That car accident might have taken my smile for a time, but it gave me my life’s work.
I regained consciousness to blinding lights on the operating room table. “You’ve been in a bad accident,” the surgeon said. I don’t remember much after that for several days.
A few hours earlier, on a bright Sunday morning, my dad and I were driving to his office. I was ten years old, excited to spend the day with him. I remember driving over the bridge while he was telling me a story. What I don’t remember is the tow truck that sped through a red light and smashed directly into my window, or how my dad regained consciousness to administer CPR.
For months after the accident, the wound on my cheek was ugly and jagged, with thick dark stitches closing the gash where the tow truck had rammed into the side of the car and shattered the window. The rest of my face looked like shrapnel had exploded from the windshield.
The scars didn’t bother me so much.
The hard part was that I lost my smile.
Nobody knew exactly how many minutes I’d been without oxygen immediately after the accident, and so there was a great deal of relief that my brain was returning to normal, and that I could talk.
The accident had cut the nerves in my cheek, so part of my face was paralyzed. I could speak, but I couldn’t make most facial expressions. I couldn’t show happiness or sadness.
Without my smile, I was lost.
I could speak, but as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t communicate.
Smiling had always been my most natural form of connection. It was the heart of how I interacted with the world. Now I was mute. Without the ability to smile, I was isolated and silenced. I felt like my mouth had been sewn shut along with my cheek.
That’s when I started writing.
I wrote as a way to communicate myself. I found the words to express myself, and that made all the difference. This turning point became a lifelong love for giving people the words to communicate who they are.
The modest insurance settlement from the accident had included enough money for me to have a series of surgeries to reduce the scar. But in college, I decided I was okay with how I looked, so I used the rest of the money to study in Africa for a summer. I spent time with a woman who had 13 children inside a goat dung hut without a husband or education or electricity or options.
In a sense, the accident made it possible for me to see what it’s like to have no voice, let alone no smile. I learned that if you can’t speak out, you’re trapped. But once you give them a voice, they can be heard.
The greatest way to empower someone is to show them their own highest value. (Tweet this)
I made a career out of finding the right words. After college, I began my career as an advertising copywriter. Once again, writing helped me find the words to build a connection, this time between brands and people. I helped brands communicate who they are.
I began exploring the science of fascination, becoming an author and speaker, showing people how to find the ideal words to express who they are.
My smile is still a little crooked. That’s okay.
100% yourself beats 100% perfect. (Tweet this)
Looking back, I can now see why I felt frozen without my smile. I have a primary Passion Advantage, which means that I connect through emotion and facial expression.
For you, smiling might not be the key to unlocking your personality. You might have a different key. It might be facts, or details, or stability. Whatever it is, you need to be able to apply it in order to be your best. Otherwise, you quit trying.
When you’re prevented from communicating in the way that comes naturally, you shut down.
I haven’t thought about the accident for a long time. I’ve never written about it. This past week I’ve been writing the final pieces of my new book, How the World Sees You. The connection between the accident and the book seems kind of obvious to me now. The book is about communicating who you are, at your best.
Have you ever “lost your smile”?
Have you ever been prevented from communicating who you are, at your best?
There will be times in your life when you feel prevented from communicating and connecting with the world around you.
You might be in a job interview, and struggle to find the words to explain who you are.
You might be in a big meeting, and feel at a loss for how to present your ideas.
Or you might be going through a rough period of your career, and become lost, confused about how to be heard.
You might feel like you’re missing what you need to communicate, as I had.
I want to help you find the answers.
Starting today, I’m taking our conversation together in a slightly different direction.
The focus will be on giving you the words to communicate your highest value. I’ll help you discover your highest value through the science of fascination.
Your personality already has the extraordinary qualities you need to stand out and be heard. Once you identify these qualities, you’ll never be without a voice.
Maybe the car accident wasn’t an accident at all. Maybe it was exactly what I needed to communicate with you.
Thank you for being part of this conversation. Let’s discover who you are, at your best.
