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I Got Here First

the quest for bragging rights is fraught with danger

Mike Paulus

I’m sorry to break it to you, guys, but I was here first. I was the very first person to read the words that you are now reading. Like this word right here. And these words down here. I know what’s going to happen before you do because I’ve already explored these paragraphs. I was here first. So I win.

Heads up – something weird’s gonna happen. WHAM-SHA-LAM DINGETY-DING-DANG COWBOY DINOSAUR POPSICLE!

See? I totally knew that was coming. And I enjoyed watching your reaction.

The smug satisfaction I feel at being first will not last long. It never does. But the need to be first – and tell people about it – is hard to resist. We love seeing things, hearing things, getting things, and going places first. You get to be the expert who tells other people all about it. It makes you important. It makes you a tiny bit smarter for a small span of time.

It also makes you a total jerkballface.

Well, it makes a lot of us total jerkballfaces, not everyone. But I do believe that most of us find a jolt of happiness in being the first at something – no matter how trivial that thing may be.

The need to be first – and tell people about it – is hard to resist. We love seeing things, hearing things, getting things, and going places first.

How did the quest for general experiences become such a race? I’m guessing the competitive nature of living on Planet Earth has brought us to this point. At first, humans competed against the forces of nature, such as harsh climate conditions and hungry saber tooth tigers and dragon’s fire.* Down the line, we competed against each other for resources like food and water and land. Further down the line, we compete for jobs and ... well, humans still compete for food and water and land. So it’s only natural that competition is so central to our daily lives – the core of our major entertainment events and the heart of many social interactions.

Natural, but not always healthy. The value and pressure put on being first at something can sometimes stop you from doing things you really enjoy.

I’m reading a popular series of books right now, and I really, really love these books, but I almost didn’t crack them open because I knew so many people had already read them first. They’ve become a really big deal, and I’m late to the party. But logically, there’s no reason to care about that. It’s not like it affects their quality – after all, these books possess a demonstrated ability to make millions of people go nuts with bookish euphoria. Luckily, I got over my feelings of inadequacy and started reading the series – and I’m glad I did. Yet even now I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you the title. So I’ll make it a clever riddle. The title of the first book rhymes with Flame of Gnomes.**

Puzzle over that one for a while.

Being first is not, by itself, a bad thing. There is power in being the first. There are lessons to be learned from competition. But there is weakness in celebrating your triumphs too much. Especially when you’re so happy about being first that you fail to notice all the people there before you.

Last month, VolumeOne.org posted a photo from a reader showing a mossy old concrete building foundation, nestled within some woods right inside the city limits. It looked like the remains of a lost civilization. Other readers started chiming in with stories of playing there when they were kids, when one man took credit for basically unearthing the structure. He said that, as a teen, he and some friends had cut down trees and cleared out brush, revealing its secrets. It sounded like the beginning of a Goonies-style movie. He really took ownership. However, soon after, another commenter said he’d done the exact same thing, but years before the first man. He also made the point that generations of local kids probably did the exact same thing.

Now, you might be quick to condemn the first man’s attempt at bragging rights. I know I was. But put the bragging aside for a second and think about his experience. He was a kid, all on his own, stumbling upon what appeared to be an Indiana Jones-esque discovery. There’s value in that. It’s a memory I’d be hesitant to tarnish.

Experiences like this are important. I don’t care if you were the first person to have it or the 100th – hold on to those feelings. They mean something. They mean you did something. And no one else’s experiences can take that away.

Just don’t be a jerkballface about it.

*I’m not an archeologist, so I’m guessing about the dragon’s fire.
**You know what? This is where I heard about dragon’s fire.