"And you should smile more often," he said, leaning in. As if he was sharing with me the secret to my advancing in the organization. "You should just smile."
That was the feedback I received early on in my career. Impromptu words of wisdom from a well-meaning male colleague. It would seem as though that smiling would be the key to my success. My lack of smiling was clearly holding me back.
On one occasion when I was sitting, tapping away quietly at my keyboard. Someone came up to me and said "What's wrong? Is something wrong?"
No that was just my resting face. I was just concentrating on an email. I wasn't smiling.
Another time I was walking down the hallway. On a mission to make it to a meeting on time. "What's wrong? Is something wrong?"
No I was just wearing heels that are too high. I was developing a blister on my heels. I wasn't smiling.
And a third time. I was listening intently in a meeting. Taking notes and following along in the conversation. "What's wrong? Is something wrong?"
No I was just paying attention. And thinking about next steps for the project. I wasn't smiling.
Throughout the course of my career, I inevitably started to smile more. I was conditioned to smile more. I smile often. I smile to make people feel welcome. I smile to disarm people. I smile and even throw in a laugh to cut the tension in any given situation. I smile when given tough feedback. I smile when others are angry. I smile when I am angry, sometimes growling through my teeth. I smile often and smile plenty.
"You should smile more often. Just smile." But when is the last time we ever asked a man to smile more?
If a man doesn't smile, it's ok. We never question, never doubt. He's commanding, he has a presence and gravitas. He's a leader. He's a visionary. He's someone we can follow. He will lead us to where we need to go. Follow that man!
We don't smile? The narrative can quickly go in another direction.
Then we are cold. Lack empathy. Lack emotional intelligence. People just can't seem to connect with us. We make people uncomfortable. We appear aggressive, sometimes threatening. People wonder if we like them, if we approve of them, if we can lead teams. If people will follow us. If we can make an impact. We just don't have that warmth, that energy, that charisma- those intangible qualities that make that next great leader.
It would be so much simpler if we just smiled. So why don't we?
Because maybe like our friend Kim Kardashian we don't want wrinkles. Because we don't feel well that day. Because we have blisters on our feet from heels that are far too high. Because we are just intently listening, planning what action we have to take next. Because we are fed up with the comments, the jokes, the daily attack of micro-aggressions we as women face in our lives.
Because some of us just don't like to smile, because we don't have time to smile. We aren't here to make friends. We aren't here to smile and show off our happiness and make everyone else comfortable. We are here to make moves and make things happen just like our male colleagues. We are here to make as much of an impact as humanly possible.
So what does smiling have to do with anything?
Next time you are in a meeting. And someone questions why she doesn't smile enough. Why she's so aggressive. Why she's so calculating. Why she doesn't collaborate. Why she's difficult.
Ask yourself and the others in the room, would we use the same words to describe a male leader? And doubt his capabilities?
And for the record. I do love to smile. I have a great smile. I smile often. Because life is good.
But please don't ask me to smile. Unless we are taking a selfie. Unless we are out enjoying a glass of frose. Unless I am with my children, snapping a photo, and we all shout "Cheese!" Then I will smile on command.
- The Art of Unplugging: Just Put Down The Phone - Swaay ›
- The Secret To Saying No Without Pissing People Off - Swaay ›
- Arianna Huffington: "Don't Hire Brilliant Jerks" - Swaay ›
- Limitless: How to Start Your Own Successful Business at 21 - Swaay ›
- 30 Signs You're An Adult… Or In Denial About It - Swaay ›
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."