There are some people who come into your life quietly and then all at once. In my second year at university, I met Zack. Many of you remember him as the Marketing and Logistics Manager from the #SmileProjectRoadTrip. In my third year at university, I roomed with an incredible woman named Sarah. It was through these two dear friends that I got to know Taylor, who had grown up with them both.
It wasn’t until recently, though that we were able to more fully connect beyond just “friends of friends.” Taylor is a passionate activist for goodness. Her drive to make the world a more kind, justice, and inclusive space is nothing short of inspiring.
Taylor has so many ideas and comes to The Smile Project with both unique perspectives and seasoned awareness (she’s been using her birthday for kindness for years)! But I’ll let her speak for herself. Without further ado, allow me to introduce our newest Program Manager, Taylor Simcox Deckant.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a ‘Happiness is.’
Taylor: Happiness is getting involved!
Liz: Tell readers a little about yourself.
Taylor: Above all else, I’m an engineer. I say it a lot because I am incredibly proud of it. I attended Youngstown State University for my bachelor’s degree and Ohio University for my master’s degree which was completely online. I have been focused almost strictly on the design of traffic structures since I started my career, which is definitely a strange field to be in. I was laid off from my first job in 2018 which had a huge impact on how I balance my work/family/home life.
I have a younger brother whose girlfriend is practically family and an older cousin who I consider to be my big sister. Her daughter, Catherine, is a huge part of our lives and brought us all a ton of joy when she was born in 2018. I married David on New Year’s Eve, 2019 in front of the 2016 NBA Championship trophy in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. He is the best support system I ever could have asked for and by marrying him, I gained a brother-in-law, two sisters-in-law, and five (soon to be six) nieces and nephews. Last but not least, we have a cat named Meatball who is the light of our lives. He’s incredibly anxious and hilarious and we love him to death.
Needless to say, I am obsessed with all things Cleveland: sports, food, site-seeing, etc. We have a corner of our living room decorated strictly with Cleveland things. I also love to read, bake, and make things. If I’m not doing something to occupy my mind, I feel like the world is ending. Staying busy is my hobby, whatever that may entail. I also have plenty of tattoos and I’m well known for dying my hair crazy colors.
I am obsessed with Harry Potter and the Christmas season; so much so that we went to London, England for our honeymoon to see the Warner Bros Harry Potter tour and visited Santa Claus’ hometown in Finland.
I think that’s all the important stuff...
Liz: How did you first get to know about The Smile Project and what made you want to be involved?
Taylor: I’m going to talk about you in third person. One of Liz’s college roommates is my cousin and my middle school best friend/neighbor is Zack Shively who was previously featured in The Smile Project Road Trip! From the moment I saw the first Happiness Is… post, I was enamored. The Smile Project principles align so much with everything I strive to be that I stuck around.
Eventually, I realized that Liz and I do very similar things each year for our birthdays and at that point, I started getting a bit more involved with the social media accounts. I think a guest blog post was my first official involvement with The Smile Project and from that point we both kind of knew I’d be getting more involved. I like helping people and utilizing your already well established platform by helping you seems like a good way to do it!
Liz: Tell me about your passion for mental health.
Taylor: This gets weird before it gets better so bare with me. It started with laundry soap. When I started college I had an incredibly hard time focusing, I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask any questions because I was just way too nervous. I thought this was all standard and didn’t think twice about it until I smelled those Unstoppables beads you can put in your laundry to make the smell last longer. I immediately wanted to eat them. I refrained, but it was such a strange and strong problematic urge that I finally caved and told my mom something didn’t seem right.
After a few doctor’s appointments, some concerned phone calls, and recommendations from a very kind math professor, we figured out I had generalized anxiety disorder with obsessive compulsive tendencies that had gotten so bad that my brain was essentially malfunctioning and thought laundry soap was food. At that point, the mental health movement was still in the early stages and I literally couldn’t stop telling people my story because I thought it was hilarious.
Honestly, who wants to eat laundry soap? A few weeks after I was finally feeling better, months after the laundry soap incident, and YEARS after I should have actually sought help, someone approached me and said that hearing my story really helped them realize the small issues in their life were actually something much larger and that my humor towards everything made them feel more at ease asking for help. I realized then that sharing my story not only helped me, but it helped other people. Advocating for my own mental health was a battle and once I maneuvered that, helping others with their own battles came relatively easily. I haven’t stopped screaming my story from the rooftops and I have continued to do my best to guide people through their own troubles.
Liz: You are so dedicated to bringing light into the world. What is the driving force behind that energy?
Taylor: My Aunt Cathy! She was a force of nature and threw the absolute best parties. She passed away in 2011 after a relatively short battle with melanoma (WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN) and I felt so lost when we lost her. The only way I could make myself feel better was to make other people happy and, after a while, it just became part of my nature. Bringing a smile to someone else’s face was something my aunt was always good at and it felt like the best way I could channel her.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
Taylor: To me, service is giving all of your overflow to causes you believe in. You can’t give from an empty cup but once your cup is full, you don’t need more. Taking all of your overflow and pouring it into something meaningful to you, whether it’s future generations, a small group of people, the entire world, the environment, animals, so on and so forth. Service is that extra bit you pour back into the universe, no matter how big or small it may be.
Liz: Many folks in The Smile Project community are big readers. What are you currently reading or do you have a favorite book(s) recommendation to share?
Taylor: I happen to be rereading my all time favorite book right now: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It’s my go-to for book suggestions along with Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and The Last Lecture by Jeffrey Zaslow and Randy Pausch. I’m a sucker for books that make you feel things.
Liz: Anything else you’d like to add?
Taylor: Yes. If I was a breakfast cereal I would be Cocoa Puffs. What about you?
Liz: That’s a great question that would probably have a different answer every day of the week. Today, I’m feeling like Rice Krispies.
Liz: Lastly, do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice to leave us with?
Taylor: Dream Big. It’s what Aunt Cathy told me shortly before she passed away. I had all of these ideas of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be and she summed up my future so well in two words that I have them tattooed on my shoulder. Whatever you want your future to look like, whatever journey you want to start, whatever journey you want to end, whenever you’re questioning, just remember to Dream Big.