“The First”- is the label usually attached to the person or people who come before all others in the context of time or order. For those who have earned the distinction of being “the first”, great honor and fanfare go with the achievement. And while being “the first” to achieve a major goal or milestone event should be celebrated, being “the first” can easily become a double-edged sword.
The label of being “the first” can create lofty expectations of the title holder that might quickly become isolating and burdensome. In fact, when someone becomes “the first” to achieve a significant goal or accomplishment, you will often hear much about the accolades and the hard work that led up to it. But what happens after? Does being “the first” guarantee future success? Does the label help or hurt? Is being “the first” a blessing or a burden?
Being “The First”
There are many benefits to being the first. Being “the first” gives the title holder bragging rights, and honorable mention in the history books as the first male or female to ever do “it”. Whether it is a personal or career accomplishment, being “the first,” gives the individual an opportunity to blaze a trail to lead others into the future, make a difference and to pave the way for those that come behind them. At the same time, being a forerunner presents great risk as there might not be any precedent or roadmap for the novel big idea.
Being “the first” might also mean longer hours devoted to building a new business, huge sacrifices to personal life, costly mistakes and failures, and tireless efforts to get support, develop new systems, and incredible pressure to be a great example. Because, when you are “the first” to do something big or new, you have both the burden and opportunity to cast the vision, get buy in, create access, identify opportunities, or transform systems.
So, whether you earned the first-place position, are a first born, was the first to start the business, first to graduate college, first to purchase a home, first male or female president/vice president- being “the first” is hard. Research tells us that many first-time entrepreneurs fail, in their first attempts to establish a business. First generation minorities to attend college, suffer from high dropout rates due to an absence of adequate resources and support. And first-time leaders are prone to make mistakes that can permanently derail their careers or set them back personally and professionally.
The hardships, uncertainty and risks associated with being the first is also true for anyone taking on a new role or doing something for the first time. For example, many first-time supervisors and managers lament the many mistakes they made, in making the transition from being a member of the team, to becoming the manager/leader of the team. First time managers often find themselves struggling after landing the job because they were not properly trained, or prepared to handle on the scope of work, varied expectations, and new responsibilities. As a result, they find it difficult to perform important functions such giving feedback, managing the work, engaging, and developing their people. Usually, after some trial and error, they gain the experience and confidence to help them turn things around. So, there many growing pains associated with doing anything for the first time.
Blessing or Burden?
I remember the first time I heard of the newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson. Brown Jackson became “the first” black female justice in America’s highest court. Prior to the confirmation hearing, I had never heard of her of President Biden‘s nominee. And though all of whom watched the hearing were very impressed by her credentials, legal acumen and background, most of us were equally appalled by how she treated by the republican senators during the hearing.
While the treatment of the Justice might have been partisan, the hearing and the subsequent favorable outcome for Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown shone a light on the significant hurdles that black and brown people and other minorities in America and elsewhere face, in their journeys to become “the first”. Her ascension to the bench also highlighted the disparities in holders of the highest offices of the land and why representation matters. To her credit, Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown navigated the confirmation hearing with poise, grace and patience and made people who looked like her- very proud.
Personal Reflection on “Being the First”
For me, Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown‘s journey to becoming “the first”, though different, is similar to the experiences that may people face in their efforts to be “the first” and achieve their career or life goals. It also struck me that being “the first” does not guarantee future or continued success either. In fact, history books are littered with men and women whose initial success never amounted to much. And many first timers suffer from imposter syndrome or the fear of not able to sustain the success they have achieved. If anything, the scrutiny, pressures that come with being “the first” and the need to live up to expectations, can create undue stress, anxiety and fear that might cripple many first timers and holders of the title “the first”.
So, how do you avoid the dangers of being “the first”? From my perspective people who earn the distinction of being “the first”, as well as first timers, need three basic things to thrive and build on their past success:
- Self-Belief /Assurance: When no one else sees or trusts your vision or the mission you are seeking to accomplish, you will need the conviction to believe in your talents and abilities, trust your judgement and to walk in the purpose you have defined for your life. This will help you to hold true to your values, ignore the noise and push past fear to pursue your goals and dreams.
- Support: No matter how hard you work, how talented you are, you will never be able to fully realize your goals and objectives without support and engagement from key stakeholders and partners. In fact, most organizational change efforts fail because of the lack of leadership support, inadequate resources and the absence of employee participation. On a personal level, efforts to get to the goal might be tougher, if you do not have support of friends and family to help you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- Perseverance: When you look at successful and famous inventors and inventions, their history is marked by repeated failures on the path to success. As such first timers will need to demonstrate the resilience to able to pivot and bounce back when their best efforts fail. And to choose to hope again and again.
So, what advice would you offer up to a first-timer or someone who is struggling with being “the first”?
Until next time, Remember, ItsALearninglife.