On smiles and seriousness 

You know, life is too short to not let people know you see them. That you are passing each other in this moment on earth and you see them going by. I try to say hi to people I pass if it’s just the two of us going by. Not as easy if there are people everywhere, but I still try to look and smile. When I see someone wearing something I like I always try to tell them. I’ve been complimented on my clothes in unexpected places and it always boosts my confidence a bit. Everyone could use a bit of a lift.

I fuckin’ love to laugh, and I do it often. I can laugh out of nervousness, which gets annoying and I’m trying to tamp that down. I don’t know what makes a marriage work, but I know mine is assisted by the fact that my husband is hilarious in unexpected ways and I’m often near tears during conversations. The same thing often happened with a colleague at my old job when I would visit him for a conversation and he would make an observation that left me in tears. It’s the best feeling. I’ve experienced this with most of my favorite people. I know a lot of funny people, I guess, or I’m easily amused. Maybe both.

My default game face to moving through the world is smiling. It’s not an effective game face, but I can’t help it. My mom has an old picture of me…this is the 1970s when pictures weren’t taken every 30 seconds…and I’m climbing up the front steps at our house and I’m looking up at her smiling. I must have been two or three. She tells me she loves that photo because it looked like I was conquering obstacles with a smile on my face…like this is how I would go through the world. Smiling and working my way up. I love that.

When I visited my mom once for a week, she had been feeling down…perhaps she had been sick at the time from chemotherapy…but she told me I was like a “big ball of sunshine” when I came in, which made me laugh (of course). When I visited my old colleagues during my last trip to Illinios, one of them came out of the office and said “I heard the laugh and thought, ‘That sounded like Shannon.'” I reunited with a friend on Facebook and a picture I shared of myself made him comment, “I can still hear your laugh all these years later.” I’m so pleased to know that people remember me for laughing.

And Yet.

I feel like I know myself pretty damn well by now. If you ask me to describe myself I can.

And Yet.

I can’t help but wonder if this default to kindness and laughter is viewed sometimes as weakness or silliness or a lack of smarts…the bumbling, laughing fool.

When I think of public figures I admire, they do not come off as overly friendly. Often they do not seem friendly at all. They come off as bad asses ready to do the job. Intimidating.  They are taken seriously because otherwise shit is going down. I LOVE that.

I met someone recently who I get to see in action a bit, and she is funny and nice, but in an understated way, and, most importantly for her role, she does not take shit and she will get to the point of something right now if someone seems to be missing the point. It’s fantastic to watch. And I find myself wanting to be more like that…after 40 years of life in the same skin, knowing who I am innately, I still wish to be different. To be more serious. To be less smiley. To be intimidating. To be taken seriously.

That’s not to say I’m not taken seriously, but perhaps my joviality makes it easier to question my knowledge? Is being too friendly a detriment to being a good leader?

Last thought, I photographed a guy yesterday, just a head shot. He didn’t smile at all and he looked like such a crank in the photos. Angry. I thought to myself, Should I ask him to smile? It’s clear that’s not his default. I finally did and he smiled a bit and then the awkwardness made him smile more, and he said he’s not much of a smiler. Then when we were looking through the photos he said, oh, the smiling photos look better. And I thought, No shit. Everyone looks better with even just a little bit of a smile on their face.


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