The most valuable lesson I ever received in preconceptions and first impressions came from a lecturer in my second year at university. It was the first class of a new semester and I had no idea what to expect from the subject or the lecturer. I shuffled into the class along with a few dozen other students; wanting to be anywhere but there; mind still idling deliciously somewhere in vacation mode.
It appeared that the lecturer was somewhat late – there was no dignified professor who stood at the podium in front of the class, squinting through his spectacles and timidly adjusting his bow tie. There was only a somewhat disheveled looking, rather sloppily dressed man fiddling with the controls in front of the classroom. I assumed he was a technician and that there was some problem with the computer system. Obviously blue collar; definitely not professor material.
Moments later, this technician strolled over to the podium and started teaching. Turns out he was the professor that would be lecturing us that semester. He might have appeared a tad sloppy, but he was erudite, funny, and an absolute expert in his field. Lesson learned.
The other lessons I have learned on preconceptions surround me every day: it is surprising how many of my current friends are people I never would have dreamed of counting among my most intimate contacts when I first encountered them a few years ago. The somewhat brassy loudmouth turns out to be someone with the purest heart you’ve ever known. You can call her up with an emergency any time and she’ll always come rushing to your aid. The beautiful girl who seems always to have stepped freshly from the pages of Vogue (she just has to be slightly dumb and totally self-obsessed, right?) is intelligent, not afraid to get her hands dirty at all, and always knows exactly the right thing to say to cheer you up. The rival you immediately spotted on the first day of work (and don’t us girls just love spotting rivals everywhere?) thinks more like you than anyone you’ve ever met.
Most humbling of all, though, is finding out from your friends – in that communal atmosphere created by sharing a bottle of wine and a pizza – exactly what their first impressions of you were. Apparently, I come off as haughty and cold to those who don’t know me. The reality is that I am extremely introverted, and dealing with new people is always a bit of an ordeal for me, so I tend to withdraw until I feel more comfortable with them.
I’m nowhere near perfect nor non-judgment yet, but I do try to make a point now of approaching people with a completely open mind, void of all preconceptions, and to remember that first impressions are often false.
Also, thanks to that completely honest – and totally unsolicited, by the way – feedback from my friends, to smile charmingly when I meet people for the first time.