We deserve to see you smile

My initial thought when I looked at this selfie was, “Wow. I look like a bitch. I should have smiled. I really should delete this.”

Then I wondered, “What’s wrong with not smiling?” and thought of all the posts I’d noticed in the last few years about how most societies (often instigated by the request of a man) expect women to smile in order to make them feel better (see links below for videos and articles on this topic).

This train of thought led me to recall how I’ve often wanted Byongchan to smile when I’m pretty sure he’d rather not. Maybe we’re at the dinner table after a long day of me teaching and him making in his studio. He’s quietly eating, and I look at him with a smile. He smiles back. Faintly. Then I wonder, “He seems annoyed. Did I do something wrong?”

And when I thought of this, I remembered the time when I was a teenager and my mother asked me why I rarely smiled. What teenager does, really? I was totally invoking my inner Darlene Connor.

Then that made me think of the talk, Speaking with Authenticity, where Kim Eng starts by telling a story of how as a little girl she was often told to smile because if she didn’t smile, she looked sad. This caused her to fake smile through a lot of her life.

“We take on these roles because people may have said something. Then, when I take on that role, I actually lose that authentic self of me that might be this person that just looks sad but I’m not sad. I was trying to please somebody else — make somebody else comfortable because they told me it wasn’t nice. They weren’t feeling good because I looked the way that I looked, which it appeared in their mind — in their interpretation — that I was sad. So I learned to keep smiling. (…) Wow. We just got to be ourselves.”

And that’s the point, isn’t it? There’s some notion behind this idea that we deserve to see others smile. As if we have some inherent claim to their inner lives, or that they owe us something. When I looked at my thought patterns, I noticed I wanted Byongchan to smile to make me feel more at ease. I interpreted his non-smiling face as a projection of his experience of me. If he could only smile, I would know that I was okay. If he could just smile, I would know he was happy with me.

I realized something similar about how I used to observe my students. If I didn’t see my students engaging in a certain way, I got down on myself. I’d try to control the situation to create a certain outcome. I’d fixate my energy on the student who wasn’t behaving how I wanted them to be, and if they didn’t change, I’d blame myself for not doing a better job, or I’d blame them for not trying.

In my post, 40 things I learned this year, one thing I learned was:

11. Letting people have their own experience, and relinquishing control over others or outcomes, keeps me from feeling stressed and anxious.

But it’s not only about me. It’s also about them. Sure, it’s important to let go of expectations for my own wellbeing, but what about theirs? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to experience life the way they want to?

How have you projected your expectations on to others? Would you like to change this perspective? If so, leave a comment below or send me a message. Let’s work on this together.

To receive bi-weekly updates, sign up for my mailing list HERE.

Articles and videos about the expecting Women to Smile

You’re so full of yourself!

“You’re so full of yourself!”

Could you imagine yourself saying “thank you” to this comment?

I’d like to offer up the idea that it’s okay to be full of yourself.

It’s definitely not an easy idea to accept. Most would cringe knowing others see them this way. I know I would. Although I try to put myself out there professionally, as a woman I’ve learned it’s safer to play small. I sometimes worry that I said or did something that came off as conceited: “Was it really necessary to write that comment about myself in my presentation bio?”,”Maybe I should have kept that Facebook post to myself?”

As a long term expat in Korea, I’ve observed how modesty and humility are highly valued. There is a general discomfort that seems to spread across a group of friends when someone talks about their success. It’s much safer to downplay your achievements.

In both these cultures, you won’t make it easy on yourself by acting superior. But what if it isn’t about superiority? What if it’s simply about honoring your gifts in way that you aren’t wasting your energy worrying about what others think? Imagine the ease you would feel if you could just fully be yourself. (click to tweet)

Imagine the space that would clear up if all you had to focus on was expressing your skills and knowledge without fear of judgment. My mind goes to exciting places when I consider this freedom. I imagine myself creating projects and sharing them with people in ways, well, Oprah might.

In Brené Brown’s first interview of her *Living Brave video series, she speaks to Oprah who shares how she used to be worried about being told she was full of herself. But Oprah, being Oprah, found a way to repurpose that judgment:

“Now I work at being full. I want to be so full that I’m overflowing. So when you see me coming, it ought to make you proud, to borrow a line from Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. When you see me coming it ought to make you proud, and what you see is a woman so full I’m overflowing with enough to share with everybody else. I’m going to own the fullness without ego, without arrogance, but with an amazing sense of gratitude that I’ve been born at a time where I am female on the planet, and I have the great pleasure and freedom to fill myself up.” (see poem below)

*Note: Brené and Oprah’s conversation on fullness starts at 12:05.

This. Overflowing. I imagine myself with a perpetually full tank of gas. Think of the places I could go and the people I could see! It’s impossible to get to these places with half a tank. But this is what happens when I try to make myself smaller in order to fit in. This is what happens when I try not to offend anyone.

This fullness isn’t about flaunting my gifts. It’s not about bragging about what I’ve done just to make myself look bigger and you smaller. To honour my gifts without ego or arrogance requires me to be appreciative of the experience I’ve gained, and the skills and knowledge that come along with it. When I’m grateful, I honour everyone and everything that helped me succeed. I fill myself up with this greatness, and in return, I take myself places I could never have imagined. (click to tweet)

What does your fullness look like?


Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.