Celebrate Your Firsts but Focus on Your Seconds

Find Strength in Commitment

Here’s to our firsts. They’re our springboards. They’re our memories. They’re our jumping-off points. Our firsts are the times when we gathered the courage to do something different — to ask someone out, to put pen to paper, to volunteer or to start a new job. They’re the times when we faced adversity head-on.

Sometimes we succeed when we first try. We do something we thought we couldn’t do but we did it anyway. And we should be proud. We should be proud because every great thing that has ever happened to us happened because we took the time to start.

And sometimes when we try, we fail. Sometimes our first isn’t good enough. Sometimes we face adversity but adversity wins despite our best efforts. We take the SAT for the first time and we bomb. We ask somebody out and they reject us. We throw a party for friends and no one shows up.

It is in these times we learn and grow. We face challenges and while we lose, we try all the same. We expand our horizons and we strive for something different. And for that we should celebrate.

But don’t get caught up with firsts

Don’t get caught up thinking that you have to start again. Don’t get into the mindset that you always need to do something different to be better. Don’t keep rewriting the first page if you never end up making it to the second. It’s all too easy to start something if we know we are never going to finish it.

As a software engineer, I can relate to this all too well. I’ve started and stopped building dozens of side-projects. Each project I would start, there would be a euphoria to beginning — this time I was going to finish it. I had created the designs, built the initial models or sometimes I’d even implemented a lot of the business logic.

But then I quit.

Dont’ be Cartman

It was too easy to talk myself out of continuing. After all, the idea was flawed. It had problems — the UX was too complicated. The idea had been done before. I didn’t have the experience to really do what I wanted. Setting up Kubernetes was a pain after all.

So, I hit the reset button. I went back to the drawing board. I told myself I knew what the problems were for the next time. And as I started again, I had a new sense of excitement — this time I would avoid the same mistakes. The design would be simpler. The idea would be better.

But the cycle would continue. The problem wasn’t the idea. The problem was that I was caught up with trying to be perfect on the first try. I was fascinated with seeing a blank slate. I was caught up always trying to start and never trying to finish. I was channelling Ricky Bobby.

If you ain’t first, you’re last — Ricky Bobby.

Focusing on seconds is powerful.

The first time we do something, the moment can often overwhelm us and we lose sight of the goal. This is especially true if something is completely new. We can shield ourselves from failure and blame our ignorance. The second time we do something though, we don’t have the same luxury.

If you start to focus on doing something the second time, you start to realize that life isn’t about beginning — it’s about continuing.

If our firsts demonstrate our courage, then our seconds demonstrate our commitment.

A great teacher isn’t made by the first day of class, but by the second. And the third. And the fourth. And every day after that first day. As children, we always remember our first days of school but never our second days. And those are the days that we should remember because those are the days that we didn’t have the same celebration but still went anyways.

So all this starting and restarting got me thinking. I thought back to when I first signed up for my debate team in high school. Back then my coach asked me if I was nervous before my first tournament. I said I wasn’t. Why would I be? Nobody expected anything. If I showed up, at least I tried, right? So, I did just that. I wrote my first cases, showed up and I finished with a record of 3–3. I was happy.

But the second time — that’s when I was nervous. I knew what I was getting myself into. After that first tournament I prepared twice as hard — I knew that I couldn’t just say that I didn’t know the rules. I thought about the times I had won and I thought about the mistakes I made when I lost. I spent hours rewriting all of my cases. When the tournament was over, I ended up going home with a trophy.

I taught myself a valuable lesson that day — celebrate when you try something for the first time, but define yourself by your willingness to go back and improve because if you never do something a second time, then your first was also your last.

Stay committed!

So by all means, take chances and take risks. Do something you’ve never done and go somewhere you’ve never been. Read a new book and start a new hobby. For all you developers out there, start writing the next Facebook or Amazon.

Just don’t stop when it gets hard. Reframe your mindset. Start to think in terms of seconds. Start to see the value in getting better. Don’t reach for the reset button. And don’t quit because sometimes the best strategy is to carry on and work through the difficulties.

Here’s to 2018! Let’s make it the year of seconds.

If you enjoyed this article please recommend and share. After all, this is my first. But I promise you, there will be a second!