* * * * * *
My question for you: When do you feel “silenced” or inhibited in your work or life? What shuts you down from communicating with others? Give me an example, in the comments below.
I never noticed the scar, just your radiant smile. In middle school, I was bullied and beaten up relentlessly. I regained my power when I decided I would never allow anyone to be treated that way if it was in my ability to stop it. In 1987, I had a skiing accident that caused a head injury and changed the course of my life. I went from an eidectic memory to not being able to read or remember anything, and was in constant pain for 10 years. My brain thankfully healed itself and I joke that I only killed the bad brain cells because I still graduated with a 3.8 for my MS and have been very successful in my career as a writer, trainer, and consultant. I still have days when I struggle, but mostly life is good.
I feel shut down when I'm not validated. When I am treated as though I don't exist, or when I am criticized, and don't have the emotional strength to see the goodness/truth in who I am in the situation.
My ability to communicate in my marriage shut down when I felt my husband was no longer listening.
Being beaten by my ex for years, sometimes ending up in hospital, made me incapable of comunicating. I was always told it was my fault. Only much later when I had the strenght to walk out of that marriage I slowly over the years found my voice again
Sally, You exude so much phenomenal energy, I never noticed the scar. It is a lesson for us all: that we are rarely judged by others for the things we hate about ourselves. I've gained so much from taking your "How to Fascinate" assessment. I am a Subtle Touch and I have just launched my own business centered around being: Observant, Independent, and Logical. For a long time I was stuck with trying to fit in with the outspoken model that our culture prefers, but I credit you with helping me understand that my Listening ability is my core gift. And there are lots of people who need someone like me on their side.
Hi Sally, I too lost my voice when I was a child. Unlike yourself where reading between the lines being with your family increased your smile and zest for life as for my family took mines away. I lost my voice through having a parent who was overly controlling and distance not to mention unable to love. Unable to express my opinions or my feelings as a child, you learn very quickly your voice doesn't count, also when I did speak it was never really digested. Finally after years of put downs and judgement my self-esteem and confidence also left. with the person who is supposed to love you the most is not what they're supposed to be the world becomes a very scary place. unfortunately for me as I grew up my boundaries became too permeable as i was searching for acceptance to no avail. It resulted in finding myself in destructive relationships where I became enmeshed as I didn't really know who I was. I couldn't understand why my life kept taking wrong turns since inspite of my childhood I was a good person, I didn't even realise for a long time I had no voice. Then someone came into my life and changed it completely, he gave me hope, he gave me deliverance and a future worth living. His name was Jesus Christ. I since have found my voice and have begun writing. I hope to go on and help other people and give hope where its needed. I had no smile for a very long time but like yourself I got it back and hopefully I will go on to help others get theirs back. I enjoyed reading your story, it is a story of inspiration and hope. A story in which evil was turned around for good. Keep smiling Sally. 🙂 God Bless Joanne x
I am a first time,very young manager, especially in the company I work with. I am one of the youngest. It has not been easy to find my voice. I have plenty ideas but feel like no one listens. I am in a separate isolated department as well so my interaction with most of my colleagues is very limited. It is hard to get out and get conversations going outside of meetings because we do not have a "Water tank" are where people go and mingle. Everyone is always in their office working or in meetings. I get some more time away from my office but with everyone else being busy it is not easy for me to engage others.
I feel inhibited in any social situation in which there is not a "defined" place to be (i.e a table to sit at) - parties, bbq's, whatever, I become nervous, have a lot of trouble engaging in small talk and get this strange, yet very real desire to "escape". It completely prevents me from connecting or communicating with the people there
People that are, shall I say, more powerful, more influential or more of "something" that I'd like to be like is what really throws me off.
I have a voice, but sometimes the right words do not get from my brain to my lips. This is likely age and medication related. This week at a Civilian Wives Club meeting on a military base, I spoke up and asked a question following a Army Healthcare presentation anyway. Later several thanked me for asking the question as they had the same question but were too afraid to speak up. Lesson: It is better to ask an imperfectly worded question than not asking the question at all.