“When was the last time you did something for the first time?” -Seth Godin
I recently heard Seth Godin, author on creativity and entrepreneurship, share this question.
Seth recounted that when he asks people this question, their eyes often well up with tears. They realize just how long it’s been. They feel an ache for some former self, some former life, that was more vivid, more varied, with firsts.
It turns out a lot of people have been struck by this question – it’s been pinned and posted across the internet. Soul Pancake did an episode about it. It’s even a Van Halen lyric from about ten years ago. And there is no consensus about who asked it first.
But before you feel badly that you haven’t picked up a new instrument or tried a new cuisine recently, I want to invite you to think about this question differently.
We humans can stay busy seeking external firsts – a first visit to some new place, a first time to reach a financial milestone, a first run of a race at some speed. Sometimes these external firsts are important markers and metaphors on our journeys – they represent some deeper shift. But often, we get on a hamster-wheel pursuit of the new (and the next new, and the next new) that is not satisfying, because what we are really going after – true movement in our lives, true expansion of our experience – is not provided by external firsts.
Inner firsts are different. They are the quiet, often private, but thrilling, move-you-to-tears-joyful firsts, born from inner work:
the stretch into a new perception because we were willing to listen in a new way…
that moment of finding a new depth of courage…
telling a truth for the first time…
finding a space of compassion toward someone when we’ve long held a grudge…
receiving a bright new idea from the muse…
changing a long-held thought into a new one…
Inner firsts are ever available to us, even in mundane routine, as long as we are present and available to them.
I think we well up with tears when we hear this question about “firsts” because deep down, we know we are meant to keep experiencing firsts, to keep being astonished. Deep down, we know life is a wide field for learning and growth. And so we know something is wrong if we aren’t experiencing life that way.
But what is wrong is not that we haven’t taken up a new hobby or kissed a new person in a while. What is wrong is that we have abandoned the kind of quest that makes life full of the new.
I sometimes joke that if you need a thrill, sure, you can go skydiving or seek exotic travel or try every new cafe that opens up – or you can just dedicate yourself to changing one quality in yourself, or one thing in your world. That is the real site of adventure in our lives.
It’s because of what I journal, or what I pray, or what I dedicate myself to that I get to keep experiencing firsts – when I make time and space for those practices.
Here are some of my favorite ways to keep cultivating “firsts” – even when life is very routine.
15 Ways to Have a “First” Every Day (or Hour) of Your Life
1. Set aside everything you think you know about the person or situation in front of you. Set aside everything you think you know about your own role or position in the situation. Now see what happens differently.
2. In some important relationship, listen only to find out what is true for the other person. (This is what Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen calls “generous listening”.)
3. Be curious. Ask five curious questions in some situation in which you normally would ask none.
4. Be more courageously honest.
5. Work through your fears aloud or on paper.
6. Work through your antagonisms aloud or on paper.
7. Articulate what you are grateful for five days in a row.
8. Learn something genuinely new from someone else.
9. For a few days, act as if some new idea, belief, or concept is true (even if you aren’t sure yet) and see what happens. (Check the video below at minute 37:00 for this for more on how to do so.)
10. Enter the creative process – write, paint, dance, or create in whatever form calls to you.
11. Pray/ask for help from a force larger than you about something you feel stuck around. Then listen quietly for what is whispered back.
12. Ask for new kinds of help, or ask for help in a new way.
13. Follow your inner mentor’s guidance.
14. Get accountability or community where you have been acting solo.
15. Ask more earnestly or passionately to be of service.
Want more on this topic? Watch the video of our Sunday Coaching & Conversation session about it here. (It will also guide you through the journaling exercises.)
Photo credit: Vignesh Jayaprakash