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  • Writer's pictureO'live & Write

A 19-year-old's take on fleeting first impressions, and "who are we, really"?

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

I have always been curious how interactions with myself would pan out.

Would I actually like myself? Is my voice overly loud? Do I have an accent? Am I approachable or intimidating? Do my eyes look crazy when I talk about cats? (ahem).

For some time, these questions lived in my head rent-free with little to no answers.

Like an itch, it grew more as I scratched at it. Then, part of my brain announces to me that there are bits of me that will forever be indecipherable (to people and myself), simply because

  1. I'd never see as others see me. (a.k.a I can't read minds)

  2. What I perceive as "me" is just my own lived experience from the past leading up to this moment, which will constantly evolve as I go through each day, as I hurtle towards the unravelling of the mystery of life. (a.k.a I will never fully know myself)

  3. How will I ever know what first impressions people had of me, apart from a tell-tale smiling or frowning face, and how does that relate to me now? (a.k.a social anxiety and the need to conform)

And I don't know why, but those things scared me. If I couldn't be who I am without people misunderstanding me or reconstructing their ideas of me, then am I who I am?

The other part of my brain tells me that this is something a 19-year-old shouldn't be spending her Saturday afternoon thinking about, but here we are.

So, unable to get rid of the "itch", I decided to go and do something about it, at least. I resorted to the somewhat embarrassing method of conducting a short quiz with friends and family to find out their first impressions of me.

Side-track: Now, before you chalk this off as a strange thing to do, I’ll have you know that people also talk to themselves in mirrors to understand themselves, obsess over MBTI results and what they mean, or find resolve among the stars (astrology).

Now, back to the quiz results: They were very concerning.

How is it that some of my friends found me friendly (at first sight) while others found me frightening?

I'm glad that while most of them have since realised I was and am a nice person (albeit dreamy), some still think I'm frightening when I talk about cats.

Still, a handful of others managed to confess that they thought I had sporty vibes, (absolutely untrue), while others found me scholarly.

Moreover, in most cases, as we walked down a rather foggy memory lane, I’d been wearing the same Uniqlo top and jeans and had talked in mostly the same way. I expected some subtle variations, but the polarising answers worried me and confirmed my brain itch's truth.

I've had enough of the mixed bag of answers, so I set aside time to stew over some [gloomy] thoughts. Again, what a 19-year-old shouldn't be doing on a Saturday afternoon...

As I mused, a revelation quietly rose up in me. It was there in two pithy words: “Be Yourself”.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “that’s really cliche!”—and yes, it is the sappy but oft-used motivational phrase that we encourage others with, or use in a pep talk with ourselves.

In that afternoon, though, "Be Yourself" became more than just two nice-sounding words… they somehow became my revelatory truth.

You see, I realised that there was no way I could ever, ever fully control the way people view me. Try as I might, I can’t control how I want to be viewed in their eyes. It’s an unattainable feat, a fantasy. I'll just be who I am and hope for the best.

But I’m also not saying: “Throw all first impressions to the wind!” or “Become an ogre if that’s who you truly are!”

As I step into being nineteen, I’m starting to open my eyes to the wider world of "others". People are unique, and I’m constantly surprised by how incredibly different they can be from me. They possess a set of preferences and notions of what is “desirable” and what isn’t, but even those preferences fluctuate and change over time!

TL;DR: I guess what I'm trying to say is that we shouldn’t agonise over something that will always be out of our control. Life is transient; we can’t let something as fleeting as first impressions (or subsequent ones) rule our one, precious life.

I cannot be everyone’s person. Sad, but true.

If being yourself (assuming you’re a decent person) comes with people disliking you… well, it’s their loss. And a worthy price to pay for being you.

In the meantime, in the now, enjoy who you are, and work towards who you want to be.

In hindsight, perhaps it’s a good thing that I’d never meet myself as a third person (unless I exist in Marvel’s multiverse?).

I shall remain blissfully ignorant… and maybe you should too ;)

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