A first impression is like a first kiss. It lingers long after the relationship has changed.

I stepped off the plane in Ube, Japan, wearing a suit even though it was ninety plus with terrible humidity. The air was thick with water and the squat mountains in the distance appeared as though through a cloudy window. Yet, I had been told that first impressions were paramount in Japan. I buttoned up my shirt and pulled on my suit jacket and pasted a big smile on my face. I wanted to make a good first impression.

I stepped off the plane, not realizing that my first impression had already been made.

At some point during the summer, before arriving in Japan, my future Board of Education had asked for a picture so they could identify me when I got to Japan. I had my father take a picture of me in front of our brick house in the bright sunlight, thinking the brick would make a good back ground. Since it was the middle of the summer, my appearance was a little ruggish. I sported a thick unruly beard and hair that was a tad long and unkempt. I basically looked like a college bum – the kind that skips class to see how early in the day he can get drunk. The sun was bright that day and as my father took my picture I was squinting to keep the sun out of my eyes. Apparently, when I squint, it looks like I am frowning. This delightful picture was sent to Japan with a little note telling them about me and what I hoped to do while I was in Japan.

My future Board of Education received this picture and their mouths dropped open. The brick reminded them of old jailhouses from classic western films. With my unkempt appearance, beard, and fierce scowl, I looked like a convict. And this was the person they were looking for when I stepped off the plane.

Several of my fellow English teachers laughed nervously as they disembarked and saw the crowded waiting area. Our new Japanese employers had come en masse to meet their new teachers. One by one we grabbed our bags and walked out of the airport with the Japanese around us. My own luggage was the last to be unloaded and so I had a bird’s eye view of everyone else. I quickly saw my Board of Education, apparent by the large sign that read “Seth Crossman,” each letter printed on its own page. There were seven of them holding that sign, taking up nearly one whole side of the exit tunnel. They saw the English teachers disappearing and when there were only two left they began to panic. They kept checking the enlarged photo they had of my picture, obviously looking for the scariest, most dangerous man they could find. They chose the tall Australian in front of me, who was slightly chubby and had hair past his shoulders. He carried a guitar case. Perhaps they had seen Desperado. They ran up to him and began shaking his hand and bowing profusely and smiling like they were welcoming a hero come home from war.

My Board of Education had chosen their convict.

It was an honest mistake. Gone was my ragged bead and the long hair and they had no brick wall to help them choose. I was clean-shaven, smiling, and wearing a suit, hardly what my Board of Education was expecting. I was disappointed though. My warm welcome was given to someone else. I was left standing with my luggage, the kid picked last in gym class. Perhaps it should have been a compliment. They were expecting someone disreputable and seeing me they had chosen someone else. It didn’t feel like that though, because I didn’t realize I had given them the wrong impression of me long before I had even set foot in Japan.

It was then I realized I had a unique opportunity. I could remake myself. I could take everything I disliked about my personality and change it. It was my new beginning, a chance to be a better Seth than I had been. Gone were my failures, my inadequacies, all the stubble and unkempt appearance, my jailhouse chains.

And it couldn’t have started any better. I had already surpassed my employers expectations. My better beginning had begun.

© Seth Crossman