There is an annoying yet amusing trend that still finds its way into social networking now and again. A celebrity or popular page posts something to their hundreds or thousands of followers and somebody that is paying attention grabs the opportunity and posts a single word as a comment. “First”. That’s it. No witty reply or comment that even relates to the original post. Just a simple statement that they were the first person to see the post and get their name associated with it by commenting. This practice has been ridiculed by the majority of internet users and rarely happens in the parts of the net that I find myself in anymore. However, it does still speak to something important within the human mind. There is a desire to be the first at something. For some, this desire pushes them to create the next big invention or to conquer an impossible challenge. For others, it drives them to seek out new ways to experience the mundane in their lives. Even if this is just by trolling facebook posts to be the “first” commenter. So what is it about the idea of being first that intrigues us? What drives a person to climb Mt. Everest or invent the light bulb or place their hand print in the wet cement of a new sidewalk? There are a host of personal reasons that you can come up with, but recognition, excitement and a desire to better the world are among the top reasons that I see connected with being the first.
The recognition of being the first at something is a huge draw for pushing the limits of what was originally thought possible. There is a certain level of respect and admiration that we have for those individuals willing to stick their necks out and risk doing something unprecedented. Depending on the potential impact it has on society as a whole, the individual may find themselves immortalized in history for what they have done. Even for the myriad of people who find themselves able to do the same thing later on, there is never the same memorable feel to the second or third or twentieth person. When we think of things like the moon landing, the crew of Apollo 11 comes right to mind. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are American heroes for their monumental steps on the surface of the moon. But how many people remember Alan Bean and “Pete” Conrad of Apollo 12? They made the same steps on the moon and made many firsts of their own, yet will always be over shadowed by their predecessors. The first party to climb Everest found themselves knighted and celebrated by the world and their countries. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay have medals and annual celebrations named after them. Yet, it took me multiple searches on google to even find the names of Ernst Schmied and Juerg Marmet of the second successful climbing party. Being the first brings powerful recognition and celebration to your achievements. That’s a hell of an incentive to do something new.
On a personal level, there is a thrill to the realization that you have just done something that no one has ever done before. This drive for adrenaline and excitement has spawned activities now classified as extreme sports and actions that range from daredevil stunts to seemingly everyday activities that you have the chance to do for the first time. For those that seek to constantly push the envelope, the concept of just doing something relatively common for the fist time isn’t always enough and soon find themselves pioneers in things that involve jumping out of aircraft or somehow pushing their bodies to do things the rest of us just gawk at. For the rest of us, the idea of experiencing an known activity for the first time can be just as thrilling. Think about the first time you rode a roller coaster, you were probably not the first person to ride it. It’s quite possible that there were thousands or even millions who rode it before you. But the excitement you felt when you stepped off it for the first time was memorable and amazing. This holds true for all the firsts in our lives. The first bicycle ride with no training wheels, the driving experience, the first time falling in love and even the first time experiencing true loss. Each time we break through a barrier and find ourselves in a place that we have never been before, there is a jolt of excitement and thrill. It is this jolt that keeps us moving forward as individuals and as a society. It is when we lose sight of this excitement and give up the thrills that we start to feel what the loss of life really means. Stagnation is death. If we want to live, we need to keep moving.
On a more global scale, the desire to make life better and easier is another powerful force behind being the first. Though many original ideas may have been spawned through an attempt for personal ease, it is easily understood that if one person is struggling with something, there are many more feeling the same way. Seeing the frustration of a situation or the difficulty of a task has pushed countless individuals to seek new ways to look at ordinary problems. Henry Ford, seeing how challenging it was to produce a single automobile looked at the process in a unique and powerful way and found himself pioneering the assembly line. This idea has revolutionized the way we build things across the globe and had a huge hand in the creation of our modern society. Literary greats have often inspired this same type of change by being the first to express revolutionary ideas in an accessible way to the public. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is believed to have been written in the 4th or 5th century BC. Yet his pioneering ideas on what cultural power truly is and how it should be used in military and governmental affairs continue to influence society today. Throughout history, there are countless individuals who, in the pursuit of improving themselves and their surroundings, have put practices and thoughts in place that have changed the world.
For many years, I have struggled with the idea of being creative enough to be the first at anything. I’ve enjoyed the personal first experiences that I have had and continue to push myself into places that I have never been so that I can feel that rush of doing something new. But the idea of being the first person in the world to do something wholly unique has always left me feeling inadequate. What could I possibly bring to the world that is so unique that it changes how the world works. After all, even the Christian bible tells us that “There is nothing new under the sun.” Then I heard something that broke through that barrier. A friend was talking about writing a book and that yes, nearly every topic has been covered in one way or another. Yet even with all this information out there, there are still new books being written every day. Why? It’s because even though a topic has been discussed, it has never been discussed from your perspective and with your voice. With over 7 billion people in the world, there is no way that any single person’s voice or viewpoint on a topic can be universally accepted. There will always be a need to see things from a different perspective and hear information in a new voice. I may not be presenting new discoveries in the genetic code or solving world hunger with my cultural philosophy, but I am uniquely affecting my world and myself by expressing my thoughts and words. No one on earth has ever strung these words together in this exact pattern to express this exact sentiment. For that, I am a global pioneer.
This is the realization that we all need to embrace. We may or may not be breaking any physical barriers of human ability, creativity or knowledge. But we are consistently breaking the barriers of what the world knows simply by being ourselves. There is no one else like me and there is no one else like you. We are pioneers in life by walking our unique paths, speaking our unique truths and expressing our unique creativity. Each action we take throughout the day consists of a new series of events that we have never seen before and may never see again. Your boring commute to work that seems to be the pinnacle of the “same day drudgery”, consists of minute details that can never be recreated in the same way again. Truly, every second of every day puts on the edge of discovery when we open our eyes and take notice of that which is constantly changing around us. So, as you are sitting there contemplating whether or not you should write that book, have that conversation, create that invention or just walk across the street to get that pint of ice cream, what you are about to do will be a pioneering step in your evolution. You will be the “first”.