Leaving a Lasting Impression
Sunday morning I woke up to the smell of bacon frying. Dishes clanging in the sink, my mother singing along to gospel radio - a few beats behind and more than a few notes off-key. It's a scene I've woken up to hundreds of times in my life, but it wasn't until this past weekend that I realized that that combination - Mummy singing, dishes clattering, bacon frying - feels like home to me.
I tried to explain the feeling to my mum when I went upstairs, but she just start apologizing profusely to me for having woken me. I kept trying to explain to her that I wasn’t complaining about her waking me up, but she didn’t really get where I was going. So let me try again here.
What I think is really interesting about life is how we are often so oblivious to the impressions we make on the people around us. Sometimes it’s big things, like the time a certain man I know told me I struck his as a very straightforward person. It was an offhand remark made when we were just getting to know each other and I’m sure he’s forgotten it by now, but for me it was like the sky opening up because it was totally true and I was totally unaware of it up until then.
Sometimes the impressions we make on the people around us are small. Like the time a stranger stopped me on my way to the library to tell me I looked like a movie star when I thought I looked like a bag of shit. Either way, I find it fascinating that the things we say and do are sometimes internalized by the people around us in a lasting way, completely unbeknownst to us.
When I was young, I was obsessed with my cousin Rhonda. My fascination with her is such a part of the fabric of my childhood that I can no longer tell you what specifically made her so fascinating, but I can tell you this: whenever I saw her, she would hug me tight for a long time; rubbing my back up and down in long, gentle strokes. Not much in my life has ever been more comforting than one of Rhonda’s hugs, but I bet she’s completely unaware of how great a hugger she is. But those hugs are the reason that my worldview now basically amounts to “give good hugs”.
I’ve always been a self-conscious person; a trait I don’t consider to be particularly admirable. But I’ve realized lately that there is an upside to being overly fixated with the impression we make on others. Beyond worrying unnecessarily that people are scrutinizing my hair or my nails or my shoes, it is my self-consciousness I think that makes me aware of the less-tangible impressions I leave on people.
I like to look people in the face when they’re talking to me. To listen actively and nod encouragingly. I want people to feel as though I’m interested in what they’re saying to me, as though it matters to me. I try my hardest to remember what I’m told, to ask how that interview or presentation or date went. To inquire about the health of a parent or a pet, to wish people luck when I know they have a day coming up.
And I like to be generous; with my time and my money and my stuff. I like to suprise and delight people by giving them a little extra or doing a little bit more for them than they’d expect.
I like to be honest with people, to tell them those little truths most other people gloss over – that foundation is too ashy for your face, or you are spoiled, or you look better in straight-legged jeans than bootcuts.
I like to be a bit outrageous. I like to mention the elephant in the room, to acknowledge the awkwardness of a situation, to call a spade a spade. I like being the person who says the things we’re not supposed to say.
None of which is meant to paint me as an exemplary human being. Quite the opposite I’d say. Because as much as I do and say things for their intrinsic value, I also do and say things in order to leave a specific impression on people. To leave the impression that I’m invested in their well-being. To leave the impression that I’m considerate. To leave the impression that I”m unselfish or irreverent or trustworthy. And lately I’ve been wondering about the extent to which I achieve that and the extent to which I misfire.
Like any pregnant woman, I think a lot about the kind of mother I’ll be. But since the bacon/gospel moment with my mum I’ve also been thinking about the kind of mother they’ll perceive me to be. I think about the things I plan to do for them – read them bedtime stories, smooth back the hair on their foreheads when I kiss them goodnight and I think about the things I plan to make them do – go to college, be greek – and I wonder what impression I’ll make on them. Will the gestures that I intend to make them feel cared for actually do that? Will they look back on the activities I push them to participate in or the chores I force them to do and see them as I meant them? What random unconscious act of mine will be their bacon and gospel moment?
Isn’t the saddest and most fascinating part of life is the huge difference between what we mean when we do or say things, and how those actions or words are interpreted?
Anyway. That’s my ramble for the days. But what do you guys think? What impressions do you try to make on the people around you? What small acts have made impressions on you? Speak your piece in the comments.