I stopped by the grocery store tonight, the store I frequent at least twice each week. John (yup, that it his real name), the cashier in the self-checkout section was there. Without meaning to armchair diagnose, I'm going to assume John is somewhere on that beautifully colored autism spectrum. He has been working at my grocery store for at least 5 years. Only during the last 2 or 3 years has he "recognized" me as a frequent customer. Tonight he said something to me that made me cry when I was safely tucked away in my car in the parking lot. He asked me how I was doing and I told him I was doing great, ready to start the new year. I inquired about his biking (he bought a bike earlier this year and has done a great deal of riding), and he told me he has taken advantage of the warm weather. He always has some amazing facts to talk about, from the economy in Japan to migrating birds. Before I left, he said, "I enjoy talking to you. You are very approachable." I wished him a great 2016 and headed out with my purchase, and when I got outside, I started to run to the car, not because of the rain, but because I started to cry.
This is important to me because approximately 3 years ago, I decided to start smiling. I started smiling because I noticed no one else was smiling. I was simply disgusted with passing mean, unsmiling people. Everyone became ugly and unapproachable and my stomach was upset with so much ugliness. Seriously. I found the foul look on the face of the general public repugnant and disturbing, regardless of gender, race, single/married, with someone, alone, with kids, without, with friends/family, without. I vowed to no longer contribute to that shit. I began smiling at every stranger I passed. I felt better. It's no secret I battle chronic depression. It's also no secret that these battles have been reduced to minor "struggles" and they are few and far between now. I feel great, and 9 times out of 10, those I smile at, smile back, even if they have a frown at the time we make eye contact. My The world is a better place.
How do I know it's working? I feel better and I think I've made a difference just by learning to smile. Don't get me wrong, I trust my gut and I have boundaries, but I'm learning to be approachable by flashing a bit of acceptance before I even know a person.
A coworker, a woman I admire and respect, told me that in the past she has received negative performance reviews because coworkers found her "unapproachable and intimidating." I myself felt that way around her in the beginning, before I knew her. I know after 4 years that if I need anything she is there and she is an amazing mom, woman, coworker, human, etc. It took me nearly 4 years to realize this. I don't want to be that person. I want people to know right away that I can be approached.
At the beginning of this year, I was in the same grocery store. I saw a little girl (4 or 5, I'm guessing) walking around the produce section by herself. We made eye contact and she came running up to me. She asked me if I could help her find her mom. I parked my cart to the side and she took my hand. This little girl, she didn't know me and I didn't know her. I told her I would of course help her find her mom. I asked her where she last saw her, what her mom looked like, etc. We found Mom, who was just as frantic as the little girl. The mom thanked me, and I told her I was happy to help. I couldn't help but think, this little girl must have seen something in me that made her want to approach me. I was so glad she could see whatever it was that she saw. I would be sad if I thought someone in distress needed help but couldn't find an approachable human. Travesty.
"You make my heart a little happier when I see you coming in the store." This kind compliment was given to me two years ago by the owner of the dry cleaner near my home. I see her only a handful of times each year, but she knows my name and she always jumps to wait on me. I also cried in the safety of my car the day she first told me that.
I usually don't make resolutions, but if you do, I urge you to consider being more approachable in 2016, because it has improved my life greatly, and I'm willing to bet it will improve the lives of strangers who come into contact with you. Serendipity is powerful.
Happy 2016 everyone.