There’s definitely something special about the number one. The first. The moment when something goes from the nothingness of zero to the somethingness of a whole. The number one sparks an immediate reaction of excitement and thrill—a moment of discovery that contains the potential for so much more. When something occurs “first,” it evokes all of this and more, because it is the start of something new.
A first, true to its name, can only happen once.
That’s likely why we so often celebrate firsts. After all, as the saying goes, “there’s a first for everything.” Being a first means something is unique. Moments of existence. Every birthday is a reminder of the first moment you took a breath. Gold medals go out to the first place winner. We mark days in history where the first man touched the moon, the first sheep was cloned, the first black president was elected, and the first refugee Olympic team competed. We honor days of firsts: the first day of winter, spring, summer, fall, the first day of Independence as a country, and the first day of a new year.
Those are just the larger firsts: the ones with names. In reality, things happen for the first time all the time, at countless different frequencies. Every day, we wake up with the first blink of our eyes, or our first stretch. We drink our first cup of coffee. Every Monday is the first day of a new week. Of course, these more mundane firsts often go unnoticed, or at least aren’t marked down in our personal histories as significant events.
There are, however, rather mundane firsts that we do remember personally, because while they may not be globally important, they are important to us individually. First birthdays. First impressions. First anniversaries. First steps. First relationship. First kiss. First phone. First time on an airplane. First time driving a car. Maybe you take a photo or record a video. Maybe you have it recorded in your diary with a heart next to it. However you choose to commemorate these firsts in your life, they remain with you forever. Something can only happen for the first time once, so we hold on to those moments and mark them as “precious.” We learn to value first times. As Pico Iyer said, “the beauty of a first time is that it leads to many others.”
For many people right now, a lot of firsts are happening. As summer fades into fall, we all begin to sink back into the daily grind. Kids return to school. Adults return to consistent work schedules, the warm vacation months over. With the crispness of September comes a sense of starting over, or at least starting again.
This past Monday, my sister had her first day of high school. That’s a double whammy: a First Day of School and doubly a First Day in a New School. All around the country, students are having these firsts, whether it’s the first day of their first year ever in kindergarten or the first day of their last day ever as a senior. Regardless, they are moments that are remembered.
I myself had a special first day this year. Last Monday was my first day as a legal intern at a public law office. It was also the first school year since kindergarten that I wasn’t starting school; I’m taking a gap year for the internship.
As with all fists, it was exciting anticipating my first day. I was a little nervous but also slightly thrilled, with about 25 other emotions thrown in. All together, they created the adrenaline rush that comes with newness. With existence. That day felt like a blank slate. I had never done something like this internship before, so I could make of it what I wanted.
Then of course came the question of what did I want to make of it? So much of life is based on first impressions. Who did I want to be? How should I act? What should I wear? All these questions swirled around in my head. A few days before the internship started, I was talking with my friend on the phone. I told her I was nervous and putting pressure on myself to set up a good impression. Her response really resonated with me.
She is a professional makeup artist, and if anyone knows about first impressions it is people involved in the entertainment, film, photography, and media industry like her. She told me that one of the sayings in her industry is “never trust a first impression.” Often, in our attempts to conform to the image in our head of what we should look and act like for a particular experience, we deviate from our true personalities. She described how in makeup, they have multiple interviews before hiring stylists and models. Just one interview one time might be wildly successful with a timely, well-put-together model or artist providing exactly what the gig needed. But if in the second interview she was late and underdressed, that first impression is botched. Who is she really? It’s hard to tell. Does she even know? She set a bar that she didn’t follow through with, then set another much lower. Who is the real person?
Put that way, the implied lesson is clear: we are only the best at being who we already are. It’s what people want to see anyway. When it comes to a first, it is always the most successful when it originates from a genuine place within us. Thus, when we begin to align our core values with the values and appearance we exude externally, we no longer need to be anxious about first impressions. We know that no matter what, we are being who we are, which is exactly enough.
I took my friend’s advice to heart on my first day at the internship. She reminded me that it was more important to stop obsessing over how I thought my first day should be than to just let it be. If I was my own self, then I needn’t stress about every little thing that might go wrong. I needn’t doubt my ability. I needn’t concern myself with someone else’s opinion beyond maintaining the personal confidence that I am qualified and capable for this experience.
When you think about it, in reality, trying too hard to sculpt out a first isn’t really a first—it’s more like a premeditated plan of action. The whole magic of something happening for the first time is the unknown of how or when it will occur, the thrill when it does, and the pride and accomplishment after it is finished.
A first will only happen in the most complete way when it’s purely organic. So yeah, that includes mistakes and slip ups sometimes. It includes quirks unique to you, even if they’re a little embarrassing in your eyes. Whatever you connect with most should still be a part of you, first impression or not. I walked in my second day of work with a huge gallon zip-lock bag of different flavored tea bags. Probably not the norm for an average intern, but hey, I like tea! I won’t try to appear “normal” and sacrifice my favorite delicious beverage in the process! In reality, I was just making another First: “First intern to have at least one cup of tea from her stash in her desk drawer every day.” I’m cool with that.
There are so many firsts in our lives. So many opportunities to happen for the first time once and only once. Recognize them. Embrace them. Ultimately, your memories are comprised of moments, conversations, images, sounds, smells, and tastes that hit you for the first time at one point and launched off in a million directions from there. Love the firsts of life, and make many many more memories in the firsts of your future.