Sweating palms, racing heart, rising anxiety. We’ve all been there: the dreaded first impression. Whether it be the occasion of a date, meeting a new person, or starting your first day at a new job, the task of revealing all of who you are as a person in mere seconds or minutes is daunting for most people. It definitely is for me as well.
I am unfortunate enough to deal with crippling social anxiety no matter whether I am attempting to go to a party or just sit next to a stranger on the bus. I am constantly worried about the impression that I am making on people regardless of how relevant or not they may be to my life. Put me in a situation like a first date, and I will almost always self-sabotage. However, despite recognizing my less than impressive first look, I still believe I carry worth even if that worth may take some time and marinating over time to truly find. Not to say that I am some incredible person, but just that I honestly don’t think that who I am as a person or as an employee can be summed up so blatantly in the black and white of a summary or first glance. I work hard at preparing for in-person situations such as interviews or meeting new people, but more often than not I don’t even make it to a handshake; already nixed from the process from a glance at my resume. I know I’m not the only person with this problem. And for some, it’s harder than others.
As much as we’d all love to believe that now in 2017 people no longer have to worry about being judged by what paper says about their ethnicity, gender, or religion, this is just unfortunately not the case. Prejudices still exist everywhere from societal interactions to career opportunities. I’ll say that I’m “glad” that I’ve had employers tell me to my face they are not choosing me because of my gender because at least they were honest, but it doesn’t help the fact that the bias still exists. For some, this problem doesn’t just arise while job-hunting. For some, their resume of humanity can put them in a life or death situation. Without getting too deep into the tragedies of recent history, just taking a look at situations like the #BlackLivesMatter movement and Donald Trump’s travel ban conjure images of a society that we, as children, were taught no longer exist.
In cases of pre-meeting judgments, I have tried multiple things to make the situation easier, or really more comfortable, for me. The main tactic I had resolved myself to using is something that I believe is common albeit a little dishonest. We’ll call it “sprucing up.” I have tried a million and one different ways to make myself look better on paper, sound better over the phone, and appear like more of a perfect fit to those preparing to judge me. I have never been a fan of blatantly lying, but I’ll completely admit to attempting to make myself seem like more than I may really be.
For the record, this method has never helped me.
One reason “sprucing up” myself pre-judgment has never helped me is because I was creating a hole that I could never fill. For example, I have a fairly competent working knowledge of how to effectively use Microsoft Excel. I can do all the basic functions, and if needed, I could figure out how to do some new things with it. However, telling an employer that I am an expert at Microsoft Excel is only setting myself up for failure when they ask me to show them all I know how to do. This also applies to the ever-popular fad of “catfishing.” I can try to make myself seem like the perfect companion online, but the moment I have to come out from behind the screen, I must perform, and chances are I won’t be able to suddenly be all that I made myself out to be (otherwise I wouldn’t have had to make it up in the first place).
Another reason, and perhaps the most important and eye-opening reason, is because I began to notice how I was letting perception take over my identity. I became so engulfed in trying to crack the code on what others wanted out of me, I completely neglected showing anyone who I really was. And even worse, I was beginning to forget who I was at all. I began to abandon not only some of my noted personality traits that make me who I am, but also started to stray the path on some of my foundational beliefs. I was beginning to not recognize myself, and had to take a moment to evaluate why I was allowing this to happen. Is this over a dime a dozen job that didn’t appreciate me to begin with? Or over a boy who only liked me once I changed myself? Could I allow myself to continue to disintegrate over a sector of society that didn’t even really want me?
In case you were wondering, the answer was no. Once I shifted my focus to caring about my own perception of myself, doors really started opening. I believe I became a wholly better person as I spent more of my energy on enhancing the parts of my life that were actually strengths. My confidence started to rise as I was commended and highlighted for what I was actually able to accomplish. My anxiety became easier to handle as I no longer felt like I was drowning in an ocean I had filled with expectations. I felt that I was finally able to be loved since finding ways to love myself.
Beyond my changing perception of myself, I found that I was beginning to change the way I looked at others. I find myself no longer judging people by what they have to offer on paper or what the first 60 seconds shows me, but more on what I discover in their character. And this has led me to the beginnings of an incredible posse of people that I now surround myself with. All in positivity.
What’s new with Ashleigh? “Lately I have been consumed with creating a better morning routine for myself. I am so not a morning person, but I’m trying to get better about starting my day off strong so I can be more motivated, productive, and positive during the day. Wish me luck!”