Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Impressions, Second Chances

Like so many around the world and the nation, much of my recent free time has been spent watching the Olympics. Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised to discover that while watching the games, I made some connections between that experience and my experiences at Imagine!.

Matt Centrowitz
I was watching the Men’s 1500 Meters Semifinals, and as the announcers named the competitors, I decided on the spot I was going to root for Matt Centrowitz. What is interesting about this choice is that I can honestly say that there was no rhyme or reason for my decision to pull for him in the race. I’d never heard of him before, he wasn’t one of the favorites to win (although he wasn’t a complete underdog either), and he wasn’t the only US runner in the field.*

I just sort of . . . chose him. His destiny would bump my day up or down by this apparently insignificant, one directional association. My day improved because he moved on to the finals. Matt’s day improved - but not because of me or our insignificant association. He will navigate the rest of his life never knowing that he gave me a smile.

I know I’m not the only who does that sort of thing. The very nature of the Olympics means that we are introduced to athletes who for most of their lives work hard at their craft while remaining mostly anonymous, and then once every four years they get a chance to shine on the world’s biggest stage. Sure, there are a few stars that get significant attention, but there are so many events and so many athletes that it is impossible to know them all, so we frequently make split second decisions to cheer for a particular athlete with no particular logic playing a part in that decision. It is one of those things that make watching the Olympics so much fun.

Many relationships start the same way. We frequently make split second decisions about people, or organizations, based on factors we aren’t even entirely aware of. It is simply human nature.

I know this happens sometimes when it comes to how people view Imagine!. Their decisions on how they rate the quality of what we do or on if they choose to trust us are often made in the blink of an eye.

Whether that initial view is positive or negative, at Imagine!, we have an obligation to go beyond those original, surface judgments to create lasting relationships that benefit the individuals we serve. We serve people throughout their entire lives, from toddlers receiving Early Intervention services to seniors in their twilight years receiving specialized services designed to meet the unique needs that come with aging, meaning we have many opportunities to shape a person’s view of Imagine!.

That is why it is so important for all us who work here to be constantly vigilant. We need to always deliver the best services we can, services that always have needs of the end user in mind. We can’t use excuses like not having enough funding or having too many rules and regulations to follow. No matter the conditions we operate under, we are obligated to either reinforce an individual’s perception of Imagine! (if their view of us is positive) or work to change their view of Imagine! (if that initial perception is negative).

You have probably heard the cliché that goes “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That is true to a point, but the truth is every interaction we have at Imagine! with any of our stakeholders is an opportunity to leave a favorable impression of Imagine! and the people we serve. That can be a blessing or a curse. In the case of Imagine! employees, I know it is a blessing far more often than it is a curse. They know they are ambassadors for the organization, and I am proud to see how many truly embrace that role in a positive way. Our employees will navigate their lives, never knowing about the moments when they added a smile to someone’s face.

Then again, what do I know?

*In the race I watched, Centrowitz did not win but qualified to advance to the finals, which just completed as I was finishing up typing this post. Alas, he finished fourth in the finals, so no medal,  but I enjoyed cheering him on. Thanks for the smiles, Matt!

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