Go First!

Credit: Brian Mann

I saw her but she didn’t see me. It was a moment like many I had encountered before. You’re hoping that person (friend or acquaintance) looks up and makes eye contact with you.

That way, you’ll have permission to say “hi”. Without that eye contact, you’re stuck in limbo…debating with yourself and asking questions like, “would it be more or less awkward if I walked over there just to say ‘hi’?” or “on a scale of 1–10, how embarrassing would it be if I say ‘hi’ and she doesn’t hear me?”

What I’ve come to realize is that these are all stupid questions. My new motto (and the theme for January) is: Go First! …Or, in other words, just f***ing wave and say hi.

We don’t need to wait for eye contact. Everyone is ready to say “hi” back or be pleasantly surprised by you saying “hi.” Nobody wants to go first anymore though. It could be awkward. It could be embarrassing. But really, where’s the risk? If you don’t go first, it could also be a missed opportunity to deepen a friendship and make someone’s day.

I was leaving the infamous South Quad dining hall with a group of friends and classmates. We were on our way to last exam of the semester, when the situation I described above actually happened. I saw a friend, but she didn’t see me.

The only difference was that I had this “Go First!” mindset. So I didn’t even give my lizard brain the chance to ask those stupid questions. I didn’t hesitate; I immediately yelled out “Hi, Kelsey!”

Both her and my friends were taken aback for a second (probably because I literally yelled it). After passing Kelsey and realizing how loud I had actually been, I quickly apologized to the group I was with for being a little overzealous.

Now, I’d like to revoke that apology. I will not apologize for being enthusiastic about seeing a friend or for going first or for doing something others might view as embarrassing or awkward.

Maybe the act of saying “hi” didn’t deepen my friendship with Kelsey or make her day, but it provided me with some positive feelings going into that exam. I felt like I had accomplished something.

I want my friends to know that I’m excited to see them! So, if I see you somewhere (regardless of whether or not you see me), you have been warned: I will yell your name!

And I hope you’ll do the same for me.

This theme of Going First doesn’t just apply to saying “hi” to people we know. There’s a million different applications.

Smile first to a stranger!

Be compassionate first with someone you struggle to get along with!

Trust first in a friendship or work relationship!

Disagree first and let your opinion be heard!

Dance first! Or be the first follower to join the crazy person who already is dancing!

Give first and volunteer first for a cause that you care about!

Another way to think about it is like this: sit in the front row of your life.

When we wait for the eye contact to be there first, we’re sitting in the back row. We’re observing everything in front of us. We’re observing life, but we’re not participating in it. Going first is about participating.

As Ben Zander explains in this short video, we have this choice…and when we understand that, all sorts of possibilities open up to us.

No one else will do this for you.

Participate! Go first! Sit in the front row of your life!

BONUS: My Ben Zander impression and an example of me “Going First.”

Questions to consider:

  • what was a time you regretted not “going first” or not participating?
  • how will you “go first” this week?

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