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Personal Branding

Stop worrying about your first impression

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

I’ve always struggled with this truism.

I know, people are judgmental — it takes only seven seconds to form an opinion about someone you just met. We all tend to judge books by their covers. First impressions are hard to change according to research. But that’s just one side of the story (more on this later).

Studies show that we make snap judgments about other people. 80% of first impressions are based on two subconscious questions: Can I trust this person? Is this person capable?

Both you and the other party are simultaneously assessing each other.

However, there’s something wrong with this self-help advice — it encourages us to seek other’s approval rather than self-acceptance. Also, it’s an invitation to play it safe — if you make a mistake, you are screwed up for life. That’s intrinsically bad.

Let’s challenge this truism together.

Stop trying to be liked

“You don’t worry about being liked. You have to be yourself.” — Vince Vaughn

The problem with modern self-help is that it oversimplifies life. By offering shortcuts, we forget to follow our own path.

Charles Chu wrote a brilliant post on ‘bad self-help.’

Two things caught my attention about what he coined ‘the myth of perfect perfectibility.’ Bad self-help tells you that it’s your fault when you fail miserably. Also, it creates fairy tales with random scientific ‘evidence.’

The magical thinkers want you to follow their advice blindly.

Self-help truisms create false expectation — we expect life to be perfect and stop appreciating who we are. As Chu explains: “We are more likely to sacrifice the present (which is imperfect, impermanent) for an ideal future that is unlikely to come.”

You don’t need to create an impression.

You shouldn’t expect people to like you either. Looking for external approval is why most people censor their best-selves. That our society rewards predictability over originality doesn’t mean you have to follow the same pattern.

Don’t live your life trying to please everyone. You’d most probably disappoint everyone including yourself

Billy Joel wrote: “Don’t go changing to try and please me. You never let me down before. Don’t go trying some new fashion. Don’t change the color of your hair.”

What’s the point of acing a job interview at the expense of leaving your soul at home? Do you want to work for a company that expects you to betray your values? Do you want someone to fall in love with you because he/she believes you are someone you are not?

Some people believe that creating a first impression is an art. That you can follow 5-steps and will succeed — all you need is to display high self-confidence, they tell you.

Self-esteem is a dangerous trap — by trying to please others, you end up deceiving yourself too. It invites you to seek for external appreciation rather than being authentic. It encourages you to measure yourself by your appearance instead of being honest.

You just need to be you.

The above is not advice, but an invitation.

Authenticity is the best thing you can bring to the world. Whether it’s a job interview, a date, or meeting someone on the street. Don’t try to create a perfect image by becoming someone you are not.

Your second impression

“Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

Life is anything but certain — there’s no proven formula to how you should live yours. Life requires experimenting and doing things for the first time every day. You will fail, you will make mistakes, and feel sorry about it.

The good news is that you can recover. Tomorrow is your second opportunity; you can always try things again.

Educators described Thomas Edison as “addled.” He spent a few months in a formal classroom before being taken out of school and educated by his mother.

It took him many attempts to create a practical light bulb. Edison didn’t care about the impression — that’s why he kept trying and trying.

Treating every first opportunity as a life-or-death situation will do you no good — the first impression trap limits your potential. By trying to be right, you will censor your creativity and spontaneity — liberate your personal touch.

You can let your first impression define you. Or you can choose to define yourself by the longer-lasting impact of your craft.

Oprah Winfrey was fired early on in her career because she was unfit for television news. Walt Disney lost his job for not being creative enough. Jerry Seinfeld was fired from his first job after giving a performance the producers felt was uninspiring.

A first, second impression can improve a not-so-good first impression. Life gives us second chances; it’s up to you keep trying. Those who overcame initial failure was because they followed the authenticity route. Rather than trying to please others they kept bringing their best-self every day.

What’s the point of pretending to be someone you are not? What’s the purpose of hiding your true self just to land a new job?

Most of the frustrations in the workplace are rooted in the lies told during the interview process. Both candidates and employers are so worried about making a good impression that they end up showing fake versions.

If you fake it, people will soon realize it.

When the truth hits the fan, everyone feels deceived. Either they need to continue faking or become honest about not being as perfect as they pretended to be during the interview process.

Coaching teams, I have to deal with a lot of ‘unbroken promises’ — kickstarting any relationship with honesty saves a lot of headaches down the road. I personally reject candidates that are too perfect — I prefer vulnerability and candor over people acting like robots.

I’m also very candid when interviewing someone to take on a tough challenge. I want to avoid future frustrations but also, to make sure I’m hiring the right person to take on a grave situation.

You don’t need to fake it until you make it. Continue making what you are good at until others notice it. That’s the most important impression you should care about.

— — —

The world is suffering from a narcissistic epidemia. We don’t need more fake people.

Unless you are committed to pretending to be someone you are not forever — letting go of being authentic is a steep price just to conquer someone else’s appreciation.

If something goes wrong on your first ‘date,’ you can always course correct. Apologize, ask for another chance, try with other people, but never give up. Making mistakes is how we learn and improve our act.

Trying to look perfect to be accepted by others will only add more strain to your life. Bring your authentic self to every first encounter.

If something goes wrong, you always have a first chance to make a second impression.

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Download my free ebook: “Stretch Your Mind,” a compilation of exercises to grow beyond your comfort zone, one stretch at a time.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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Gustavo Razzetti is the CEO of Liberationist, a change leadership consultancy that helps organizations become more innovative. His human-centered approach liberates the within every team. Razzetti has over 20 years of experience transforming people’s behavior at the intersection of Neuroscience, Design Thinking, Mindfulness, and Creativity. Razzetti is the author of "Stretch for Change," "Stretch Your Mind," and "Stretch Your Team.” He is also a regular speaker and has facilitated hundreds of change workshops in the US, Europe, and Latin America.