Why do we emphasize first impressions so much? Growing up, teachers and parents emphasize first impressions for friendships, jobs and interviews. But what does a forced first impression do but set an unreal expectation for what is to come? If the up and coming generation is genuinely one of acceptance and open expression, shouldn’t the culture of making a good first impression transform into one of making an honest first impression?
The concept of good first impressions is peculiar. The rating of an impression is controlled by those being impressed. People tend to want familiarity, so we mold ourselves based on expectations chosen by generations before us. For years, tattoos were seen as unprofessional, hair needed to be a natural color with an eurocentric style and piercings were restricted to ears. We needed to smile and nod at every joke and comment no matter how inappropriate it was. That is the expectation of a good first impression.
First impressions should be accurate – I think we can all agree upon that. How many times have you met someone and realized afterward that you know nothing of substance about them? The first impression someone makes does not matter. There is no accurate snapshot of a personality in a one-time encounter. Opinions are formed over time with observations of how someone handles adversity, success and conflict.
Even the best impressions can lead to complicated friendships and disastrous encounters down the line. Basing our decisions on how they first present themselves is irresponsible and problematic. This, too, points to how irrelevant a first interaction is. While a hateful or rude first impression is hard to come back from, it is not impossible to overcome in the future. But pretending that we are not human and do not have emotions is disingenuous.
We are in the midst of a cultural revolution fueled by mental health awareness. Generation Z – including people born between 1997 and 2021 – is attempting to highlight differences and lean into the unique aspect of individual lives. Shouldn’t first impressions be a reflection of that same culture that younger generations are creating?
We now live in a world of extreme diversity. Technology has made sharing ideas and expressing yourself more accessible than ever. We no longer have to feel alone in our beliefs or particular styles. We also live in a world of fear. Fear of the unknown fuels judgments and creates distrust based on ignorance. Our conclusions are based on our experiences and our mood at any given point.
If we attempt to control every facet of first impressions it will be disingenuous and exhausting. There are simply too many things out of our control. The way one dresses should be influenced only by what they feel confident and natural wearing. Nothing about clothing translates to character. All that dressing a certain way shows is whether or not someone can pretend to be something they’re not.
A first impression is nothing but an act – true character shines over time. We express ourselves through how we handle the things life throws at us. We cannot control other people’s perceptions but we can control how honest and raw we are. Think back on the first impressions you’ve had with the people you admire in life. Was everyone an instant connection or did it take a while to formulate a true reflection of that person’s personality? We cannot rush understanding a person.