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Low angle view of an African American male runner winning race against blue sky

“If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.” – William Shankly

It was during a timeout during a seventh grade basketball game.

We were down by a single point and had just a few seconds left in the game. Our coach drew up the plan, looked into the eyes of the five boys about to take the court. He then shared very heroically: “Gentleman, this is your chance. This is your moment to win. There are no points for second place!”

No points for second place.

“Be the first” is drilled into our consciousness as kids. It’s the voice we hear frequently from our coaches, parents and friends. It’s echoed by sports media as they hammer the losers and glorify the winners.

It’s a lesson we learn advancing through school. It’s the gentle reminder we internalize as we take our seats after missing words for the spelling bee.

As we get older, we certainly see that in finishing first professionally we move forward. It guides staff, quarterly results and stock performance.

And, if you ever find yourself in an airport, it’s a gentle voice we hear as we race through TSA and toward our plane. Be the first. Grab your seat. Make sure you have luggage space for your bag.

My friends, I believe in keeping score. I don’t believe every team deserves a ribbon for showing up. It’s wise to advance educationally and professionally based on merit.

But the movement toward and the focus on sprinting toward first comes with a cost of actually believing we’re here – in this relationship, in this business, on this athletic field, in this life – simply for ourselves.

In racing to put others first, listen for their needs, empower them to live up to the fullness of their life, we not only inspire them, but also are elevated in our thinking, in our words, in our actions, and in our results. [Tweet this] | [Share on Facebook]

This belief that we need to be first not only negatively impacts the way we play the game, but those unfortunate enough to play with us.

Don’t get me wrong, I want people to succeed, to shine, to thrive and even “to be the first.” Be the first to reach out your hand to assist or to hold the door for another.

Be the first to say “good morning” or “thank you” or “I love you” or “I am sorry.” Be the first to show up, to be present, to not judge, to give fully of yourself, to be ALL IN every day.

In being first in these things, you’ll most certainly discover that, regardless of what the scoreboard shows as time expires, you can be at peace knowing that you gave it your all, raced the good race, and were truly victorious.

This is your day to be first.

Live Inspired.

Has there been a time that you’ve achieved more by putting others first? Please share in the comments below.

3 replies on “Be The First”

John, Please watch your mail box in about 7-10 days for: “Why You Were Born”. I truly believe it will be of interest to you and mirror your message of life. Marlott Rhoades

You always have insightful, balanced, and inspirational emails. Most of the time I don’t comment on them because I feel sure you get many good responses. But, I suspect you may get some negative feedback on this one. For that reason, I want to applaud your very balanced, wise, and insightful perspective on the issue of what it means to be “first” and recognizing the value of being “first” on the things that really matter, and how valuable a solid performance of doing the best of your capability matters.

You understand life well, my friend. I have seen so many people crushed emotionally after being first in a moment, and then realizing that the world is so eaten up with a warped perspective that right after being the best in the world, anything less than that afterwards was met with yawns of distain.

Vitali Scherbo (my spelling of Russian names is probably off by a mile) won 6 of eight possible gold metals in an Olympic gymnastic competition and, I believe, 2 silvers. It was the most incredible performance, athletically, I believe I have ever witnessed. He was the first man to attempt, and LAND a quad dismount off the high bar. The following Olympic Games he won “a” bronze metal. It was as if the gymnastics world gave a quiet “yawn” and said ” what have you done lately?”
No one can sustain dominance, or perfect excellence in any thing.

You have brought out the futility and the deep stress the world feels from the pressure of “nothing matters other than #1.” You have also encouraged your readers to look higher, and recognize the things that really matter, and that endure a lifetime–relationships, love, family, caring for others so that your life counts in how you give it to lift others higher.

Thank you, John, for giving your own life to a great cause that will live beyond your years. You bring incalculable value to the world because of your life.

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Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.