I never like to be the first at doing something. The first to step up and go against what the crowd is saying? Terrifying. The first to do that project, with no one to lead you or give instructions? Hard pass. The first to be vulnerable, or say sorry, or open up and have the hard conversations? No thanks. I will do almost anything as soon as someone else has been brave enough to blaze the trail; I will immediately follow in your footsteps, I will be your second in a second – but I’m not jumping off a cliff into the unknown unless I have the safety net of the person who’s gone before me.
But I also hate not being first. I hate to think of myself as the lackey trailing behind, following in the shadows of someone else’s glory. If an idea of mine or something I say gets repeated in conversation, I can’t help but point out that I said it first. I don’t like picking up someone else’s project halfway through, knowing I would have done things differently if I’d started from scratch. The shame of being – gulp – unoriginal, stops me from creating and doing so many things because I don’t want to just copy or repeat what someone else is doing. There may not be any new ideas under the sun, but I don’t want to get caught pinching someone else’s idea regardless.
So, I find myself between a rock and a hard place; I want the credit of being in charge but I don’t want the buck to stop with me. I want to lead the way without being responsible for the people following. I want to be original and creative and innovative but I also want others to do the hard work and hand my genius to me on a silver platter. If the options are top dog or second banana, I want to be neither, and still somehow both.
But a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through random tumblr posts on Buzzfeed (yes, it was a procrastinating millennial kind of day) and I came across the following post (and sorry I’m not millennial enough to know how to embed a tumblr post, but it was by someone called biggest-gaudiest-patronuses):
“What if someone else does it better later?” Good! Technically the Wright brothers built the worst airplanes in the world. If you do it first, you do it worst, and history will thank you for it.
And in an instant, all my fears became positives.
Suddenly, being the first to do something wasn’t a negative thing. Because you can start something and do a rubbish job. You can miss important details. You can get loads wrong. But the world will be a better place simply because you did it. You made it happen. You got the ball rolling. You had the courage to take that first important step, and no one can take that away from you.
BUT, even if you miss your chance to do it first it’s not a negative thing. You can use an idea that wasn’t yours (with permission and giving credit, of course) but you can do it your way. You can pick up the important details and improve on what came before. You can right the wrongs. You didn’t get the ball rolling; you picked up the ball and ran with it. Someone else took the first step, but you took many steps further.
So here’s to the people who go first; the trail-blazers, the innovators, the risk-takers. Here’s to every time you took the leap, broke new ground and created something from nothing. May we all develop that kind of bravery and leadership.
And here’s to those who came afterwards; the refiners; the tinkerers; the perfecters. Here’s to every time you found a better way, discovered new layers and made something your own. May we all learn from those who came before us, and then take that knowledge and put our own spin on it.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti