividly: “Unfortunately, you have a tendency to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
I might have taken it in stride, acknowledging a dismal future as a poker player, but the meaning was clear: You’re too much of an emotional girl. The latter two words were a stigma, bright red and valentine-shaped, undermining the sharp, corporate persona I was striving to project. So I vowed to unpin my heart from the arm of my sweater where it stood accused and bury it where it belonged. In, damn heart, in, I say!
I was so determined to rally to this constructive criticism, to become a paragon of I wonder now, of what? Indifference? Lack of feeling? I checked. These are the antonyms my computer thesaurus offers for “emotional.”
So let me now confess: I can, at times, get emotional about my work.
Surely, I must not mean “emotional.” It has such a negative, hormonally charged connotation, even more so when associated with women in the workplace. Being emotional at work is tantamount to being irrational and unstable; that there are many examples of female and male professionals who are irrational and unstable does not help to clarify things.
I must mean “passionate.” Passion: that motivational word that gets bounced around in business more often than a beach ball at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yes, I do mean passion. However, the most maligned aspect of passion in the workplace is emotion.
The business of advertising is predicated on the ability to get into the hearts of consumers. It is the essence of our job to elicit emotion–to make people feel, care, want. How can we be effective at it if we don’t allow ourselves to be awake to those emotions ourselves? If we don’t feel our juices stir when someone makes a persuasive case, if we don’t bristle with indignity at an injustice, if we don’t allow others to see we’re genuinely touched by a compliment, how can we have a true personal stake in the work lives we lead?
Since that first review, I have been a reviewer of others. Ironically, a human-resources manager once found language I wrote in a review “too personal.” I wanted to instill in that person my own sense of emotion, passion, for what they could be if they tried. I could not understand this human-resources manager’s desire to take all of the “personal” out of “personnel.” Passion, emotion they are the visible signs that we care, that we are invested. They also happen to be the qualities that fuel success.
So, yes, I’ve gotten much better at handling difficult situations with a cool finesse. I don’t overreact (not often). I laugh a lot more than I brood. Yet if I am still guilty of wearing my heart on my sleeve occasionally, so be it.
That’s one thing I just won’t get worked up about anymore. K
Marisa F. Thalberg
is director,
global advertising
and production at Calvin Klein Cosmetics Co./Unilever Cosmetics International in
New York

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@ExecutiveMoms Marisa Thalberg is CMO of Taco Bell, founder of and a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.