A popular commercial in the 1980's warned Americans, "You'll never get a second chance to make a first impression." Arriving at an impressionable point in my own life, that pithy, albeit superficial, tagline became a mantra, and I spent years "perfecting" the act of first impressions.
I knew the best impressions seemed effortless, but I understood even more clearly that projecting ease was anything but. I was never one of the girls in college who wore pearls to the gym, but I made it a point never to leave the dorm in sweats. When I moved to Washington, I took the same amount of care preparing to read in a quiet corner at the coffee shop as I did for a night out on the town. Each time I moved to a new apartment, I made it a point to greet neighbors with a bottle of wine or baked goods shortly after arriving lest our first interaction take place when I returned, red faced and disheveled, from a run.
The desire to make a good impression extended beyond appearance. When a school year turned, introducing new instructors and professors, I sought to distinguish myself by taking fastidious notes and eagerly accepting extra projects. Upon entering each new workplace I volunteered to take on tasks my colleagues found tedious to help ease their load and be seen as a "team player." When hosting new friends for dinner, I would undertake a comprehensive review of their likes and dislikes, crafting a menu that featured their personal preferences and perhaps a special touch from their hometown or favorite travel destination. In most cases the extra effort made a wonderful impression. But at a certain point I realized I was working so hard to project, then maintain, that image that it ceased to reflect who I actually was.
So I opened myself up to the possibility of making a bad impression. I am slowly, but surely, learning to say "No thank you," and just plain "No." And I am embarking on the journey of rediscovering what brings me joy. In many cases I recognize I still derive the greatest joy from putting the needs and desires of others first. In others, I am choosing to follow my inner compass irrespective of what friends and loved ones might think. I am still learning to navigate the careful balance of being true to myself without being selfish, but the journey becomes easier - and more rewarding - with time.
Can you give yourself permission to make a bad impression? What steps can you take to ensure you are true to the person you are rather than who others want you to be?
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