One of the many cool things about being a parent is watching your child experience things for the first time. Odds are most of us went above and beyond to document our child’s first steps, first words, first day of school, first recital, first goal, and the list goes on. I don’t remember many of my firsts from early in my childhood, but watching my son experience his is something I will never forget. Last weekend, my son experienced his most recent significant first in the form of a swim meet. Watching him light up throughout the experience and demonstrate visible excitement brought great joy to both my wife and me. After swimming his first event, he jumped out of the water and walked over as fast as he could (no running at the pool!) to celebrate with us. A giant smile on his face and a blue ribbon in his hand, he was on cloud nine. After exchanging high fives and hugs, he asked for a pen. Curiously, my wife reached into her bag and gave him one. He wrote on his ribbon in big capital letters “First Race Ever” and immediately attached it to the zipper of his warm up jacket for all to see. He was so pleased with himself. The coolest thing about it was the fact that he came in first place wasn’t what made him so proud. It was that he experienced his first race.
My wife and I make it a point to help our son experience as many firsts as possible. Because we believe we have a responsibility to create firsts, we are not OK with merely documenting. Sometimes we have to provide more encourage than others, as his natural inclination to miss opportunities have given us reason to dub him “Captain No.” Other times he is dragging us along. As we like to remind him, it isn’t about coming in first place or being the first to do something; it’s all about the number of firsts we experience. On the surface, that may sound pushy, but those who know us beyond this blog can attest that such an assessment is pretty far from the truth. We allow his natural inclination, and communicated/demonstrated interests inform the firsts we help him create. Such an approach has led him to experience things I never did and helped us to create far more smiles than grimaces. And it is this approach that has helped him to become more comfortable seeking out new opportunities on his own, thereby growing more confidence in himself. Looking at adults through this lens, it becomes increasingly clear that most of us are far less inclined to experience firsts as we get older, and it’s not because we have less firsts to experience. Instead of expanding our comfort zones by doing our part to live outside it as much as possible, we tend to contain ourselves within our bubble of security. Sure, some people refer to a “bucket list”, but how many people actually follow through in a timely manner? Likely, the same percentage of us who are truly committed to New Years’ Resolutions.
I mentioned that I will never forget most of my son’s firsts. I say that in part because his interests are very different than mine were when I was his age and many times we are experiencing firsts together. In fact, I am quick to point out to him the things that he has done at age 10 that I have yet to do. Last weekend on Father’s Day, he did his first hike along the Appalachian Trail. It was also a first for me. Last month, he built his first robot. I also built my first. Next month, we will do something else that will undoubtedly be new to both, if not all three of us. Sure, we’ve had some firsts that didn’t turn out well at all. We had some firsts that helped one or more of us to find a new hobby. And nearly every first aided us in learning more about ourselves. If we were OK with merely documenting firsts, I wonder how many meaningful firsts we would have shared to this point. Sure we would taken pictures or otherwise documented the firsts that happened on their own, but the number of and meaning behind them would pale in comparison to our reality. Many people are quick to proclaim that “Life is an adventure.” But is that still the case? By definition and adventure is (1) exciting experience: an exciting or extraordinary event or series of events, (2) bold undertaking: an undertaking involving uncertainty and risk, or (3) involvement in bold undertakings: the participation or willingness to participate in things that involve uncertainty and risk. Those not up for creating adventures merely settle for a passive experience every now and then.
Being a leader, parent, or active participant in life for that matter is equal parts giving some the opportunity to go second, while giving others the encouragement necessary to experience firsts. The more first time adventures we create, the more interesting life becomes and the more prepared we are for the opportunities that some can only hope will come our way. I say hope fully acknowledging that those who create new experiences are less likely to have reason to use hope as a strategy.
When was the last time you did something for the first time? What is the next adventure you will create for yourself? for someone else? Are you giving others reason to help you create a new adventure for/with you?