Everybody agrees, generally, those impressions are impactful, and hard to erase.
But, beyond that initial impact, positive or negating, they are only a glimpse of a person – they don’t inform us that gives us depth or breadth of understanding. Great beginnings draw us in, and not-so-great ones have us show that person a wide berth.
First impressions are usually brief and leave us uninformed beyond that impression. That first blush impression we glean of someone – like our first exposure to an idea, is quick and superficial. We react in a Blink; our instincts are often wrong and predictors of anything beyond whether we remember them the next day. Or, remember someone as a trusted, caring friend more than forty years later …
Picking friends, or having others liking you, is harder for shy kids. I shouldn’t generalize or assume I understand anyone else’s experience – I can’t generalize, so I mean for me, growing up a shy kid, lacking confidence and good social skills, lacking both siblings and stability.
Each move my family made to a nicer house, for my dad’s new job, or stepping from elementary through high school, so many moves didn’t help either. Making friends but having to move away, or having them move away, was an obstacle too. My experience as an adult in the work world was marginally better. My people skills were better, and I was more purposeful in a team, but a loner who worked hard probably described me more accurately than to call me a team player.
When that is the case, it’s hard to let people in and harder still to be seen as someone others want in their circle. Wanting to be needed, liked, and included was important – as it always had been; much like being picked last for a team in sandlot ball. Secretly, I wanted to be the one doing the picking more than anything, but that never happened.
We met at an AGM rubber-capon hotel meeting room luncheon; I knew a few people in the room – the remainder of the faces were new to me. I was one of several new director nominees inducted to the board that day. It was a brief hello and handshaking. He was a veteran there, and I was a timid rookie. He was a confident bon-vivant looking like a GQ cover photo. He was vice-chair that year and was elevated mid-year to chair that board.
I didn’t like him at first; nothing based on fact – it was a first impression that didn’t click.
In that first year I was on that board, we met a few times at board meetings, but never one-on-one.
We had conflicts – namely, his efforts to mitigate a conflict between me and another colleague I was colliding with on a committee. We agreed to disagree, and the committee member and I worked our conflict into a friendship that lasted long after we’d both departed that board.
No surprise he’s become a great executive coach – but, whoops, I’m getting ahead of myself. He is a peacemaker, and in those days, more disturber than disturbed, strong-willed and resistant to being disciplined for my sincere work as a volunteer.
He taught me a lot about conducting effective meetings, not officiously, but in an inclusive way with velvet gloves sometimes, but his kindness in moments when curtness was called for – that was something I didn’t learn.
And Jim introduced me to something extraordinary that took root. He told me how he and his kids delivered meals-on-wheels to shut-ins on Christmas day.
What a great idea to spread some cheer to those who need some. I began that too, and it became an annual tradition with my kids – we did it every year until I moved back to Calgary in 1999. I also introduced that once-a-year activity to colleagues at my office in Edmonton. I think that last year I was there, our office handled all those needing a Dec. 25th meal delivery; Colliers staff and their families delivered to all the Meals on Wheels recipients in Edmonton. All that, triggered by one chat with Jim before a board meeting – that’s spreading a lot of joy he never expected to trigger.
The following year, Jim stepped off that board; he’d reached the max term of six years.
I worked hard that year, learned a lot and forged some strong relationships with others on the board, and was elected to succeed him as chair, and led the board for five years until I too maxed out, got my thank you plaque that hangs in my office still.
So what caused us to become friends, stay friends, and be so different and important to one another?
He has siblings, and I don’t – so I realize I’ve treasured my small circle perhaps more closely than others do, but there is something different about Jim, or Jim and Mark, that I find difficult to define.
Maybe it doesn’t matter how someone becomes your close friend, but it matters that you stay with each other through thick and thin.
When I got up yesterday morning – pretty tired from a late night of administrative work and polishing yesterday’s column (yikes, it was long, wasn’t it?), so imagine my surge of excitement to see that the first response I got to that column which published at 4:30, came in at 5:16.
Wow, that was fast – I had to see what it was and who it was from.
It was from Jim.
I apologize to any readers looking for a short/typical length column today, but at that moment, I felt the only way to thank him properly was to write this – what you have been reading, and to postpone my planned column for another day, in lieu of writing this thank you note to my dear friend JJ – it’s been 42 years, of having a great friend from such unlikely beginnings, I’m so lucky to have you.
We annoy each other as often as we agree – some of each; we judge each other as good old friends do, we have each other’s best interest at heart, we answer when needed, we come when summoned, and we take each other’s calls no matter what. I’ve never had a brother, but if I did, I’d want him to be like Jim.
He’s crass sometimes and unparalleled class at others, kind, troubled, heroic, cowardly, wrecked, genuine, self-indulgent, proud, happy, sad, bent but not broken, name-dropper, living in the past sometimes and stepping with trepidation into the uncertain future of joys and losses, wins, winning and losing, and self-doubt v. self-improvement – he is me, and I am he – we are so different, we are not the same, but we are friends who can cry together and laugh together. We tell each other off sometimes, but mostly with our quiet inside voices, and we don’t tell each other how much we appreciate each other often enough.
But there are few friendships in life this good; few friendships last long through our respective lives and relocations. We’ve been long-term Edmonton residents, and now we are long-term Calgarians.
We’ve had more blueberry pancake breakfasts than I can count; we’ve not been operating with a defined purpose or agenda. We’ve had some shared history, both had very different and challenging childhoods. We both have two divorces, children and grandchildren – and we’re both dog lovers.
We might have as easily been fellow board members, a short time, a few meetings, and never to continue. Lots of people come and go from these involvements, but sometimes – as it did for Jim and Mark, it grew into a long peculiar relationship. Not peculiar in any bad way, but peculiar in that it is so unlike any other friendships I have made. I don’t have many, and perhaps I’m a difficult person to befriend.
It will be 20 years next March 21st since I wrote the first musing column – there was an original six.
Or seven, really, me and six that I sent it to. Three of six remain on the list, my daughter Carla, my smartest-guy-in-any-room friend Kevin, and Jim. I’ve known Carla all her life, Jim nearly as long, and Kevin since I moved back to Calgary in 1999.
Many people come and go in our lives, and in this Musing community many have come and gone, and there is just under 4,000 of you are currently, many spokes on this wheel.
Still, I don’t have many friends I call close. They are treasures. Some stay in close touch, some connect rarely. Someone once told me that to have good friends, you have to be a good friend.
That’s a skill I’m always unsure of – nobody ever gave me an instruction manual – so I do the best I can without losing who I am, and do the best I can.
My advice is to not judge anyone or your connection with them by your first impression. We might be right or wrong in our assessment of them, but our first impression of anyone, a first step that tells us a little, is never the measure of a whole person – it’s the start of a greater journey of discovery.
I wonder if there is truth in the notion that NOT starting with a good impression and without any strategy to make friends is perhaps a great way to begin a great friendship.
We are who we are, and who we meet and treasure becomes part of who we are – it’s not about flesh and bone as much as it is about connection, concern and patience.
Seems to me this new road you're on has much better pavement. Fewer pot holes. Sounds like the terrain appears to be more pleasing and you've found a moment or two for expanded appreciation as well. I'm happy for you Mark, JJ, Calgary, AB
Yeah for you, Mark! Maybe someone, or someone who knows someone, tainted with a negative attitude about AHAD, will comprehend the benefits reading your musing…this was a great life review as well, SF, Lethbridge, AB
That was a long read, but a good one. Thanks for sharing, RH, Calgary, AB