This is a picture of me.
No, not the happy, smiling lady featured in front. She was among the interviewees for a behind-the-scenes segment at the NBA Finals, ecstatic to be there.
I’m the other woman.
The one with the credentials around my neck, obliviously walking through the shot, a true “no-no” in television production. It’s a mistake I’ve made only one other time in my career.
How did I err here? I’m not sure, but just look at me… it appears I’m on a MISSION. You might want to GET OUT OF MY WAY. Consider the DETERMINATION and FOCUS on my face.
And, as my family pointed out, a very noticeable frown.
They wanted to know… was I unhappy?
I don’t recall being unhappy. A bit overworked and overtired and overwhelmed – all of those “overs” that I so easily slipped under, over and over again.
“I’m not frowny, I’m focused!” I insisted.
I’m concentrating, not cross. The furrow in my brow means I’m thinking, of course. The fact that I look like I want to kill someone is because who wouldn’t have killed for that work opportunity.
My husband suggested otherwise. He said he’d seen that look before. He calls it my “Frowny Work Face.”
Apparently and unbeknownst to me, I had Frowny Work Face quite often.
Whenever I checked email at night (which I did, a lot). Whenever I got an after-hours work call (which I also did, a lot). Whenever work interrupted personal or family time or a doctor’s appointment or a car ride or time spent in line at the supermarket (which it did, all the time…)
But that didn’t mean I wasn’t happy.
I mean, if anyone asked, “Are you happy?” that’s how I would respond: “I’m not unhappy.”
It took me a while to realize that being happy and being not unhappy is not the same thing.
“Maybe you should get a job at the bowling alley,” my young daughter suggested.
“Why?” I laughed.
“Because you’re always happy when we go bowling,” she noted.
I had to smile at her simple solution. Here’s where I point out we go bowling maybe once a year. It’s fun family time so I am smiling.
Also, I’m a terrible bowler, so I spend a lot of time laughing at myself. I joke that the only thing that slightly improves my bowling – oddly – is if I have a beer. OK, I know I said this was family time. Stop judging. I have a beer, I bowl a little better than bad, I smile.
One time I got carded. You read that right – I got carded for a beer at the bowling alley. They wanted proof I was at least 21. I was 43. Maybe 44. I’ve reached that Age of Old when I forget how old I am.
But I had a REALLY big smile on my face that day.
But I’m pretty sure if I worked full-time at the bowling alley, resetting pins and spraying Lysol into rental shoes, I would eventually develop Frowny Work Face too.
Because it wasn’t about the job itself. It was the relentless onslaught of the job.
It was the feeling that I needed to always be ON, so DETERMINED on that MISSION and ON MY WAY that I couldn’t get out of my own way.
I was so focused on getting it all done that I lost sight of what I liked to do and was naturally good at.
Looking back at this Frowny Work Face photo, here’s what I see… it was snapped at the start of what I now know was a serious case of burn-out.
So committed was I to being everything for everyone, to meet their needs, that I neglected my own.
There were entire weeks I forgot about myself. I pushed off the tough conversations I needed to have, figuring if I could just get it DONE, that meant I was doing it.
And I kept pushing myself to push through and created a year – even two – that I’ll never get back.
If I could go back and talk to that grimacing woman, I’d tell her to go take a nap. A long one.
And when she wakes up, refreshed and with some free time to think, to give some serious thought as to what Happy looks like.
Because while Frowny may be focused, Happy doesn’t look like that.
And there’s a big difference between being Happy and being Not Unhappy.
I had originally saved this photo to demonstrate to those seeking a TV career behind the scenes why it’s important not to wind up in front of the camera. You can’t lose your focus and step into a shot.
But the focus of this photo is now clear.
If you, too, suffer from your own Frowny Work Face – and yours may present differently than mine – it’s time to acknowledge the image and figure out what it is you need to bring you more Happy.
Maybe it’s slowing down, taking an occasional snapshot of where things stand and where you are headed.
Has your aim changed? Do you still want to get to where you’ve always thought you should go?
Maybe you realize it’s time to build a new chapter, one in which Frowny Work Face is only an old character who helped create a plot twist that set a new storyline in motion.
Or maybe you just need some family time at the bowling alley and a beer and someone to ask if you’re over 21.
I’m not judging. It’s your Happy.
Since leaving her frowny television job, Valerie Gordon created career and communications strategy firm Commander-in-She, wrote a book, spoke at conferences, and collaborated with corporations to train future leaders on the power of story. She’s even had time to bowl (poorly) and to remember to smile.