When you talk about women in business, Sheryl Sandberg's name comes right to the top. A Facebook Executive and author of the best-selling Lean In, Sandberg is a household name. When her husband, Dave Goldberg, died unexpectedly at the very young age of 47, we felt terrible for her. She admitted, after his passing, that her book had assumed a supportive spouse and didn't focus on the challenges faced by the single mom at work.

She understands a bit better now. (Although, in fairness, she can't possibly understand the challenges of the single mom in a low paying job. Sandberg can afford household help. Most single moms--and most married moms--don't have that kind of financial flexibility.) And one thing she seems to be advocating is acknowledging that life can be really, really hard. And that can involve crying. At work.

Unfortunately, for most of us, crying and work don't go together.

Now, crying when you've lost your spouse--whether you're male or female--belongs at the office. It belongs everywhere. And that's where Sandberg is coming from. The Wall Street Journal shared the following story about Sandberg:

She has mourned her husband in private events with advertisers and employees. In April, she hosted a dinner for some big Facebook advertisers and their agencies, a few hours after a school event for her children touched off a fresh wave of sadness about Mr. Goldberg's absence.

After rising to welcome the roughly 20 attendees, Ms. Sandberg stood silently for a few moments, according to Carolyn Everson, Facebook's vice president of global marketing solutions, who attended the dinner. Then, Ms. Sandberg said she had had a bad day. She discussed her struggle to find meaning amid the dark days; she spoke of her passion for her work. The room was quiet, said Ms. Everson.

"She could have put on the corporate face, the 'I'm going to get through this dinner,' face," Ms. Everson said of the evening. "But she was brave. She told them she was hurting and it was real."

Such outpourings are something of a departure from Ms. Sandberg's upbeat public persona before Mr. Goldberg's death.

This is appropriate, but Sandberg again misses the big point. This type of vulnerability is okay, but don't mistake the license to grieve publicly as a general license to cry at work. Sandberg, again, has the flexibility that the common person doesn't. She's already an executive. She's already well known. She has been the poster girl for leaning in--quite literally. Everyone at that dinner knew her background and knew her to be a fantastic business woman.

The rest of us don't quite have that name recognition. Sheryl Sandberg can cry now precisely because she didn't cry in the past.

Crying at work happens when something terrible, like the death of a loved one, happens. That's fine, and only a truly horrible person would hold that against an employee. But, crying at work also happens when it shouldn't, and I want to make it clear that, in most situations, crying at work isn't appropriate.

When your co-worker gets the big project you wanted and think you've earned, don't cry.

When you get told you've done something wrong and have to re-do weeks worth of work, don't cry.

When you make a presentation and it falls flat, don't cry.

When you make a suggestion in a meeting and someone tells you that was the stupidest idea ever, don't cry.

Crying in these situations doesn't make people feel compassion towards you. It makes them doubt you have what it takes to succeed. Business is hard. It's competitive. Sometimes you do need to go home and have a good cry, but don't cry in the office.

Maybe it's unfair that we can't cry in the office when things don't go our way. However, we live in the real world where crying over a failed project can hurt your career--whether or you're male or female. Business shouldn't be taken personally, although it's super easy to do so. 

When you've reached the level that Sandberg is at, you can afford to be a bit weepy, but otherwise, you'll need to suck it up until you get home. Or, if worst comes to worst when you reach a bathroom stall that you can lock. Otherwise, keep the tears inside as much as possible.

Published on: Jul 22, 2016
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