I make a terrible first impression.
Not on purpose, mind you. I always give it my best shot, but the deck just isn’t stacked in my favor. I’m an introvert, so small talk isn’t my strong suit to begin with. Eye contact is tough, too—it’s a lot easier for me to listen to someone when I’m not staring them down. Add all that to the fact that I have the tendency to trip all over my own words when I get nervous (which, in a brand new situation, is pretty much all the time), and I become the textbook example of what not to do when meeting someone new.
Which is a shame because, as the great Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
At least, it might have been Will Rogers. No one seems to know for sure. It might also have been Oscar Wilde, or Mark Twain, or, I don’t know, every parent since the dawn of time. Because honestly, which of us hasn’t heard some version of the Obligatory Parental Lecture on the Importance of First Impressions, wherein we discuss the Permanence of the First Impression and How It May Not Be Taken Back as well as the Impact It Will Have On Literally Everything You Do for the Rest of Your Life?
To summarize: First impressions are kind of a big deal. And rightly so! Humans have a tendency to draw a lot of conclusions about other humans in the first 30 seconds of their interaction. How people carry themselves, how they talk, how they look, how they dress—each of these factors and more contribute to forming an instant impression of another individual.
So here’s my question: How many of your first impressions have been accurate? And not “accurate” as in “it gave me a pretty decent idea of who she was,” but “accurate” as in “I had his character pegged from the moment I set eyes on him and nothing he did from that point on gave me any reason to reevaluate how I viewed him.”
Can anyone claim more than zero? I sure can’t. In fact, not only have none of my first impressions been perfectly accurate, I can honestly say that many of them were flat wrong. That’s one of the problems with first impressions. Our knee-jerk reaction is to try and fit people into a box after one glance, one conversation, one interaction—but we can’t. There’s no way to extrapolate years or decades from a 30-second window into someone’s life—and if we try, it’s only a matter of time before something doesn’t fit into that box the way we expected it to.
I’m not trying to say that first impressions aren’t important. They are. As long as people are people, the human race is going to keep putting emphasis on first impressions, especially in a society where time is such a commodity. Consider job interviews, or even blind dates—both are situations where someone is going to have an opinion about you (and you are going to have an opinion about someone else) before either of you open your mouth. It’s true even for this blog post! You’re still reading, so that means you saw the title and the first sentence and decided to keep going. Other people saw the same thing and decided to keep scrolling through their news feed. It’s all about impressions.
What I am trying to say, though, is that maybe the first impression isn’t the most important impression. Maybe we put a little too much emphasis on perfecting the first impression and forget that there even are any other impressions to worry about.
But there are, and I would argue that a second impression is much more important than a first. First impressions fade with time—we come to realize that there’s much more to a person than what we gleaned from our first few minutes of interaction. The more time we spend with a person, the more we get to know who they really are. We become familiar with the character behind the individual—and that’s exactly what a second impression is in my book. Character.
Because the thing about first impressions is that they can be staged. With enough acting ability or even dumb luck, we can trick new acquaintances into perceiving us however we’d like. But the thing about character is that it always rises to the surface—it’s impossible to hide it forever.
For most of us, though, that should be a comfort. As Christians, we’re striving to become men and women of Godly character—and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. That means we can completely botch a first impression (and believe me, I have…many times) and still know that, given enough time, the other person will come to see who we really are and not who he or she might happen to think we really are.
That’s why Peter stressed that women should put more emphasis on cultivating “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” instead of just “arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel” (1 Peter 3:3-4). That’s why James asked if a fig tree can bear olives, or if a spring could spew out both salt water and fresh (James 3:11-12). That’s why Jesus Christ Himself warned that, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. … Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:18-20).
What’s more important is who we are, not how we appear at first glance. If that’s what truly mattered, then God would have had Samuel anoint any of David’s brothers as king. In fact, Samuel’s first impression of David’s brother Eliab caused the prophet to shout, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!” (1 Samuel 16:6). All it took was one glance, and Samuel knew—he just knew—that this was the man God wanted as king.
God’s response to Samuel was one that would live on as a powerful reminder for us today: “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God perspective isn’t warped by the flawed first impressions that come so naturally to us. He looks instead directly at our heart—our character. It might take others a while to see it, but to God it’s the most important part of who we are. Peter’s advice from earlier may have been directed specifically to women, but all Christians everywhere should be seeking to develop “the hidden person of the heart.” Because that’s who God sees, and—good first impression or not—it’s who others will one day come to see, too.
Will Rogers (or Oscar Wilde, or Mark Twain, or whoever) was right. We never get a second chance to make a first impression. But that’s okay—because now, today and every day that follows, we have the opportunity to work on the impression that really counts.
Let’s make it a good one.
Until next time,