I was once fired for not smiling
When I was a teenager I worked at a summer camp teaching arts and crafts. The first year, I was thrown into the job with no training and I had to teach myself how to weave baskets and the finer points of leatherwork at the same time I was supposed to be teaching the campers. I got pretty good at making ladles out of coffee cups and my friendship bracelets were a hot commodity among the Scouters.
I was invited back the following year and eagerly took the opportunity - as it had been a pleasant summer spent reading FLETCH books in the woods and occasionally finger painting with kids. I was not invited back the third year. The reason given? I didn't smile enough.
I admit - I was more often than not a pretty morose looking teenager. Part of it was a depression that I battled, born from my weight issues and social insecurities. The majority of it, though, was self-chosen. As part of an effort to impress my classmates, I sought to create and nurture a persona for myself. Since I was not the athletic one or the smart one, I thought I would try my hand at being the deep one. All my artistic heroes were morose people and I thought adopting the persona of Nick Cave would look cooler on me than walking around grinning like an idiot.
I bought some black t-shirts from Hot Topic and I spent my days in the classroom looking pensive and remorseful – as if I was covering up some dark and secret past. Instead of becoming my school’s version of a TWILIGHT vampire, though, I found myself adopting my own made-up persona a bit too well. Soon, my attempts to affect a depressed, sullen persona actually led to me becoming a depressed, sullen teenager. My natural depression deepened and I just became plain miserable.
The bright and chipper Robert that had scampered through the halls of junior high was replaced by the mope who hung his head while shuffling through the halls of high school, letting friendships atrophy and was wasting opportunities to enjoy what should have been some great years of my childhood.
I was such a dork.
It doesn't help, of course, that I have resting asshole face. Unless I'm actively mentally commanding myself to smile or grin, my mouth instinctively turns downward and my expression hardens. It’s an autonomic behavior that often leaves me looking like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Even today, this is still an issue despite, while often stressed or anxious about this or that, I'm happier than I was as a child by far.
My job is good, I have some solid friendships, my relationship with my family is top-notch. Throw in some good tunes to listen to, a creative project to spend my nights tinkering with and a chance to get some fresh air for a few hours every day and I’m practically beaming with contentment — on the inside. On the outside, I look like I’m about to mug somebody.
I really do try to throw on a smile every now and then. As I go through the day, I’ll periodically remind myself to grin at the world —creeping out, perhaps, the people around me with an out-of-nowhere smirk. They say it takes more muscles to frown then it does to smile but, for me, it takes less work. If my mind is racing and I have enough items on my plate, I’ll forget to remind myself that it’s time for a smile and soon enough I’ll go back to my natural worried expression. The key, I've found, is to surround myself with funny people. It's a lot easier to remember to smile when I'm laughing.
So, to my friends out there that are funny, thank you for helping me not look like an asshole. And to the rest of you? Step up your game.
If it takes work to smile but I’m willing to put in the effort just so I don’t catch myself in the mirror and become reminded of what a pitty-party I used to be in high school. I’ll happily plaster on a Chesire Cat grin, throw some sparkles in my eyes and walk around looking like I escaped a television Christmas special if it means separating who I’ve become from who I used to be.