Beyond First Impressions

Postcard from New York, New York

Two hours before my first day of work at The New York Sun, I accidentally smeared pink lip gloss on my white collared shirt. I wore what I hoped were professional-looking pointy shoes, but three blisters formed on each heel after just one subway stop. Three stops later, after a painful ascent, I sat down on a bench in City Hall Park to put bright pink UHS-brand Band-Aids on my heels. I rose, tentatively putting weight on each foot to see if the Band-Aids would ease my transition from flip-flops. As I stood and walked a few test yards, I felt the eyes of passersby focus on, well, my behind. I craned my neck to look back there, only to find that my makeshift first aid station had been conveniently located upon a dumping ground for the city’s avian members.

Yes, I had sat in bird poop.

And the back of my purple silk skirt—probably the most expensive article of clothing I own—was covered in a substance that takes a Mack Truck-sized street sweeper to pry off city asphalt. I was mortified. I asked a hot dog vendor for a damp paper towel and frantically dabbed at the stain.

I had planned to make a statement about competence that morning, letting my editors know that I was trustworthy and responsible. But it’s hard to feel put-together yourself—let alone convince others that you are—with hot pink Band-Aids on your heels and a wet spot on the back of your skirt.

I was legitimately worried about making a good first impression on my boss, but I should have known that, in the long run, first impressions are inconsequential and often incorrect. A person who appears to hold major best-friend potential on the first day of freshman week can wind up a distant acquaintance three years later. And the cover of my neuroscience textbook, with assorted 3-D brain renderings in Technicolor, appeared far more intriguing than its contents turned out to be.

It is always in the back of our mind that a misleading first impression jeopardizes the potential of a solid relationship. And so the slightly careless behavior of a boy—who was initially relegated to the status a perennial friend—can be heartwrenching after he grows on you. It’s a classic tale in which boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl has no clue, girl belatedly gets clue, and by then it’s too late; the timing is shot, the opportunity for romance missed, and an already cynical heart becomes a little more jaded. I’ve been there.

Take another example. As a New Yorker who unfailingly defends the supremacy of New England and its musical inclinations (Dave Matthews Band, Guster, Dispatch, et al.), I’ve always had a slight disdain for country music. All right, it was a vendetta. From a distance, the genre seemed whiny and un-contemplative, with far too many men sporting cowboy hats and belting out cheesy messages about living life to its gosh-darn fullest.

But my roommate, Rosalie T. Thede ’06, is, to say the least, a country music aficionado. She memorizes lyrics, attends concerts, and knows several line dances well enough to teach them. She created a playlist—66 songs long—of her favorite country hits, and convinced me and our six other roommates to entertain the genre. As I listened to the playlist on repeat, I became entranced by the energetic beats and the creative lyrics. Inevitably, I became a country music fan, and now my most played songs in iTunes are titled “Chattahoochie” and “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under.” First impressions, then, are hardly indicative of how a situation will turn out.

My blisters and dirty clothes may have initially perturbed my editors, but I think—I hope—I’ve started to grow on them. They have observed my competence not from a fleeting glance, but from a longer-lasting display of dedication. Because if I learned anything from my pre-internship misadventures, it is that I shouldn’t get too hung up about the miniscule details of a first impression. The concern doesn’t pay off, because those first thoughts will likely reverse themselves days, months, or years down the road. I recommend embracing a perpetual Opposite Day for whatever is in your mind—at least at first.

Hana R. Alberts ’06, a news executive and comp director, is a history and science concentrator in Mather House. She doesn’t bother showering or brushing her hair before she heads out to the bars in New York City, since, you know, first impressions don’t matter much anyway.