Written by Michelle
Ever tried the smiling experiment–genuinely smiling at a stranger? Have you tried it while you’re driving (if you’re like me, while dodging flying Goldfish and drowning out the sounds of whining children with blaring Latin music)?
Does the stranger smile back? Laugh? Ignore you? I’ve found most times I can start a positive chain reaction. Sometimes in others, mostly in myself. A smile goes a long way.
And I’ve learned we all smile in different ways.
Over ten years ago when I started teaching high schoolers, I quickly discovered that my demeanor established the atmosphere. From mood swings to massive eruptions, I did not want to trigger the “on” switch for a hormonal pre or post-pubescent young man or woman.
I also inadvertently learned that my life was best kept to myself. Out of professional responsibility and sanity, it was best to give all to my students by leaving my own problems outside of the classroom walls. Don’t get me wrong, my students knew me…at times too well because I didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve…I wore it on my face.
From bad days to normal stress, through my dating years and some relationships gone wrong, my students could read me. Often my teenage students stepped up and their discreet compassion for my not-so stellar moments are some of my most memorable lessons in teaching.
Eventually, I discovered that a sincere, honest smile was my best armor. Not a forced one, but one that grew from appreciating and humbly understanding that these children were under my wing. I smiled because I loved what I did, and most importantly, because I cared for them.
Once teaching inside a formal classroom was done, I started teaching fitness to mostly adult women (and men) ranging from 16 to 75 years old. From their first period to menopause, I’m “home” to all age groups, and I positively love every second of it. Aside from shining neon athletic clothes, sweatbands and spandex, I proudly wear my heart on my face at all times.
I believe my job is to provide a safe and effective workout. But most importantly, it’s to displace participants from their normal lives and routines. Within four walls and amid blaring speakers, women and men from all walks of life tell the story of their days, their weeks or maybe their years through their fitness exertion. Their fitness journey is my ship, and I take being the captain pretty seriously.
So seriously that I ask class participants to smile as they’re taking my class. You see, when I teach, especially when I’m on a stage, I survey people’s reaction. In exhaustion, boredom, yawns and giggles I scrutinize. I analyze every face, every frown and every smile in order to provide the best experience for their fitness journey. My most challenging classes are not those that have excruciating workouts, but those who have participants who are difficult to motivate.
About five years ago, I received a letter from a shy and very quiet woman who never seemed to enjoy her time. She never talked and hardly smiled. I was scared to read the contents of the message.
I was moved to tears as she poured her heart out in few words. She had gone through the horrific experience of losing her husband to cancer. Her fitness classes were her first steps to reconciling with her new reality. They were her new-found therapy and joy. She genuinely apologized for not smiling. But she told me that inside, she could not stop beaming. She found comfort surrounded by happy (even sweaty) people. And she started to feel alive again. While she couldn’t display that in an overt physical way, inside she was rejoicing. For that simple reason she was SO grateful.
I wear my heart on my face; it’s my smile; it’s who I am, but I’ve come to understand that I can’t expect everyone to do the same.
I love a heart felt smile, the kind that, when you see it, makes you smile even harder.
I love people who smile with their eyes.
I love big cheeks and how little kids when they beam with happiness scrunch those cheeks until you can’t see their eyes.
I love that our differences make us unique and that even if we can’t “see” it, it’s more than ok to simply smile with your heart.