As I walked by our local high school’s football field on an early Monday morning, I saw a smattering of boys entering the locker room for what appeared to be the first day of practice. It was fairly easy to place the players into two distinct groups: rookies and veterans. The rookies looked tentative and walked slowly, and I could almost hear them saying, “You can do this!” to themselves. The veterans had a swagger and an air of “I’m back” confidence.
Firsts. We’ve all had them. Most of us would probably have the first day of school in our memory banks. At the tender age of 5 I believe that most didn’t know what to be afraid of, other than the separation from a parent. Kindergarteners are full of energy and anticipation for all of the newness that school brings. The fear of failure is not on their radar. The first day of high school or college is quite different. These firsts now include the triple threat of academics, social connections and planning for the future. The stakes are greater and anxiety is heightened.
Another first that is universal is the initial day on a new job. Although a high school part-time job counts, nothing beats the nerves of that introduction to the professional world. If a company marketing a new deodorant really wanted the best test group, squeaky clean college graduates on that first day would be ideal. This first is fraught with an endless array of questions. Will I be successful? Did I choose the right career? Can I really do this for the next 30 years?
A first that is dreamt of by many a teenager is moving out of mom and dad’s house and living an independent life. The expectation and reality are often quite different! Knowing that you have a loving and supportive safety net certainly increases your chances of success during this crucial time.
There are some firsts that we experience that may come unexpectedly and where there is no blueprint. From losing a parent to having your child get married, these moments come with an entirely different set of emotions. Connecting with friends who have blazed these trails ahead of you is invaluable in helping to navigate these firsts.
I believe that because we have all experienced the anxiety of firsts, we should be mindful of being welcoming and understanding of the new ones in our midst. An extra smile or popping in to say, “How’s it going? Do you need anything?” doesn’t cost a thing yet could mean the difference between a good day and a great day for a new co-worker. I had those people in my workplace long ago and will never forget their generosity. Thirty years later I aim to pay it forward at the beginning of every school year when I am introduced to those brand new teachers on the faculty.
Firsts can certainly be overwhelming, but there is also an air of excitement. How often do we have the opportunity to have a pristine slate in front of us? We can truly write our own story on that fresh white page. I have actually come to seek out firsts. I like that edge-of-your-seat feeling when you are challenged with something fresh. After many years teaching at the elementary level, I am entering the world of middle school. I am excited, anxious and ready to hit the ground running.
It’s time to open up that blank plan book and get ready for my first day on a new job.