A few years ago, after watching my son Devin perform in his high school musical, I had a conversation with him that went something like this:
Me: “Great job, Devin! You did so well!’
Dev: “Thanks, Mom. Did you really enjoy the show?”
Me: “Of course! I loved every minute of it.”
Dev: “Oh, good, because my friend looked into the audience and said you looked kinda mad.”
Me: “What would I have to be mad about? I love watching you perform.”
Dev: “Yeah, I told him you weren’t mad or anything, that it’s just your face. You know, ‘cause you have RBF.”
Me: “I have what?”
Dev: “RBF. Resting Bitch Face. It just means that you kinda look mad all the time. It’s no big deal. Everyone in our family has it – you, me, dad, all of us. You didn’t know that?”
Me: “Uh, nope. I sure didn’t.”
And that’s how I discovered the hard and uncomfortable truth - when my face is at rest, I look like, well…you know.
I wasn’t angry with Devin for revealing this to me. In fact, I was grateful. Well-meaning friends or acquaintances have prodded me many times in my life to “smile” or “cheer up.” I think, like many other introverts, I tend to hold myself back in social situations, and sometimes that comes across as reserved or aloof (or apparently angry). I wanted to make more of an effort to let others see the love in my eyes, the joy in my smile, and the excitement on my face.
Here are a few things I have learned about how to open up and let my true feelings show.
It’s okay to love the crap out of everyone. Rather than hold back a compliment or praise, say what you’re thinking. You will never regret telling someone they look nice, that you’re so happy to see them, or that you think they are wonderful. When you’re feeling the love, spread it around! Never leave a kind word unspoken, and never speak badly of anyone, including yourself.
You’re (probably) not going to make a fool of yourself. I used to be so afraid of looking foolish that I would never do anything that might call attention to myself. But I realized I am much happier when I let go of my inhibitions and just enjoy life. The truth is, most people are so concerned about what’s going on in their own lives that they aren’t really paying attention to what you’re doing anyway. And what if you do happen to look foolish? Well, all I can say is that after a while, you sort of get used to it!
Being “real” is way more fun than faking it. In a noisy room, I don’t always hear well. In the past, I would just nod and smile rather than ask someone to repeat themselves. Obviously, this didn’t always work out well, and often the person would walk away with a confused or offended look. Now I just say, “I’m sorry. I’m rather deaf. Could you repeat that?” I have found it’s better to acknowledge a shortcoming than conceal it. Letting people in on your struggles in a lighthearted way makes them feel valued and helps you feel less pressure to appear perfect.
When in doubt, walk like an Egyptian. Once I was on a cruise with my family and while exploring the ship on the first day, we suddenly realized we were behind a band that was playing on one of the decks. We would have to walk directly behind the band as they played in order to escape. As my sister and I contemplated the best way to do this without being seen, we looked over to see my brother-in-law strutting like an Egyptian as he crossed behind the band, bringing smiles to all of our faces and to those of the people watching. The rest of us followed suit and strutted across to the beat of the music. A potentially embarrassing situation turned into a memory that none of us will forget.
Skip the handshake and go for the hug. Have you ever thought about hugging someone, but went for the handshake instead? Then inevitably the other person initiates the hug and you feel awkward. If you feel a hug coming on, don’t suppress it. Most people enjoy being hugged, but we usually wait for the other person to give us the signal that it’s okay. When you hug someone, your heart is pressed against their heart, conveying much more love and warmth than a handshake. When given a choice, always go for the hug, and make it count. Give the person a big squeeze, and make it last for at least three or four “Mississipis”!
You’re the star of your life, so go ahead and shine! You’re only a supporting role in the movie of everyone else’s life. But in the movie of your life, YOU are the star! It helps me to sometimes imagine that my life is a movie being watched by millions of adoring fans. What would my character do in this situation? Would she fade into the background or would she take center stage and live with gusto? Being the star of my own life means I get to choose how I live, how I interact with others, and how I respond in any given situation. In the end, my story will be a beautiful one, full of love, passion, excitement, and joy. And I hope you’ll be able to tell, by the look on my face, that I love every second of it!