One of the WordPress challenges a few weeks ago was to write about a piece of advice one has been given. It made me think of one bit of advice I got a few years ago. After I left school, I went through a few years which were interesting, to say the least. I didn’t work enough though I wanted to, I didn’t spend enough time with people though I wanted to. The experiences I had during that time and since have made me a much more resilient, resourceful and experienced individual. I met with various people from employment agencies specifically set up to help people with disabilities get jobs. One was in Haddington. The meeting essentially signposted me to other places and other directions though it was notable because the person I was meeting with asked me to look up. She complemented me on my eyes and said I should smile more.

My expression is often perpetually perplexed. Indeed I play on it sometimes. I was once speaking to a reader in a library who said I looked confused in response to their query, to which I promptly replied I always look like that, which elicited a laugh and broke the tension. Amazingly, I am told that I am quite a cheerful person, which is certainly not always how I feel, but I sometimes have to work harder at smiling and present a professional persona whereby I might be smiling and all business on the surface but surfing on a sea of chaos underneath. It is multi-tasking, something I have become a bit more skilled at in recent years, even being able to combine eye contact with processing what I need to do and doing it. It doesn’t always work but it is getting better.

Eye contact is incredibly difficult a lot of the time. I was once told that my difficulties with it would make it very hard to find another job. I have been able to largely overcome that and get jobs since. The times when I find it harder to make eye contact are with people I don’t know or when on the customer side of a customer-service interaction. I was once advised to feign eye contact by looking at the end of the nose of the person I was speaking to, though this was once made significantly difficult during one job interview where at the end of the interviewer’s beak was a nose ring. I try to do it for a few seconds at a time, consciously working hard to concentrate on what they are saying while keeping manners and thinking of what I might say next. It seems to work as a strategy, even while it can still be improved and built on with life as it goes on.

Recently, I was talking to a colleague about my being involved in leading singing and rhyming sessions for babies (and their parents). She asked how the first session had gone and after I replied fine and that I managed to get through okay to my new audience, she said that my charm will have helped. I am sometimes told that I am charming. I just try to do things my way, being polite, friendly and interesting. I find small talk boring and I want to do my best for people. It makes the day faster and my job more rewarding. Charm is hard to manage in some circumstances. I try just to be myself though there are times when you have to present a persona, as I said earlier.

When leading Bookbug or Bounce and Rhyme, you need to be friendly, warm, approachable and calm, much the same as working with children more generally. I find leading a session like that more comfortable than I do in many social situations. There are exceptions, of course. I have learned how to behave and how to handle some parts of life. Others will come in time. Much of it happens because of smiling, even if life is hard, even if in a few minutes time, you need to navigate across the city and somehow get lunch at the same time, even if the person you are speaking to might be attractive and your heart is in your mouth. Some advice you can safely ignore but even that you need to smile and nod while listening to it, or appearing to. Smiling is good, even if it takes time to be able to do it.


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