Behind the Smile: Continuing to be Positive Even When the Job is Tough

This is part of a series of posts from nominees for our LifeChanger of the Year educator recognition program. We meet scores of fascinating LifeChangers every year who have interesting perspectives to share about children, education and life. 

I sit in my car, just outside the school where I work, tears streaming down my face. I have just returned from taking my child to a doctor’s appointment. It was a tough appointment as my son has been struggling with things related to the fact that he has autism. I know I need to go into work. Not only do I need to enter the school, but I am going to have to do it with a smile. And that seems like the toughest part right now.

I am a school counselor. Like all people who work with kids, I need to be positive. Even when things are tough. I need to be a good role model when faced with adversity. I need to be strong for the many kids who are struggling with far bigger problems than I have ever faced in my lifetime. The burden of worrying about their problems is heavy enough, but when I add my own personal struggles, the weight can seem unbearable at times.

I contemplate taking the day off and regrouping. I know people would understand. My other option is to walk into my place of work, put a smile on my face, and get busy doing the work that I love. I know by doing this I am not pretending that everything is OK because it isn’t, but I also know I am surrounded by great people in my life who will listen when I am done with work. But for now? I need to get to work.

I walk into the school and force a smile. It starts with smiling at a co-worker who stops to tell me a cute story about a student. I take a few more steps and smile at some students who give me big smiles in return. I smile at another student who tries to keep their head down, and I know that the smiles this student sees in school are some of the only smiles he sees during the day. Even if he pretends he didn’t see them.

The day is in full swing. I am quickly caught up in the busyness of the day. A student thanks me for helping him out. Another student asks if he can eat lunch with me. I work with a parent to help her child get school based mental health services. I help a student with some homework. I problem solve with some co-workers regarding a student who is struggling. I hug another kid who tells me how bad things are at home right now. I let her know I’ll work to get some help. I laugh when a student shares a joke with me.

The day ends before I know it. I head out the door with a little hop in my step. As I walk back towards my vehicle, I am reminded that not many hours ago, I wondered how I could possibly remain positive when I was emotionally drained before the day had hardly begun. I am surprised at the fact that I actually feel, much more positive as I leave for the day than before the day began. I know there are still things I need to address, but I also know I have people who will help me along the way, just like those that I helped today.

Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

When you have a job that requires you to remain positive, I think it is imperative to look for the helpers because if you really stop and look, there are a lot of helpers out there. There are many who will help you out when you are having a tough day. But sometimes, you need to be the helper. Because in the end, you’ll not only help others, you’ll actually be helping yourself.

Learn more about Brooke Kaldor on her LifeChanger of the Year profile.