Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Perils of First Impressions

When I was first engaged, I was not prepared for the barrage of two-minute conversations I would have regarding my fiancée. In the first month, everyone I had ever known (an exaggeration, I know) wanted to know about who HE was.

This is how the conversation typically went:

Person: Congratulations! You’re engaged!
Me: Thanks!
Person: So, who is he?
Me. Well, his name is Curtis and we got to know each other in college because we were both on the cross country and track teams.
Person: Oh, another runner, how nice. So what is he doing now?
Me: Well, he’s finishing up his first year of medical school.
Person: OH. Well done.

The rest of the conversation is irrelevant.

The first time this happened to me, I was surprised. The seventeenth time (not an exaggeration) I was annoyed. Why does the fact that the man I’m going to marry is in medical school elicit the response “well done”?

Well, you might say, he’s going into a respectable profession. Or He’s clearly smart and disciplined. Or Only good looking people become doctors (yeah right, I know).

So why did this reply bother me so much?

The fact that he was in medical school says absolutely nothing about his character, or his self discipline, or his merit as a quality choice of a husband. It has been our experience that the spectrum of personalities in medical school is hardly different than a cross section of people in just about any other profession: Thoughtful, Self-centered, Disciplined, Lazy—they are all in there.


As a high school teacher I witness on a regular basis just how incorrect first impressions can be. I am reminded of how young I look every time a new person walks into my classroom and searches for the teacher (while I wave my hands, hopelessly looking to catch the visitor’s attention).

I am reminded when students are highly regarded by their peers for their outward success in one arena or another, but show few signs (from my perspective) of future success in the adult world.

I am reminded when a student confides in me the chaos of their family life away from the classroom, and it is a reality I never would have guessed.

I find that one student blames herself for the destruction of her parents’ marriage, which is dissolving before her eyes on a daily basis.

I find that another student’s sister gave birth over the weekend, her second child while in high school. In addition to all the stresses of a newborn child, the family is trying to determine whether to keep the child or put it up for adoption.

And I want to know why my research paper isn’t getting sufficient attention.

(Boy do I feel sheepish)

Despite my personal frustrations with assumptions based on career or appearance, I am just as guilty. I have craved and appreciated chances for second and third and fourth chances to correctly evaluate situations, and have valued when someone has trusted me enough to enlighten me about the true state of things.

So here's to second and third and fourth impressions, for finding truth in difficult situations, and for being forgiving to those that are guilty of a faulty first glance.

I surely am just as at fault.


  1. Ashley's sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others? A warning? Hmm.

    What do you think about that, Ash?

    On another note, guess who has a snow day today... lol. And I think we'll have another one tomorrow, which means we'll have to make one up at the end of the year. No worries - I don't mind going to school when the sun is shining!

    How's the book coming along? I'm on the very final stretch and man, another whammo hit me yesterday! Seriously, ole Mr. Quirk doesn't catch too many breaks!

    What do you think of Velvet's character? As teachers, I'm sure we both know some Velvets!

  2. Yeah, maybe I need to come up with a comment moderation system.

    We are looking at a potential snow day tomorrow, they are calling for 6-12 inches. If the storm shows up as promised, looks like a three day weekend! This is day 5, so we still are not having to make any up.

    I'm through 200 pages. Velvet kills me. Reading through the accurate/fiction account is interesting having read a thorough non-fiction account this summer. I'm so familiar with the "real" people, it's odd to have the fiction story parallel it. Enjoying it overall, though depressing at times (to say the least). Enjoy the day off!