Shaw’s Creek Smile

A road...not Shaw's Creek!

A road…not Shaw’s Creek, cause it has bagpipers on it But just pretend!

She was driving south on Shaw’s Creek Road in an old beat-up Toyota. Lucy and I were running north, and I could see her coming from for a long way. She was hunched over the steering wheel, clutching it and seemingly willing herself forward. Her face appeared pinched and sad, her hat pulled down low and her eyes almost hidden. Perhaps it was a bad day for her, for who knows what reason. But to a side-of-the-road-runner, she seemed to be preoccupied and I was cautious about not taking my eyes off of her.

Now, allow me to digress with a story about my teeth. Yes, you heard me. My teeth. When my mother was pregnant, she apparently took a lot of medication. That was in a time when the dangers of such things were not well understood or communicated. Suffice it to say that when my baby teeth started coming in, they entered in directions that teeth aren’t supposed to be in, and their colour was something very different than white. As a consequence, the dentist removed them. Then, as my permanent teeth erupted, they too formed angles that teeth aren’t supposed to form. My parents decided that money spent on my horrendous teeth would be money well spent. And spend a lot, they did. My teeth are the most expensive thing I own! To honour my parents expenditures, I’ve done my best to care for them. They are large, straight, very white and hard to miss when I smile. And if you know me, I smile a lot. My teeth get a lot of face time.

Good look at my teeth...see, they are large!

Good look at my teeth…see, they are large!

Back to the road….

She looked almost forlorn. And the day was brilliant, one of those fall days in Ontario where it’s just a wee bit cool, the sun is shining and the leaves are just turning crimson and gold. It smells fresh and clean, and wild. I was happy in my heart, and when I saw the driver, I did what comes naturally. I smiled.

Okay, I grinned. Beamed, more like it. My face exploded in a smile and the poor woman was given the full force of my parents’ investment in my teeth.

She couldn’t help herself. My teeth took over. She smiled. Then she grinned, and threw her head back and slowed down, then sped up. I swear she was laughing. And she just kept smiling.

The power of a smile is incredible. It can change a mood, change a heart, change the flow of traffic. It works while you are running, when you’re in a store, when you are simply doing what you do. It takes such a little effort, and the results are so intense.

Now, what does this have to do with anything? In my current work project with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, I’m spending a lot of time sitting at my computer and on the phone. I don’t smile a lot when I’m typing (who does), but I often do when I’m on the phone. I was talking to a gentleman north of Thunder Bay today, and we both started laughing about something I had done. He said to me “You sound like you have a big smile”. So I told him about my teeth. And we both smiled. Well, I did, and I am pretty sure he couldn’t laugh like he did without smiling. And our potentially touchy business conversation (about aboriginal treaty rights and the duty to consult with First Nation’s people) turned into one about how we often forget to smile when we’re working, and how good it feels to do it.

Today’s story, then, is about nothing that is truly of business value, like effective ways to use social media or strategic planning 101. It is about smiling.

But then again, how many more things bring success to your business or personal life than smiling? Try it. See how it works for you. I promise I’ll write about strategic planning later. But I’ll do it with a smile on my face!!!

A final driving smile. This is what my lady on Shaw's Creek looked like after I grinned at her.

A final driving smile. This is what my lady on Shaw’s Creek looked like after I grinned at her.

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Estimates of Expectations

I am a scientist. Let me qualify that…the letters behind my name herald the fact that I studied science in university. Biology. As my pal Kathy MacDonald is quick to point out, biologists are different from other scientists…we estimate.

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass...another skill set of biologists!

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass…another skill set of biologists!

I’ve been a runner for almost 40 years, and though I don’t keep detailed records of my runs[1], I have a general idea of how many miles I’ve covered in my lifetime…TONS!!! I run next to cars, trucks, tractors, combines and all sorts of vehicles as they pass me coming and going. I have learned to run on the edge of the shoulder so that I’m not a) splashed b)veered at or c)pushed off the road. Last year, in a personal running “research project”, I estimated (because that’s what biologists do) that:

  • approximately 70% of drivers do not slow down near runners (Imagine!)
  • the remaining 30%, drivers slow down and often wave or smile (especially if I make eye contact and smile at them).

(Needless to say, I made it my goal to get as many people driving near me to smile…and consequently slow down. Happier people, and definitely happier and safer Susan.)SusanCheerMarathon-1

I’ve recently moved to bustling community of Belfountain, home of the Salamander Festival, Lobsterfest and a lot of traffic! Upon moving here, I based my expectations about safety and running on my previous scholarly estimations – so I had to be über careful because more traffic meant no one was going to slow down or move over in this fast-paced community.

WRONGO!!!!

The first time I noticed something different was shortly after I moved in. I was running on a busy road, and there were 2 cars coming towards me. Lucy, my constant running buddy, and I moved close to the ditch, just in case. But to my surprise, the first car pulled over into the next lane, away from me. The second car slowed and then did the same thing.

Well now.

How unusual.

The next day, I was out on another road. An old BMW comes rumbling up behind me, slows down and then waves as it passes me by.[2]

This morning, I was on Main Street during rush hour (or Belfountain’s version of rush hour…more like rush moment). Not one, not two, but four separate vehicles pulled into the other lane to give me lots of room. By the time the last car passed by, I was grinning like a fool. And the passenger in that last car grinned right back and waved.

As a runner, I am delighted that I’ve found a place where people are considerate. As a simple human, I am once more struck with the knowledge that what I expected was not what happened. My assumptions, no matter how strongly grounded in science they were (or weren’t!), were not at all accurate.

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

I’m sure there are countless reasons why these drivers seem nicer than others. Perhaps they are used to runners. Perhaps the town just has nicer, kinder drivers! Then again, when I head out again, someone might aim at me while I’m running and blow my theories all to smithereens.

Despite assumptions and expectations, I have found, yet again, to expect the unexpected. In this world where we are deluged by stories about the horrors of Ebola, the tragedies in the Gaza, about the alarming unrest in the Ukraine…there are simple joys that manifest themselves all around us, if we are willing to take look for them; indeed, expect them. A driver pulling over for a runner isn’t really momentous occasion. But the frequency of its occurrence has made me happy. Which makes me smile. And if I smile when I run, people smile back and are happy. Which, in the bigger scheme of the world, Ebola and everything else not withstanding, is something we should all strive for and expect.

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[1] Unlike my friend Eleanor’s brother George Aitkin, who was recently featured in the July/August Canadian Running Magazine with all his journals of accurately measured distances!

[2] No, it wasn’t a LOLWBH (little old lady with blue hair); it was a young guy wearing a Jays cap and “wife beater” t shirt!