Note: This is a guest post from Zach of Always Live Now
There is no denying the importance of making a good first impression. There are simply too many clichés decrying just how critical it is in developing positive relationships. Regardless of the relationship – personal or professional – getting off on the right foot cannot be overemphasized. Knowing this is one thing, being able to do it is quite another. Even when I try my best, it seems as though various wardrobe malfunctions, unruly hair or the ever present toothpaste stain always conspire against me.
Without question, there is a somewhat superficial element that shouldn’t be ignored. It would be nice if there wasn’t – wouldn’t it be great if we actually got to know someone before we judged them – but like it or not, the world doesn’t always work that way. Making sure that we put our best foot forward with our hair combed, zippers up, and our teeth brushed can only help. But to me, the real keys to making good first impressions lie a little deeper.
1. Get to Know the Real You
First and foremost, being able to make a good impression starts by knowing who you are. Who you really are, not who you think you have to be for the right job, the right school or the right date. I am sure that this seemingly simple, common sense idea is not exactly rocket science to most, but for me, figuring this out has taken some time. For a large part of my life, I spent far too much time and energy trying to say or do the perfect thing in an attempt to impress the “right” crowd. I rarely stopped to ask the question, is this really who I am? Or even, is this really what I want?
I don’t know exactly when the shift happened, but thankfully, somewhere along the way it did. Maybe it was becoming middle-aged, or becoming a parent, or maybe it was just not having enough energy to worry about what people thought all the time. Regardless of what caused it, I am grateful that I have finally reached a point in my life where I can appreciate my strengths, be okay with my weaknesses and try to be comfortable with everything in between.
2. Don’t Try to Be Something You’re Not
In college, for the first time in my life, I lived right by the ocean. It was incredible. The weather was great, the waves were inviting and I desperately wanted to be a surfer. I had never surfed before, but all of the “cool” kids were doing it. When I met a couple of guys who were surfers, I wanted so badly to make a
positive impression with them that I acted like I knew everything about surfing. I was so excited when they invited me surfing that I coughed up $40 for a 300 pound, water-logged surfboard and a wetsuit that was about 2 sizes too big, and joined the club. I didn’t know a lot about surfing when I started. I didn’t know
that the lighter the board the better, or the fact that a wetsuit that doesn’t fit is effectively useless. At the time, I didn’t care about the details. I just wanted to be a surfer.
Despite being fairly athletic, I was horrible. It wasn’t for lack of effort. I threw everything I had at becoming a surfer. I lugged my behemoth board all over the Central Coast of California, used rubber bands on my wrists and ankles to try to trick my wetsuit into working, and spent the better part of my first two years of
college trying mightily to paddle past the break. At this point, I was also painfully unaware of just how powerful waves were, and how impossible it was to efficiently paddle a picnic table out into the ocean. Sadly, I can count on one hand the number of times I actually made it past the break in two years of
paddling. For those glorious moments when I did make it, I would sit, completely exhausted, wondering if a shark was going to eat me.
Eventually my wave would come and I would paddle furiously towards the shore, sure that this was it. I was about to join the club, to become a surfer. Without fail, my board would betray me. At the critical moment, I would push to stand up, my board would fully submerge and I would spend the next 30 to 60 seconds in a frantic scramble trying to get my head above water. Beaten, I would drag myself to the beach looking like the Michelin Man with 20 gallons of water trapped in my oversized wetsuit. There I would patiently wait for my friends who knew what they were doing. It never crossed my mind that I was not getting any better, I was not particularly enjoying my “surfing” trips, and I was terrified that I was going to be eaten by a shark. I should have asked myself questions like, why do you want to be a surfer? Or, why are you putting yourself through this? But I didn’t. I wanted people to think of me as a cool surfer.
3. Be Honest With Yourself
Right after college, I went to work for Deloitte Consulting. As part of their new analyst program, I was able to spend a week in Scottsdale, Arizona with over 150 other new recruits. On the first afternoon of presentations, we were seated in groups of eight and I happened to notice that there was a cute girl at my table. My mind was working overtime on how to make a good first impression with her. At one point, I overheard her talking about how she was getting up at 5:00 am the next morning to go for a 5 mile run before breakfast. Eager to impress, I jumped into the conversation and told her that sounded like a great idea. She politely mentioned that there were a few people doing it, and that I should join her. What to do?
Given that she was cute, I told her that sounded great and that I was totally looking forward to it. The next two hours of my life were, well, they were basically miserable. I should have been excited, but I wasn’t because 1) the only shoes that I had packed that were even remotely athletic was a pair Vans, 2) I am not, in the least bit, a morning person, 3) I had not packed a pair of shorts, 4) I am not a distance runner – the longest I have ever run in my life was a one mile test I did in 8th grade, and 5) I was concerned that the relationship was not going to last if I died somewhere around mile 2.
My mind was racing trying to figure out how to make this all work out. I was fully prepared to cut a pair of my pants into shorts, and I was somewhat confident that my Vans would provide enough support for one 5 mile run. It would be dicey, but I felt like I had the apparel angle covered. Most concerning was my complete lack of distance training. How hard could it really be? I knew the answer – I knew I was going to end up in a heap on the side of the road roughly 1.3 miles away from the hotel – but I had convinced myself that I could pull off this Herculean task. I was in the process of psyching myself up when my prayers were answered. The guest speaker was talking about how challenging the consulting lifestyle can be for long distance relationships. He asked everyone either married or in a serious relationship to stand up. The cute girl stood up. Before she could even sit back down, I told her that I wouldn’t be able to make the run.
But what if she had not stood up? Would I have tried to run a personal best 5 miles in Vans and cutoff slacks trying to get her to like me? Probably. Would it have ended well? Probably not. Even in the best case scenario, even if the 5 miles didn’t kill me, what if we had ended up together? She would be expecting some early rising jogger who is ready to knock out 5 miles with her at the drop of a hat. That will never be me. So even if my plan had gone perfectly, would I really have gotten what I honestly wanted?
4. Relax and Be Yourself
The best way to handle the stress and worry of “what will people think” is to do what you do best – and that’s being you. For the better part of my life, I worked incredibly hard trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be, what people would think was cool or good or perfect. Now, whenever I find myself in new situations, I focus on relaxing and being myself. Personally, I would rather be judged as the real me than someone else I was trying to be. I can’t surf, I don’t really even like the ocean. I am not an early riser. I would rather take a bullet than go for a long run. And I am okay with that. The angst of meeting new people isn’t completely gone, but at least now I know that regardless of what happens, as long as I am true to myself, things will work out for the best.
Worrying about making good first impressions is fairly universal. For me, I used to worry so much about it that the stress of it all would prevent me from putting myself out there. Most importantly, more often than not, it would turn me into someone I wasn’t. Someone I never even really wanted to be. As I have started getting a little more comfortable with me, I have found it much easier to avoid situations where I know I am destined for failure. More and more, I spend most of my time just trying to be open and honest, so I can find situations where the real me fits in. Trying to be true to myself – knowing who I really am and what I really want – has helped me make much more positive first impressions.
Zach is a somewhat obsessive-compulsive, married, average, middle-aged, insecure father on a quest for balance. His main goal is to encourage people to think, appreciate each moment and live NOW. He tries to do this by sharing his relatable, humorous stories, insights, and ramblings at his blog, AlwaysLiveNOW.com.
Photo by pardeshi